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Shiloh’s False Hero

By Timothy B. Smith
12/5/2008 • Civil War Times

For the better part of that bloody April 6 at the Battle of Shiloh, Union Brigadier General W.H.L. Wallace and his embattled troops in the Army of the Tennessee’s 2nd Division had held their own in the Hornets’ Nest. Time after time they managed to shoot up, beat down and turn back the onrushing Confederate columns. But as dusk approached, the regiments on their flanks crumpled, and Southern fury raged unabated in the center of the Union line. Having surrounded the exposed Federals in the Hornets’ Nest, the Rebels laid down a murderous crossfire on any who tried to flee.

The Federal situation had worsened when, about 5 p.m., a Confederate bullet plowed into the head of Wallace, the primary organizer of the Hornets’ Nest defense. Wallace lived for a time—he would finally succumb on April 12, 1862—but at that point he was incapable of further command. Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss was the only general left standing by virtue of the gory process of elimination that had taken place within the battered Union position.

Prentiss was actually a Southerner fighting for the North. He was born in Virginia in 1819, but his family soon moved west, and he grew up in Missouri and Illinois. While serving in the Illinois militia in the 1840s, he fought against Mexicans and Mormons. He eventually started practicing as an at­torney, but remained a militia colonel.

His Civil War career began in 1861 when he was named colonel of the 10th Illinois, and by August he had been promoted to brigadier general and sent to Missouri to combat irregu­lar Confederate operations. On April 1, just days before the Battle of Shiloh, Prentiss joined Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee as commander of the 6th Division. With the army camped around Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, Prentiss and his men took up an exposed position near Barnes Field, about two miles from the landing, and he set about organizing and getting to know his 5,400 mostly untested charges.

Early on the morning of April 6, General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Rebel army burst forth from the Tennessee woodlands and headed straight for Prentiss’ overwhelmed greenhorns. By 9 a.m., most of the rookies had broken under the Confederate on­slaught, but the general managed to rally about 500 soldiers and at 9:30 planted his ragged force along a section of a “sunken” farm road that ran through a dense forest in the Union center. Wallace’s men were already there, fighting hard to hold onto a key swatch of land that would eventually be known to history as the Hornets’ Nest. Prentiss set up on Wallace’s left and was soon reinforced by roughly 575 men of the 23rd Missouri arriving from Pittsburg Landing. That put Prentiss in command of about 1,100 soldiers, a relatively small chunk (12 percent) of the approximately 8,850 Federals currently in the Hornets’ Nest.

When Wallace was mortally wounded at 5 p.m. while leading a retreat to Pittsburg Landing near a deadly stretch of land known as “Hell’s Hollow,” Prentiss was left as the senior commander in the Hornets’ Nest. Earlier in the day, General Grant had personally instructed him to hold his position “at all hazards,” but by 5:30 Prentiss could see he had no alternative save outright slaughter. He raised a white flag and surrendered the 2,250 soldiers who remained in his charge.

As the conquering Confederates shouted in triumph, Prentiss quickly bellowed, “Yell, boys, you have a right to shout, for you have captured the bravest brigade in the U.S. Army.” With those two acts—the reluctant surrender and his decision to make that boastful retort—Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss was on his way to undeservedly earning the weighty sobriquet  “Hero of Shiloh.”

Every war produces its false heroes, men who claim they did much more than the actual records validate. Stories have recently popped up in the news about Vietnam veterans wearing medals they bought at surplus stores, for example, unscrupulous behavior that insults the soldiers, sailors and Marines who have put forth the true measure of heroism. Sometimes these frauds are found out, but it seems just as often they manage to get away with their deceit.

As awareness of the determined defense of the Hornets’ Nest grew in the decades after the war, Prentiss’ fame increased by leaps and bounds. He was helped considerably, of course, by the fact that Wallace was dead and unable to vouch for himself. For Wallace there would in fact be no martyrdom like that accorded Albert Sidney Johnston, struck down at Shiloh, or Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, mortally wounded at Chancellorsville. In the case of the Hornets’ Nest, selective memory would side with Prentiss.

When it comes to Civil War history—or any history for that matter—there is often a vast difference between what actually happened and what people believe happened. In the case of Shiloh, Prentiss has received great praise for holding the Hornets’ Nest long enough to allow Grant to patch together a defensive line at Pittsburg Landing, which ultimately allowed his army to win the battle on April 7.

Historians have also given star treatment to Prentiss and have typically ignored Wallace. No fewer than 15 major Civil War authors credit only Prentiss with having defended the Hornets’ Nest (a few mention W.H.L. Wallace in passing, but the emphasis is clearly on Prentiss). In Battle Cry of Freedom, for instance, James McPherson never even mentions Wallace in conjunction with the Hornets’ Nest, writing: “Although 18,000 Confederates closed in on Prentiss’ 4,500 men….Prentiss surrendered his 2,200 survivors at 5:30, an hour before sunset. Their gritty stand had bought time for Grant.”

Bruce Catton states in Grant Moves South that “Prentiss had done precisely what he had been told to do—hold on at all hazards—and so had his men.” Most tellingly, in P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray, T. Harry Williams wrote: “Prentiss, under orders from Grant to hold to the last, fought on with 2,200 men….If any one man saved the Federal army at Shiloh, Prentiss was the man.” In reality, Wallace was in the Hornets’ Nest the whole time, longer than Prentiss, commanding his division from 8:30 a.m. until he was mortally wounded.

The early historiography of Shiloh sheds critical light on how and why historians have wrongly shaped the story of the Hornets’ Nest. In the years immediately after the war, Prentiss and the Hornets’ Nest were not the focus in accounts of the battle. When early authors did deal with the action in the center of the battlefield, they gave credit to Wallace. That view began to change in the mid-1880s.

Prentiss himself had a lot to do with the shift in public opinion about Shiloh, and he played a major role in swaying later historians into inaccurately chronicling what had occurred during the battle. Not long after being released from Confederate custody in October 1862, he wrote an after-action report that provided a fairly accurate representation of the events in the Hornets’ Nest; he even gave Wallace full credit for his actions. During a subsequent round of speaking engagements, however, the gen­eral began making more grandiose claims about his own role.

On his way back home to Quincy, Ill., following his release, Prentiss spoke in Washington, D.C., Chicago and many other cities, always to huge crowds that hung on his every word. In a number of essentially similar speeches, Prentiss recounted his capture and captivity, and was extremely critical of the treatment he and his men received in Confederate custody.

Playing on the emotions of the crowd, Prentiss began a speech in Chicago with, “My friends, I feel free to-night; I am at home in Illinois.” Near the end of his oration, Prentiss spoke of meeting with Wallace. “We had determined to hold our position,” he thundered, “We determined to sustain our government; we determined there to save the army of Gen. Grant. I think we did it.” Loud applause filled the building.

Prentiss gained even more adulation as time wore on and the story of the Hornets’ Nest became the centerpiece of the battle, thanks in large part to several famous paintings. In 1885 artist Theophile Poilpot and 12 assistants produced a Hornets’ Nest panorama in Chicago that prominently featured Prentiss, and the general himself gave lectures there. An accompanying publication, Manual of the Panorama of the Battle of Shiloh, testified that the Hornets’ Nest was “The Thermopylae of modern times…the turning point in the battle.”

The inclusion of several panels of the painting as illustrations in Century Magazine made Prentiss’ name familiar to even more Americans, and Thure de Thulstrup’s 1888 L. Prang and Company lithograph centered on the Hornets’ Nest, with Prentiss an obvious focal point. That brought the general additional attention.

W.H.L. Wallace was not prominently featured in the Poilpot panorama, and he was not even included in the Thulstrup painting. By the 1890s, Prentiss was well on his way to being viewed as the key defender of the Hornets’ Nest.

In 1900 the Shiloh National Military Park gave another boost to the general’s inflated reputation by placing an iron marker that read, “Brig. Gen. B.M. Prentiss surrendered here at 5:30 p.m., April 6, 1862.”

When Prentiss died in February 1901, the Washington Post headline on his obituary read “Hero of Shiloh Passes Away.” Later that year the Missouri legislature passed a resolution stating, “On the pages of history his name will appear as one on whose bravery and indomitable courage hung the fate of Shiloh battle field and perhaps the fate of a nation.” Prentiss apparently had saved more than just the Union army at Shiloh.

Many later authors simply picked up and continued the Prentiss myth. For example, in The Story of Shiloh (1946), Otto Eisenschiml wrote, “For hour on hour, Prentiss here held up the bulk of the Confederate army; when he finally did surrender, he had saved the day for Grant.” He later added more detail, stating that Grant “owed his own military survival and subsequent Presidential honors to Prentiss’ stubborn and sacrificial resistance.”

After the National Park Service took control of the Shiloh battlefield in 1933, the agency’s historians institutionalized Prentiss’ supposed heroics. The text on the park’s visitors brochure mentioned Prentiss but not Wallace, and the Thulstrup painting showing Prentiss in the Hornets’ Nest was later used as the brochure’s cover image. Likewise, the park’s 1954 film Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle heavily concentrated on Prentiss in the Hornets’ Nest, leaving other significant actions relatively untouched. At one point, after only mentioning Prentiss, the film’s narrator states, “The troops in the Sunken Road held the key to the battlefield.” Later the narrator notes that “Prentiss’ sacrifice had indeed not been in vain,” that his stand had allowed Grant time to build a last line of defense. At another point the narrator refers to veterans who claim they would never be ashamed to say, “I fought with Prentiss in the Sunken Road at Shiloh.”

The film, still being shown at the Shiloh visitor center, never mentions that 75 percent of the troops Prentiss surrendered were not under his command when the battle began.

Prentiss’ overblown reputation sim­ply does not fit with the facts. His postwar heroic status is demonstrably the result not of heroic action at the Hornets’ Nest or anywhere else, but of battlefield my­thology—hype or spin, as we would call it today. And while the general himself was not solely responsible for mistakes propagated in the early historiography of the conflict, we can see that Prentiss took advantage of those skewed reports to enhance his status as well as his income.

Benjamin Prentiss’ courage in helping Wallace to defend the Hornets’ Nest cannot be debated. But perhaps Prentiss’ honor as an officer and a gentleman should rightfully be questioned when we come to examine the battle’s storied aftermath.

20 Responses to Shiloh’s False Hero

  1. Todd says:

    Funny that I read this now after having just read the chapter on Shiloh in Victor Davis Hanson’s “Ripples of Battle”. I suppose it’s inevitable that such false reputations will be made on occasion and then carried forward through time. I doubt, after the snowball started rolling, that Prentiss would have wanted to essentially call out his own deceptions and, the longer it went, the more he probably began to believe in the myth. Did Wallace have any family that ever tried to defend (or at least promote) his role in the battle?

  2. Josh says:

    Very good article, but at the beginning when it says fighting Mormons, it shouldn’t say fought, but was involved with the Mormon War. This is an important incident that gave many Civil war generals experience. Known as “Buchanan’s Blunder ” Albert Sydney Johnston, led the expedition to investigate reports of treason from Utah authorities. Lumping the Mexican War and Mormon War together is like saying the Korean War and the US involvement in Kosovo in the 1990’s, were both conflicts. But still an excellent article, keep up the good work.

  3. Steve says:

    Wallace stood his ground and inspired the strategy and position of the defence. It is historical critic’s fault over the years to not give credit where it was due, not the local adulation and boasting of Prentiss. And shame on careless history. However, for all the good that Wallace did, it was in Prentiss’s power to unravel it all, and he didn’t. He fought like a bulldog with the same bullets humming around him as felled his boss, and he both completed Wallace’s vision of delaying the Rebs, and additionally saved many Union boys from being needlessly killed. Prentiss, ya did OK.

  4. Marilyn Burgess says:

    Did we really expect him to say, “Aw, Shucks, t’weren’t nothin”? The living get to blow their own horn, and sadly, the brave dead don’t. In my book, they were all heroes. I do, however, appreciate new facts being exposed or new viewpoints being put forward when someone reviews the facts.

    Does it really matter in the end? Sometimes there isn’t two seconds between the hero and the dud. If the bullet that wounded Jackson had been a foot to the right, would the war have ended differently, who knows?

  5. Pete Heron says:

    Interesting, yet is it relevant? Is this just a search for a new ‘slant’ on the war?
    Surely Prentiss deserves accolades. He was there through the thick and thin of it.
    Someone already made the point that why shouldn’t he toot his own horn. I notice in the article that Prentiss’ use of pronoun in an after war speech is ‘we,’ not ‘I.’
    I always look for a different take on the civil war because it’s becoming a struggle to keep it in the public eye as it was the past two decades.
    Yet comparing Prentiss, even is subtly to the example of present day phonies weating medals undeserved from the Vietnam War is a bit much…really.

  6. Pete Heron says:

    Reviewing Shiloh, I see how historians now claim that perhaps the Hornet’s Nest was not the focal point of the battle. They base this on afterbattle reports from laborers who counted and located bocies on the field. The Hornet’s Nest did not have the number of bodies that less well known locations there had.
    But I see the author’s point in this article a little better. Prentiss loudly claimed he and his unit saved the day. A government panel, decades later, with its chairman a veteran who fought smack in the middle of the Hornet’s Nest essentially agreed with Prentiss. Surely there was bias.
    This seems to be a debate that is just heating up. Many critics want to establish new facts based on better evidence.
    My only problem is denigrating Prentiss. Sure, he may have committed a sin in hyping his and his men’s accomplishments. But he’s far from a flase hero. Sadly, with the use of the words ‘false hero’ and in using fake Vietman veterans and their fake medals as an analogy has shot the author smack dab in the foot. Otherwise it’s a fine, thoughtful article.

  7. Chris O'Brien says:

    Prentiss was sneakier than you think.

    Post-war he gave little credit in his AAR to Colonel Everett Peabody, who commanded the 1st Brigade of Prentiss’s VI th Division.

    Peabody had visited Prentiss’s HQ on the night before the battle to stress that an attack was imminent and asked for a Battery to be placed in front of his own Regiment, the 25th Missouri. Prentiss ‘hooted’ at the idea of a Rebel attack.

    It was Peabody who sent a detachment to probe for Confederate forces in the vicinity in the early hours of April 6th and Peabody who aroused the VI Division by having the ‘Long Roll’ sounded.

    When Prentiss arrived, the Division was already formed and he demanded to know if Peabody had brought on the battle and would subsequently hold him responsible for starting the engagement. After stating that he was personally responsible for all his actions, Peabody rode away in disgust.

    Peabody was killed soon after, as the Confederates overran the camp – another witness who could have made Prentiss’s post-war reputation less ‘heroic’ than it appeared.

    I enjoyed the article by the way – a great piece of writing. Thank you.

  8. Author Charles Ezell/ Charles Dale says:

    After reading some of your replies concerning Wallace, I leave you with this tid bit of information. The sage that I now attempt to write also reveals some hidden mysteries that one may find interesting. Did you know that at that same battle that incidents of wives following their men into battle. Wheel Within A Wheel speaks to those that enjoy learning that true love will follow anywhere.
    Tate Publishing Company is considering publishing the story and should be marketable by 2010.

    I appreciate your web and your info keep up the good works.
    Thank you.
    Author : Charles Ezell/Charles Dale

  9. jay bozarth says:

    Prentiss s[ent a lot of time defending himself to critics who printed(Detroit Free Press, among others) that he surrendered at 10 am. And He was the ranking Officer at the Hornets Nest if you count his time in the Illinois militia. His service against the Mormans happened in 1844 in Illinois, following the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother. Also let’s not forget that Grant had ordered Prentiss to hold that position. I think Wallace deserves more credit than he received but not at the price of belittling Prentiss’ contribution. They both should receive the Medal of Honor for their actions.

  10. Robert von Holstein says:

    SMITH- You article was hilarious! So absurd that I first wondered if it was a joke?????? I was going to start posting here when I found the site- I looked forward to an interesting forum, yet the very first op piece I read- your above bashing of Prentiss, was so idiotic, it eliminates any future visits here on my part.

    So poorly did you choose your words….so absurd was your reasoning… makes me wonder if you ever visited the battlefield or studied the actual details?? Or just followed the thoughts of other misguided minds?

    If I could- I would email this to every person that left a comment here-all 11 of them- LOL.

    My points of your absurd notions;

    1. Shelby Foote himself (Fort Sumter to Perryville-page 341) said that Prentiss saved Grant- which award winning bestsellers have you and those that you echo wrote????? What books? I didn’t catch that?????

    2. The Honet’s Nest allowed Sherman, McClernand and Hurlbut (minus those at the Hoprnet’s Nest) to save their divisions!!!!!!!!! It became a focal point for the battle as the Confederates had to mass 62 guns against it !

    3. Wallace did stand fast and had great courage- he lasted until the line bent like a horseshoe-then he was mortally wounded as his men collapsed- Only Prentiss and his troops remained along the sunken road. TWO HOURS AFTER RUGGLES BEGAN HIS 62 GUN CANNONADE- -PRENTISS FINALLY SURRENDERED being totally surrounded.

    4. The Confederate right was stopped after after hour after hour at the THE HORNESTS NEST- this basically stalled the left wing of Johnston which had chased the collapsed Sherman and McClernand.

    5. Johnston could see the great importance of the Hornet’s Nest- he tried to turn the far flank at the peach orchard-it was finally captured as we all know- and with that- he was killed. The entire offensive was still stalled- and would be stalled for the rest of the day since Prentiss held out three hours after the orchard was taken and the flank turned.

    Prentiss didn’t die- for that you make him out as a villian- you are pathetic- seriously!

  11. Robert von Holstein says:

    Chris O’Brien- You are a fool!!!!!!!!!!!!


    2. Shelby Foote wrote about what Peabody did- being sleepless and sending out a three company reconnaissance- who then encountered Hardee’s skirmishers- AND???? YOUR POINT????


    Foote gives Peabody his due for being pro-active and alert- and he also says PRENTISS SAVED GRANT!

    If this is the best you people can do- it’s no wonder there are only 11 comments- nobody bothers with this kind of crap!!!!!!!!!!!

    And this shows me I’ve missed nothing in not reading Civil War Times- nothing at all.

  12. Robert von Holstein says:

    I didn’t have my glasses on and I couldn’t see this type set too well- excuse any spelling mistakes as I can hardly see the words here with this tan background and no glasses on.

    I won’t be back-you people bashing Prentiss was absurd- that is the best you can do in Civil War Times????????


  13. Kevin Getchell says:

    It is easy almost 150 years from the time it happened to criticize events that have been hashed and rehashed for that same period of time. To call Prentiss a false hero however is harsh. Much of the criticism of Prentiss all thes years later has to do with his lack of credit to Colonel Peabody. The arrogance, backbiting, and ambition of high ranking officers was rife, especially that early in the Civil War. Prentiss was hardly alone in the rancor or lack of credit he had with Peabody. It must be acknowledged however that he was Division Commander. In his action or inaction on reports recieved from Peabody and others on April 5th, he was following directives that came from his superiors as well. Sherman was more conspicuous in his inaction than Prentiss. Sherman was more in disdain of certain subordinate officers than Prentiss. Sherman had been the informal commander at Pittsburgh Landing for weeks and it was largely his responsibilty for what happend on April 6th to the Union forces. Nonetheless, ultimate fault lay with General Halleck who continuously tried to micromanage things from afar. Grant arrived on the scene trying to organize a mess that Halleck had created do to his jealousy over Grant. Grant had spent two weeks lanquishiing in veritable arrest on board a steamship, while Halleck had tried to get Lincoln to fire him. Prentiss performed admirably, having been thrown out in front of the whole army as a new and still forming division. Certainly he did not die the way W. H. L. Wallace did and so did not pay the ultimate price and become that kind of hero. But Prentiss was there out in front, whether by accident or not. He was where he was. After his months as a prisoner of war he came back as a Major General and won the battle of Helena the same day Grant took Vickburg, overshadowed and now paying the price for his deserved or unreserved renown, he tried to defend Fitz Jon Porter and got plenty of politcal payback for it. Rather than to continue to deal with the politics of the war he retired to private life, not able to play the political game that Sherman and Grant excelled at, There were over 100,000 heroes at Shiloh. Prentiss was one of them.

  14. Perry says:

    “My points of your absurd notions;

    1. Shelby Foote himself (Fort Sumter to Perryville-page 341) said that Prentiss saved Grant- which award winning bestsellers have you and those that you echo wrote????? What books? I didn’t catch that?????”

    As much as I respect Shelby Foote, writing a best selling book does not automatically qualify one as an expert on every subject. Wiley Sword, among others, does not credit Prentiss with saving Grant’s army. Nor does current park historian Stacy Allen. The same was true of historian Edward Cunningham. Nowhere in anything these respected historians of the battle wrote will you find it claimed that Prentiss saved the day at the Hornets Nest.

    “2. The Honet’s Nest allowed Sherman, McClernand and Hurlbut (minus those at the Hoprnet’s Nest) to save their divisions!!!!!!!!! It became a focal point for the battle as the Confederates had to mass 62 guns against it !”

    Actually most of the pressure applied to the Union line for the majority of the day occurred outside the line defended by Prentiss and Wallace. The Confederate army almost literally split into two segments, with the majority of the troops ending up on the western side of the battlefield against McClernand and Sherman. Most of the rest were on the eastern side of the battlefield, fighting against Hurlbut, McArthur, and Stuart. Only a handful of troops opposed the center for most of the day, where the Hornets Nest was located.

    It wasn’t until the flanks gave way that the center drew the attention, as the flow of the battle clearly shows. So it is not possible that the troops defending the center therefore saved the troops on either flank.

    “3. Wallace did stand fast and had great courage- he lasted until the line bent like a horseshoe-then he was mortally wounded as his men collapsed- Only Prentiss and his troops remained along the sunken road. TWO HOURS AFTER RUGGLES BEGAN HIS 62 GUN CANNONADE- -PRENTISS FINALLY SURRENDERED being totally surrounded.”

    Surprisingly, given it’s fame, contemporary Confederate accounts do not indicate that the bombardment was that important, or effective. It may not have lasted more than perhaps 30 minutes, and only succeeded in driving away the Union artillery supporting Wallace and Prentiss. But it was the collapse of the flanks, not the bombardment, that doomed the center. The Hornets Nest was doomed even if the bombardment had never occurred. As the Confederates themselves seem to have understood at the time, it was noisy, but not much else.

    “4. The Confederate right was stopped after after hour after hour at the THE HORNESTS NEST- this basically stalled the left wing of Johnston which had chased the collapsed Sherman and McClernand.”

    I’m not sure I follow this, but Prentiss actually erred in not pulling back when Hurlbut did so. Once his flanks had been compromised, his position was worthless. It had no value in and of itself, and could not be held once the rest of the army pulled back.

    The real question is whether by staying put, even if it was the wrong decision, Prentiss inadvertently disrupted the Confederate advance, and therefore saved Grant’s army by allowing more time to form the last defensive line. This might be the case, although had he pulled back when the rest of the army did, that last line, which was already formidable, would therefore have had an extra 2,200 men.

    Prentiss stand may or may not have been important to the outcome of the battle, but the idea that he somehow saved Grant’s army by sacrificing his command is a bit much to accept. Especially when considering how strong that last line already was. And Prentiss was not trying to save Grant’s army in any case. He simply misjudged how rapidly the situation had deteriorated, and did not attempt to retreat until it was too late.

    “5. Johnston could see the great importance of the Hornet’s Nest- he tried to turn the far flank at the peach orchard-it was finally captured as we all know- and with that- he was killed. The entire offensive was still stalled- and would be stalled for the rest of the day since Prentiss held out three hours after the orchard was taken and the flank turned.”

    Johnston was trying to turn the flank of the entire Union army and drive them away from the landing, and any possible help, forcing them into destruction or surrender. The offensive stalled after the attack that cost Johnston his life for the simple fact that everyone needed a breather. Once it resumed, the Confederates methodically worked their way around Stuart’s flank, forcing him, McArthur, and finally Hurlbut, to pull out.

    Prentiss should have done the same, but did not, and inadvertently drew the attention of virtually the entire Confederate army, since he and his men were the only ones who did not pull back. As I said above, there was nothing inherently important about his position in and of itself. Prentiss guarded no road, and could hold back no advance without help. His position was totally dependent on the troops on either flank.

    “Prentiss didn’t die- for that you make him out as a villian- you are pathetic- seriously!”

    It isn’t a matter of making him out to be a villain as simply trying to get a more accurate view of what happened during the battle. Prentiss fought well and deserves credit for doing so. His mistake was in not heeding Peabody’s warnings the night before, and in not withdrawing from the Hornets Nest at the proper time. Later he would commit a grave injustice against Peabody by all but totally ignoring that officer’s vital role in the battle.

    Whatever credit Prentiss has coming for his stand in the Hornets Nest, and whatever wrongs were committed against him in the early accounts of the battle, it does not absolve him of his blatant negligence toward Peabody. His exaggeration of his Hornets Nest fighting might be understandable, as others have said. His deliberate disregard of a fellow officer, not so much.

  15. Jon Neal Wallace says:

    After reading the comment above from Perry, I have to say, ‘ I agree.’ General William Wallace was the true hero of the Battle of Shiloh. It was he who split his division into three parts and formed a shield in the center of the battlefield. Prentiss did not have nothing to do with it, General Tuttle came to his aid when some 4000 of his men ran to the Tenn. river. General Tuttle was sent there by Wallace. General Will was shot while trying to form a new line in front of Grant’s Last Line and some 20,000 Union men.

    Sadly, General William Wallace’s bravery is ignored and forgotten. That is wrong and you know it.

    While I’m writing a comment, Fort Donelson truth is also buried with General William Wallace. It wasn’t Smith who save the day and keep the line from braking, and then repelling the Rebel assault back into the fort. It was General William Wallace. Get your facts straigth, tell the truth. I will, for I’m writing a book about this man’s life and what he did for the cause of freedom.

  16. JW says:

    This article is ludicrous. Why denigrate Prentiss as a “false hero?” He did his job, did it well and a good case could be made he was a “hero” to his those who fought with him, and certainly a hero for holding out for so long.

    You false indignation is immature and not worthy of publication.

  17. Drew says:

    I would have to say, as much as I would partially agree and disagree with this article, both Prentiss and Wallace were equal heroes. They endured horrifying experiences while their men were getting blown away. It was a very traumatizing experience for anyone to experience what happened during that war and I am sure very few people of today can endure what happened back then. I think Wallace never got the credit he deserved, because of the fact he died shortly after the battle was over, however Prentiss also should be thought of as a hero as well. We must also think though that the lifestyle of mankind was so much different back then, compared to today. I believe people by nature were way tougher then and endured a lot more harsher lifestyle (rather if it is through war, illness or other tragedies). Men not only died in combat, but also died from old wounds or even illness both during and after battle and there was less access to proper medical care back then. We should not compare the performance of Prentiss or Wallace simply because both men faced terrible conditions at war and did the best they could (nor were any of us alive back then to make such judgements). Both men were true heroes along with all the men who were at Shiloh.

  18. David says:

    Prentiss was a deserter, he ate his desserts and thats all she wrote.

  19. Pat Aalfs says:

    Wallace didn’t make it to Pitts burg Landing until the end of the first day’s Battle. Therefore, He had nothing to do with the Hornet’s Nest. When I read a massive historical mistake like that, I stop reading all together.

    • HistoryNet Editor says:

      Pat, You seem to be thinking of Lew Wallace, who indeed didn’t make it to the Shiloh battlefield until the end of the first day. Please re-read the opening sentence of this article; it clearly states W.H.L. Wallace was fighting in the Hornet’s Nest. Those were two different Union officers. Look at any map of or book about Shiloh, and you will see that W.H.L. Wallace and his men fought on Prentiss’ right flank for most of the day, until they were in danger of being surrounded. W.H.L. Wallace was mortally wounded as his position collapsed.

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