Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss

Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss, direct descendant of one of the settlers who came over on the Mayflower, was born in the Ohio River village of Belleville, Virginia (now West Virginia), November 23, 1819. At the age of seventeen he went with his parents to Marion County, Missouri, where for five years he was engaged in the operation of a rope-walk. He then moved to Quincy, Illinois. Next he served as a subaltern of militia during the Mormon troubles and led a company of the 1st Illinois Volunteers in the Mexican War. After the war he studied law and in 1860 was a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket. On April 29, 1861, he was commissioned colonel of the 10th Illinois Infantry, a regiment which was organized at Cairo to serve three months. On August 9, 1861, Prentiss was appointed brigadier general of volunteers to rank from May 17; the following month he was assigned to the command of "that section of the State of Missouri . . . lying north of the Hannibal and Saint Joseph Railroad" with orders to keep the railroad and telegraph open and "to prevent the secessionists from meeting . . . for camp and drill ... as has been their custom. . . ." He commanded the 6th Division of U. S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee on April 1, 1862, at Shiloh where he gallantly defended the celebrated Hornets Nest. After holding off the Confederates for six hours, his position, an eroded lane with a field of brambles in front, was overrun and he was compelled to surrender. Exchanged in October, he served as a member of the Fitz John Porter court-martial and on March 13, 1863, was made a major general to rank from the preceding November 29. Meantime he was in command of the District of Eastern Arkansas, with headquarters at Helena, which he successfully defended against the attack of Confederate Commander T. H. Holmes on July 4, 1863. His resignation was accepted by the War Department on October 28, ostensibly "on the grounds of his . . . health and the situation of his family . . . ," but presumably because he felt he had been shelved. He returned to Quincy and resumed his law practice, until President Grant appointed him a pension agent. He again returned to Missouri and practiced law in Kirksville for a time. Then, in 1881 he moved to Bethany, Missouri, where he was postmaster at the time of his death on February 8, 1901; he was buried in Miriam Cemetery, Bethany.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.