Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prentiss at Shiloh

In the December 2008 issue of Civil War Times Tim Smith has an article that examines how Prentiss came to be the hero of Shiloh. How despite commanding roughly 12% of the Hornets' Nest defenders he became the general chiefly associated with this defense in the stories of the battle.

I thought it was a very good article, I wished it had been longer but that's just my Shiloh bias speaking. Basically Smith focuses on why Prentiss got the credit and not on an examination of the fighting in the Hornets' Nest (perhaps he will do that in a future article).

To crudely summarize the article Prentiss became the synonymous with the Hornets' Nest primarily because his chief compatriot WHL Wallace was mortally wounded during the battle. Prentiss gives Wallace credit in his report but as time progresses people seem to forget about Wallace. The cyclorama that was painted in 1885 features Wallace and Prentiss though Prentiss is more prominent. Later paintings tend to leave Wallace out and only show Prentiss. This extends to writings, contemporary and modern historians have mostly given the credit to Prentiss. Perhaps the oddest oversight comes from the park service which features Prentiss prominently in the orientation movie as well as on the iron tablets that dot the battlefield. This iron tablets also minimize the efforts of Everett Peabody whose early morning reconnaissance revealed the Confederates' presence. The tablets simply state that a reconnaissance patrol from Prentiss' division started the battle and does not list the brigade commander directly responsible.

All in all I thought it was a good article although I'd have preferred more Hornets' Nest details. But as far as a dose of Shiloh writing in the major magazines this will admirably fill the void.

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