View single post by Wrap10
 Posted: Sat May 22nd, 2010 11:16 pm
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Wrap10
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I think a good case can be made that Prentiss actually held on longer than he should have. It’s usually claimed that he held on because Grant had ordered him to do so, but Prentiss did not give that as his reason in his official report. He said that he and Wallace realized that the rest of the army had already fallen back to the river, and it was decided to hold out as long as possible to buy more time for the rest of the army. Which is exactly how his stand is usually portrayed in the traditional version of the battle. But I don’t think that’s how it actually went down.

Looking at the line that Prentiss held most of the day on April 6th, there really isn’t anything about the position in and of itself that could be called significant. It did not protect a road, unlike Wallace or Hurbut’s respective positions, and it did not guard either flank. It was also the smallest segment of the Sunken Road Line, containing around 1,000 troops. Prentiss was totally dependent on the troops on either side of him, and as events proved, once the troops on either flank were forced back, his position was no longer tenable. The single most important aspect of his position was the fact that it provided the connecting link between Wallace and Hurlbut.

Did Prentiss save the army with his late afternoon stand? There’s no way to ever answer that question, but assume for the sake of argument that he had pulled back shortly after Hurlbut did so. This would have meant that the Confederates had about an extra 90 minutes to attack Grant’s Last Line. But, it also means that those 2,200 some-odd troops who surrendered in the Hornets Nest would have been available to help defend that line, which was pretty strong even without them. It was, in fact, the strongest line the Confederates would have faced that day, had they ever really tested it.

No one will ever know if that extra time would have made any difference, but personally, I don’t think the Confederates were going to break that line with or without more time to try it.

I really don’t think Prentiss had as good an understanding of the situation late that afternoon as his report would later suggest. He wasn’t trying to save the rest of the army so much as he simply thought he could actually hold out until help arrived. That wasn’t going to happen, and by the time he figured that out, it was far too late. That he never admitted as much can probably be attributed in large part to human nature. All of us would rather be considered a hero rather than someone who made an error in judgment. He wasn’t the first person to ever fudge the facts when re-telling a story, and he wasn’t the last.

Perry

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