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General Prentiss a Hero? - The Battle of Shiloh - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 07:04 pm
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ole
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It has been said that many of the bodies were hauled up to a burial pit north of where Prentiss surrendered. (Can't find my map just now, but it is in an area with little to no traffic.) It makes sense: a lot of those bodies had been lying on the field since Sunday morning, and the Federal soldiers (being soldiers) simply found a suitable gully or ravine, rolled the bodies in and pulled down the sides to cover them.

The ravine behind the sunken road was not suitable -- too many trees and too much underbrush to easily pull down the sides.

ole



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 09:05 pm
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calcav1
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Perry,
I have been very impressed with your answers on this thread. You have obviously done your homework. Kudos.

Ole, The burial trenchs on the west side of the field, including those near the Duncan Field/Hornets Nest area, are near ravines but were actual pit graves and not a geographical feature that was used as a grave. Why were the majority of the bodies moved and buried to the west and east sides of the battlefield? The area was a campground at the time of the battle and would remain a heavily congested area until early May. No one wanted 1700 enemy bodies buried in the camps.


Tom
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Last edited on Sun Aug 31st, 2008 09:43 pm by calcav1



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 09:11 pm
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browner
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I think calcav needs to watch his spelling. :D



 Posted: Sun Aug 31st, 2008 09:43 pm
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calcav1
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Thanks Browner, I have edited my spelling errers.



 Posted: Mon Sep 1st, 2008 02:02 am
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Wrap10
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Tom - thank you. All I really do is plagiarize what I pick up from others, but I do appreciate the kind words. :) Are you a ranger at the park?

5fish - I suspect that Tom can answer this much better than I can, but I think they have done some ground penetrating radar studies on some or all of the five known mass grave sites around the park.

As I think I read in one of Tim Smith's books, the commission that created the park in the 1890's identified nine of these mass graves, and I think park officials believe there are as many as twelve. But for some reason only five were ever marked, and the location of the remaining sites is currently unknown. I suspect they will be found someday, but the park is so vast, and so much of it is covered with trees and undergrowth, that locating them just seems like an incredibly difficult job. As I think I said in a different thread on this subject (as Ed alluded to), if the five existing sites were not already marked, I wouldn't know they were there. They would just blend into the surroundings. I'm afraid that will be the case with the remaining sites, although again, I do think some day they will be discovered. Or maybe "rediscovered" would be a better way to put it.

Perry



 Posted: Mon Sep 1st, 2008 04:06 pm
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calcav1
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Perry,
I've been with the park for 9 years, the last 4 at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.


5fish wrote:

Or maybe a Local farmer wanted to use the field for farming again and plowed over any grave markers.
It is time to recheck the historical record on the burials at Shiloh to see if it supports this line of thought and then call the Anthropologist with those machines that scan under the ground to see if any grave sites have been missed. 

If there are any military graves in that field they should be marked and honored.

 

5fish, Veterans visiting the park in the 1880-90's learned that local farmers had been discovering graves while plowing their fields. There is no indication that the farmers were plowing over grave markers in an effort to work their fields, but in the process of farming graves were uncovered and bodies disturbed. This is one of the drving factors that led to the establishment of the Shiloh National Military Park.

As for "rechecking the historical record", well that is easier said than done. On October 13, 1909 a tornado struck the park and severely damaged the cemetery lodge which served as the park headquarters. Debris from the park was found 45 miles away in Alabama. Lost in the storm was the location of the "missing" Confederate burial trenchs, locations which were known at the time but not yet marked. We know there are several burial sites on the east side of the park but without knowledge of the exact location it is impossible to mark them. During a survey conducted several years ago by NPS archeologists an attempt was made to locate one of the sites using ground penetrating radar. The site is on broken ground with many large trees and we were unable to confirm the location. We knew we were in the vicinity but could not say with any certainty just where the trench is. As for "marking and honoring" the graves, known and unknown, I think a visit to the park would confirm to you that this has been accomplished.

Concerning the fighting along the Hornets Nest/Sunken road line I would highly reccomend you read "Shiloh: Bloody April" by Wiley Sword. Wiley does an excellent job of interpreting the charges against the Union center. Wrap10 listed Tim Smith's two books which will also go a long way in explaining the establishment of the Park as well as many of the myths that surround the battle.

Lastly, do not be too critical of D. W. Reed if he seems to concentrate on the action at the Hornet's Nest. Along with the rest of the 12th Iowa, Major Reed fought on the edge of the Hornets Nest at Duncan Field. He was wounded in the right leg twice and captured and then abandoned by the Confederates. More than any one person he is responsible for the establishment of the park and it was not lightly that he became known as "The Father of Shiloh Park."

Tom



 Posted: Mon Sep 1st, 2008 09:38 pm
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Wrap10
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Tom,

I haven't made it down yet to the new interpretive center in Corinth since they opened it,  but if I can make it to Shiloh again next April I'm going to try and visit Corinth and see that new center. I've heard a lot of good things about it.

On Wiley Sword, his book is my favorite one on the battle. Even with all the detail, he does such a marvelous job of adding a human touch to everything. I imagine it's a balancing act of sorts to do that, but he pulls it off with no visible effort at all. He takes what could easily be a dispassionate story of troop movements and battle lines, and makes it far more human, and very poignant.  Whenever I recommend the book to others, I usually say that instead of being filled with facts and figures, it's filled with facts, figures, and faces.

I know that there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the release of Cunningham's book, and rightfully so. His writing style is very similar to Sword's, at least to me, in that you can tell the story for him wasn't just about "armies," but about people. It's a great book. Ditto for Larry Daniel's book. But for me personally, Sword was the one who first opened my eyes to the fact that there was far more to Shiloh than just the Hornet's Nest. His book was also where my image of Benjamin Prentiss started to get a bit tarnished, and where I first learned about what Everett Peabody had done. He turned out to be quite a "teacher" for me in that regard.

Perry



 Posted: Tue Sep 2nd, 2008 12:16 am
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susansweet
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Tom thanks for the history lesson. As usual you have taught me more about Shiloh.
Wrap Cunningham's book is my favorite book on Shiloh. I could not put it down once I started to read it.
Susan



 Posted: Mon Apr 5th, 2010 04:23 pm
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rangerrebew
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The Hornets Nest must have been of some importance since the Confederates threw 62 cannon at it. Was Prentice a hero? In my opinion, probably. I am given to understand that Chamberlain was not considered much of a hero immediately after Gettysburg, his fame came many years later. Maybe the same is true of Prentice. In any event, had Prentice and his men not held that line for as long as they did, Pittsburg Landing might well have fallen, we will never know for sure. The one thing that cannot be denied is that it played a major role in the battle and maybe the Civil War itself. If his line had broken early and Shiloh lost, there can be little doubt that Halleck would have kicked Grant out of the army, "admiring" Grant as he did. As it was, he demoted Grant for not doing a good enough job. If that had happened, would Lincoln have found a General to do what Grant eventually did?



 Posted: Fri May 14th, 2010 03:54 pm
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bzzn
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Prentiss spent 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

Grant and Prentiss were at odds early in the war over seniority.



 Posted: Fri May 21st, 2010 04:02 pm
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Prentiss spent 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

Grant and Prentiss were at odds early in the war over seniority



 Posted: Fri May 21st, 2010 09:02 pm
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Johan Steele
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CMH? Absolutely not, the man did his job. He held as long as was practical.



 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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