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For the sake of clarification, what follows is a comparison of the early Civil War careers of two Illinois officers [through July 1861]:

B.M. Prentiss

20 April 1861     Following the outbreak of open hostilities, Benjamin Prentiss offered his services to Governor Richard Yates of Illinois, and was appointed Colonel of the 10th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

4 May       At the recommendation of Major General McClellan [HQ at Cincinnati], Governor Yates sent Prentiss and his 10th Illinois (and the 8th Illinois) to Cairo:

  • to maintain possession of that strategically important river port;
  • to prevent arms and 'contraband' from passing into the Mississippi River from the Ohio River;
  • to prevent Southern Illinois from 'actively seeking alignment with the Confederacy.'

On-or-before 20 May     Prentiss is promoted to Brigadier General by Governor Yates.

End of July 1861            BGen Prentiss is called to duty in Missouri by MGen Fremont; command of Cairo is turned over to Colonel Richard Oglesby of the 8th Illinois.


U.S. Grant

On-or-about 20 April 1861       After chairing a meeting of concerned citizens at Galena, Illinois, Grant is heartened by the decision of the city (and Jo Daviess County) to get up a company of soldiers. U.S. Grant is offered command of the company: he declines. The Captaincy is given to Augustus Chetlain, instead. After a few days, and with the new soldiers properly attired (thanks to the efforts of the Women of Galena), the Galena Company makes its way to Springfield. U.S. Grant volunteers his services as 'trainer in military drill' until Chetlain's Company is incorporated into the 12th Illinois Infantry [Colonel John McArthur] as Company F.

2 May       Governor Yates offers U.S. Grant work in the State Adjutant General's office: preparing Illinois for the coming war. Grant accepts the position, but is given no rank.

On-or-about 14 May       Governor Yates engages U.S. Grant as 'mustering officer.' Grant is given no rank, but calls himself 'Captain Grant.'

On-or-before 22 May      In a meeting with Brigadier General John Pope, Pope offers his assistance in securing Grant a Colonelcy. Grant declines the offer; but on 24 May, Grant writes a letter to Army Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, requesting appointment as 'Colonel, U.S. Army.'  Grant receives no response.

12 June       U.S. Grant travelled to Cincinnati and attempted to meet with Major General McClellan (about getting a position on his Staff.) Grant never saw McClellan; but hearing of an offer in Illinois, he takes the train back to Springfield.

15 June       U.S. Grant arrives in Springfield, and accepts command of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry; he is appointed Colonel by Governor Yates.

10 July        After conducting drill and forced marches of the 21st Illinois, Colonel Grant and his regiment are called to West Quincy, Missouri on account of 'an emergency' [the 16th Illinois was reported trapped; but before Grant reached West Quincy, the 16th Illinois un-trapped itself.]

15 July        Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut orders Colonel Grant and the 21st Illinois to support of an operation involving Morgan Smith; afterwards, the 21st Illinois is assigned duty of guarding railroads.

3 August      In a letter to wife Julia, U.S. Grant reports, 'I see some kind friends are working to get me [promoted to] Brigadier General.'


The facts, as best I can ascertain them...



References:  OR Volumes 2, 3 and 51

Papers of US Grant, volume 2, pages 40-83.


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Some more compelling details...

There were two meetings in Galena in April (following receipt of news IRT firing on Fort Sumter and its surrender.) The first meeting, held April 16th, featured Mayor Robert Brand (Dem) who spoke of the need to 'continue the path of cool heads and compromise.' He was followed by Elihu Washburne (Rep), Galena's Representative in Congress, who stressed 'that the time for compromise was over; the time for action had come.'  Last to speak was John A. Rawlins, 30-year-old Galena lawyer, and possibly the most influential Democrat in Jo Daviess County. To the surprise of most listeners, Rawlins supported Washburne; he advised that 'the time had come to set aside 'party affiliation,' in order to rally to defense of the Nation.' (The unexpected direction of the speech is now seen as crucial to swinging many Democrat Party supporters to fall in line behind the leadership of President Lincoln IRT the Union war effort.)

U.S. Grant, although not one of the speakers, attended the April 16 meeting; he chaired the meeting two days later, that attempted to convert Galena's 'good intentions' into actions.

Stephen A. Douglas, 1860 Presidential Candidate for the Democrat Party, died on June 3rd 1861; Senator from Illinois, he had been the senior member of the 'Illinois Delegation' (which enjoyed special influence IRT White House policy, due to the obvious bond shared with President Lincoln.) Replacing Douglas as leader of the 12-member delegation was Representative John A. McClernand (in Congress since 1843.)

The Union failure of July 21st (Battle of Bull Run) appears to have had more consequences beyond President Lincoln's call for an Army of 500,000 men (on July 22); John McClernand was so incensed, that he decided to get up a whole brigade of Illinois regiments, and take command of it, himself. He returned to Illinois. Congressman John A. Logan (who had participated as combatant at Bull Run) also left for Illinois, determined to become Colonel of one of McClernand's regiments. With McClernand's departure from Washington, the senior man leading the Illinois Delegation became... Elihu Washburne.

Sometime between July 21-28, the Illinois Delegation met to discuss 'potential brigadier generals' from the State. On July 29, Senator Orville Browning (who replaced Stephen Douglas) presented the recommendations to President Lincoln. 

On August 3rd, U.S. Grant wrote a letter to his father, Jesse Root Grant, in which he remarks:  'I see from the [St Louis] newspapers my name has been sent in for brigadier general. I Have never asked a friend for help in securing promotion... I determined never to ask for anything; not even a Colonelcy.' [Papers of US Grant vol. 2 pages 80-81]

Meanwhile, on July 30th, President Lincoln directed Secretary of War Cameron to send him a nomination for U.S. Grant as Brigadier. Next day, Cameron complied. On August 1st the Senate received all the recommendations for brigadier generals from across the Loyal States: that list was forwarded to the Committee on Military Affairs, which reported on August 3rd. On August 5th, U.S. Grant was confirmed as Brigadier General. [Papers of U.S. Grant vol. 2 page 82]

On August 7th, U.S. Grant was informed of his promotion: on page 205 of his Memoirs, Grant records, 'I read in a St Louis newspaper that the President had asked the Illinois Delegation in Congress to recommend some citizens for promotion to brigadier general; and they unanimously recommended me as 1st on a list of seven from the State.'

Also on August 7th, new-BGen U.S. Grant wrote a letter to John Rawlins at Galena, requesting his services as aide-de-camp.

On September 4th, Grant wrote to Elihu Washburne, and thanked him for his assistance in getting the Brigadier General for him. [Papers of US Grant vol 2 pages 182-3]




References:  OR 2, 3 and 51

Papers of US Grant, volume 2

Life of John A. Rawlins by James Harrison Wilson

Lincoln Log  http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarMonth&year=1861&month=7





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When Brigadier General Prentiss was called to Missouri from Cairo in early August 1861, he arrived without his brigade. It was explained that except for the 7th Illinois (Colonel John Pope Cook), Prentiss would be taking command of a brand new brigade forming at Ironton. Major General Fremont may also have indicated BGen Nathaniel Lyon's push beyond Springfield, Missouri was under way; Prentiss would be tasked with a similar operation, well east of Nathaniel Lyon: extending Federal control of Missouri further and further south.

Before Prentiss received his orders, word arrived at St Louis [about August 12th] of the death of Nathaniel Lyon at the Battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10th. What remained of Lyon's army (under Sigel and Sturgis) was retreating northeast towards Rolla (where BGen Stephen Hurlbut was sent to defend that retreat.) On August 13th, the 2nd Missouri Infantry (Colonel Frederich Schaefer) was also sent to Rolla to augment Hurlbut's force. [Papers of US Grant volume 2 page 111]

On August 15th, BGen U.S. Grant acknowledged arrival of the 7th Iowa (Colonel Jacob Lauman) and 1st Nebraska (Col. John Thayer) at Ironton. That same day, BGen Prentiss received his orders from MGen Fremont, and started south on August 16th.

Prentiss completed the trip aboard the St Louis Iron Mountain Railroad early on the morning of August 17th. He made his way to Grant's Headquarters (about 200 yards south of the Town Square) and presented his orders [to take command of all Federal forces in vicinity of Ironton, for use in an operation against Rebel General Jeff Thompson]... and must have been astonished at the response. BGen Grant refused 'to subjugate himself to a junior officer.' [Memoirs of US Grant, page 208]

When asked to explain himself, it appears that Grant made reference to 'a report' that indicated he was to be the senior Brigadier General from Illinois... despite only receiving promotion to that rank on August 7th. Unfortunately, Grant had no proof of his own rank [Special Orders No. 9 was probably sent by telegram on August 9th; and only indicated Grant's own promotion; nothing delineating 'pecking order' among brigadier generals was indicated.]  Grant may have attempted to persuade Prentiss that he was senior, but without proof, Prentiss intended to ignore Grant's protestations, and abide by his orders.

BGen Grant climbed aboard the St Louis Iron Mountain train, and rode it back to St Louis... and pleaded his case directly to MGen Fremont.

In response, on August 19th, Fremont assigned U.S. Grant to Jefferson City, Missouri (outside Prentiss' area of control), and the dispute was defused... for now.

Benjamin Prentiss took command of a brigade consisting of the 7th Illinois (Cook), the 7th Iowa (Lauman), 24th Illinois (Hecker), 1st Nebraska (Thayer), and 19th Illinois; and attempted to find and fight General Jeff Thompson... but the 'Swamp Fox' had left the area.




References:  OR 2,3 and 51 

Papers of US Grant volume 2 pages 111-124

Memoirs of US Grant

History of the 7th Illinois Infantry

Letters of Thomas Keen (1st Nebraska Infantry)

General Orders No. 62

Special Orders No. 141





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US Grant  vs. BM Prentiss: The 2nd Encounter

Through August 1861, Prentiss and Grant operated from their respective bases. In the mean time, General Orders No.62 (dated 20 Aug 1861) and Special Orders 141 (dated 24 Aug 1861) came into effect [both orders detailed relative seniority of brigadier generals in U.S. service]. And on August 25th U.S. Grant contacted Army Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, enquiring:  'On the 7th of August I was made Brigadier General. As yet, I have received no official notice of my rank; and I have no verification of my relative seniority.'

In his Memoirs, on page 210, General Grant relates:  '[On or about August 28th] I saw an officer of rank approaching who proved to be Colonel Jefferson C. Davis. I had never met him before, but he introduced himself by handing me an order [dated 27 Aug 1861] for him to proceed to Jefferson City and relieve me of the command. The order also directed me to report at Headquarters at St. Louis without delay for Special Orders.'

On August 28th, MGen Fremont also sent orders to Benjamin Prentiss at Ironton: 'You will move east from Ironton and cooperate with General U.S. Grant (who is being assigned command of Cape Girardeau.)'  Fremont further mentioned the seniority changes that had come into effect, and concluded: 'By the official list published, U.S. Grant is your senior in rank.' [Papers of US Grant vol. 2, page 151.]

After conferring with MGen Fremont, Grant reported at Cape Girardeau on August 30th. His orders of August 28: 'After the junction with Prentiss is effected, you will take command of the forward movement.' [Papers of US Grant vol 2, page 151.]

Prentiss commenced his move towards Jackson (north of Cape Girardeau), and his brigade began arriving at Jackson on September 1st. On the morning of September 2nd, U.S. Grant (who was riding out of Cape Girardeau to meet Prentiss in Jackson) encountered Prentiss arriving in Cape Girardeau in company with a small cavalry detail... in violation of orders General Grant had had delivered to Prentiss by courier. Prentiss [bewildered by the fact that he had been Grant's senior on August 17th, but not on September 2nd... and still could not understand how the swap in status came about] attempted to negotiate an independent tribunal (Grant to select the officers to adjudicate), to determine the true state of affairs.

Grant refused.

Prentiss then informed Grant (by presenting him with a Letter of Resignation) that he had resigned, effective September 1st (as indicated on the Letter) and was only in Cape Girardeau hoping to come to a just understanding; since no understanding was forthcoming, Prentiss informed Grant that he would return to Jackson, prepare his brigade to march... but would not participate, himself, in any further movements. [Papers of US Grant, vol.2, page 170.]

In the end, Grant preferred charges against Prentiss, and placed him under arrest, to report himself to Fremont in St. Louis.

Prentiss returned to Jackson, readied his brigade, took his leave, and rode the train to St. Louis.

September 2nd 1861: The same day Prentiss departed for St. Louis, Grant cancelled the operation [supposedly against General Jeff Thompson], and departed for Cairo aboard a steamer, leaving Colonel Morgan Smith in charge of Cape Girardeau. [Papers of US Grant, vol 2, page 173.]





References:  as previously sited...

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On September 3rd 1861, Grant wrote to wife, Julia, from Cairo:  'I am now in charge of everything from Ironton to Cairo.' [Papers of US Grant vol.2 pp.180-1]

He had achieved his personal ambition of Brigadier General in command of an important district; and he only had to elbow his way past four fellow officers, and scramble over the dead body of Benjamin Prentiss [metaphorically speaking], in order to get there.

Most impressive...



Reference:  http://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/107/0455   (Special Orders No.141 of August 24th 1861)



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  • 2 years later...

Another revelation IRT General Grant's brief assignment to Jefferson City [mentioned post of 8 July 2016, above]: it appears that during his brief tenure, Grant may have had a role in sending Colonel Mulligan and the 23rd Illinois (Irish) Regiment to Lexington.

"The formal muster of the 23d was made June 15, 1861, at Chicago when the Regiment was occupying barracks known as Kane's brewery on West Polk street, near the river. From a barrack encampment on Vincennes road it moved July 14, 1861, to Quincy, Illinois, and thence, after afew day 5 encampment, to the arsenal at St. Louis. On the 21st of July it moved to Jefferson City, at a time when Colonel Jeff C. Davis was in command of the post. Daring the month of August it made various excursions into the surrounding country. Brigadier General Grant superseded Colonel Davis as commander of the post at Jefferson City, and on the 18th of September the 23d commenced & march of 120 miles on Lexington, Mo., where the first notable siege of the war of the Rebellion occurred..." [from Adjutant's report for 23rd Illinois Infantry.]

http://civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org/history/023.html   Full report of Adjutant -- 23rd Illinois Infantry.


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The Seniority Dispute of Grant vs. Prentiss, part 3

After being sustained in August by Major General Fremont as senior to BGen Grant (promoted in August), B. M. Prentiss (rank as BGen dating from 8 May 1861) arrived at Cape Geirardeau on September 1st 1861 and – to his astonishment – discovered U.S. Grant put in charge by Fremont. [Since their earlier encounter, clarification had returned from Washington informing Fremont at St. Louis that, “both Grant and Prentiss had been accorded Date of Rank 17 May 1861, and Grant was ahead of Prentiss on that list, and therefore the senior Brigadier General.]

Upon learning this “Date of Rank” news, Prentiss tendered his resignation.

The following day, General Grant preferred charges against BGen Prentiss; and Prentiss then declared himself, “in arrest” and removed himself from Grant’s presence. Grant’s charges vs. Prentiss reached St. Louis and on 3 SEP Major General Fremont ordered B. M. Prentiss to report to Head Quarters. Prentiss departed that day and arrived at St. Louis by the 4th, at which time Fremont refused to accept the Resignation; but informed him of the nature of the charges against him, and advised Brigadier General Prentiss that a Court Martial to address the charges preferred by General Grant would be convened shortly. In meantime, Benjamin Prentiss was permitted to return home to await the convening of that Military Court. It appears that Prentiss arrived at Quincy about September 6th.

In meantime, Fremont received some good news: General Grant occupied Paducah on the 6th. But General Fremont also received lots of bad news: a fatal derailment involving a civilian passenger train occurred 3 SEP just east of St. Joseph; Major General Price had resumed the offense, and now threatened Boonesville, Fort Scott (Kansas) and Lexington… and Price may have ordered an embarrassing (for Fremont) raid on St. Joseph that resulted in extensive looting of that town (one hundred baggage wagons loaded with bounty were reported on their way south to Price’s Head Quarters at Warrensburg.)

While attempting to “put out fires” across the State of Missouri, General Fremont soon came to realize that he was seriously under-staffed: not only was Prentiss away, cooling his heels in Quincy; but the under-arrest Stephen Hurlbut had also been “removed for cause” and was now back home in Belvedere. Ant the very competent U. S. Grant was no longer in Missouri (he was now based at Cairo, where his attention was focused on holding on to Federal possessions at Paducah and Fort Holt.)

Realizing that Benjamin Prentiss was of more use as “General in the field” than in confinement on account of a minor dispute, Fremont decided to drop the charges. And on 17 SEP he issued Special Orders No.210 assigning Brigadier General Prentiss to “command of that section of Missouri bordering and north of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad” [OR 3 page 499]. And Brigadier General John Pope likely delivered the good news – and orders – to Benjamin Prentiss personally.

On about 21 SEP Prentiss departed Quincy and arrived at Brookfield on the H & St.Jo R.R. on 22 SEP… and received the Paroled prisoners from the Surrender of Mulligan at Lexington (that surrender occurred at 4 pm on Friday 20 SEP 1861.)

References:  OR 3 page 499

  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84031490/1861-09-04/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1861&sort=date&rows=20&words=Prentiss+PRENTISS&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=3&state=Illinois&date2=1861&proxtext=Prentiss&y=10&x=17&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=8    Chicago Daily Tribune of 4 SEP 1861 page 1 col.5 (top) and col. 6 (top)

  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84031490/1861-09-05/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1861&index=0&rows=20&words=Prentiss&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Illinois&date2=1861&proxtext=Prentiss&y=17&x=16&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1    Chicago Daily Tribune of 5 SEP 1861 page 2 col.3 (center)

 http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84031490/1861-09-24/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1861&sort=date&rows=20&words=Prentiss&searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=9&state=Illinois&date2=1861&proxtext=Prentiss&y=10&x=17&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=8  Chicago Daily Tribune of 24 SEP 1861 page 1 col.5 (bottom)


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  • 3 weeks later...

Prentiss, between encounters with Grant

On 17 SEP 1861 in the midst of a bad three weeks in Missouri for Major General Fremont, Benjamin Prentiss – at home in Quincy, awaiting Court-Martial on Grant’s charges – was visited by a senior officer who informed him that the charges had been dropped; there was to be no Court-Martial; and in accordance with Special Orders No.210 Brigadier General Prentiss was restored to active service, given Command of that part of Missouri north of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. Prentiss arrived in Missouri, and rode the train from Hannibal to Brookfield, at which station he met the two thousand or so Paroled Federal prisoners (many of whom were wounded) sent north following Mulligan’s surrender of 20 SEP at Lexington. After sending the wounded away to hospital at Quincy, General Prentiss set to work securing his district from the depredations of Missouri irregulars and State Guard units. Over time, the following units were attached to Prentiss, for use in his territory:

·         Birge’s Western Sharpshooters

·         21st Missouri Infantry (Col. David Moore)

·         26th Illinois Infantry (Col. Loomis )

·         Glover’s 3rd Missouri Cavalry

·         Foster’s Regiment

·         23rd Missouri Infantry (Col.Tindall)

·         15th Illinois Infantry (Col. Turner)

·         16th Illinois Infantry (Col. Robert Smith)

·         At least 300 members of Missouri Home Guard

In addition, on his staff: Lieutenant Edwin Moore (from 21st Missouri) and Captain Henry Binmore, AAG (former personal secretary to the late-Stephen A. Douglas.)

While Prentiss worked in the north, his boss, Major General Fremont, embarked on an expedition into Southern Missouri that failed to prevent Fremont from being removed from Command of the Western Department, ultimately replaced by Major General Henry Halleck on about 9 NOV 1861. It appears that Halleck believed Prentiss was doing a good job, because on 26 November, Halleck expanded Prentiss’ area of control (just about doubling the size of that man’s territory) to include “everything north of the Missouri River” and called, The District of Northern Missouri [General Orders No.9 in OR 8 page 380]. Soon afterwards, Halleck telegraphed to General George McClellan (6 DEC) “Prentiss is engaged in an operation to clear out “organized insurgents” in Northern Missouri, in particular at Weston, Platte City, Liberty and Richmond” [OR 8 p.408].

Soon, however, Halleck was complaining to McClellan about the “state of affairs” in Missouri: he did not like the irregular nature of the war being fought there; he was incensed that Missouri Home Guard troops refused to muster into Regular volunteer service (subject to being sent out of Missouri); Major General Price refused to “stand and fight” in a clash of big armies, instead resorting to men dressed as civilians looting and raiding; and burning bridges and tearing up Halleck’s prized railroad tracks and telegraph lines. As the months wore on, Halleck persisted in attempts to force “major unit combat,” while issuing “Orders to the Civilian Population” that became more draconian with time. It was in this environment of irregular warfare that General Prentiss appears to have thrived, keeping his headquarters in the saddle, making use of small units and informants to find out State Guard forces and take them into custody, or drive them away, out of his area. General Halleck acknowledged as much to General McClellan on 16 DEC: “Prentiss has cleared out Northern Missouri of Rebels, but… he did not do it the way I wanted him to, the way it was ordered. I do not know if Prentiss is careless, or negligent, or obstinate. But his actions thwarted my plans” [OR 8 p.438].

On 17 DEC 1861 General Halleck telegraphed to Prentiss (Prentiss was then at Carrollton, and the telegram was relayed through Chillicothe): “Continue your march east to Brunswick and Glasgow until you meet [my] force sent out from Jefferson City. Having cleared out the Rebels from the counties north of the Missouri River, you will report to these headquarters for further orders” [OR 8 p.440].

Many modern Historians pooh-poo General Prentiss and his “little engagement at Mount Zion Church” without recognizing two facts: that engagement was fought within thirty miles of the Missouri River (even further south than Lexington, where Mulligan came to grief); and the skirmish was not fought in accordance with Halleck’s program (but it was conducted the way a campaign against insurgents should be operated.) Beginning with contact on 27 DEC at Hallsville, when a reconnaissance sent out by Prentiss drew fire, the General did not “fly to the nearest telegraph station to contact Halleck,” but instead, upon learning of the skirmish (and learning the location of the enemy force) General Prentiss organized elements of the 3rd Missouri Cavalry and a force of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters, and departed his then-base at Sturgeon, heading south at 2 a.m. At 8 a.m. Prentiss encountered the Rebels between Hallsville and Mount Zion, and arrayed his force to attack from two sides. After engaging the enemy, and finding that this was not the main body of Rebel forces, it was decided to follow the retreating enemy further south to Mount Zion Church. Prentiss dismounted his cavalry and sent them forward, while despatching Birge’s Sharpshooters to engage the enemy (estimated 900 men) from the Rebel left. The sharpshooters experiencing difficulties, Colonel Glover led his remaining cavalry force to the assistance of the sharpshooters. As General Prentiss records: “The Rebels could not stand the fire of our rifles, and retreated, leaving in our hands 90 horses and 105 stand of arms. The battle was brought to a close at 11 a.m.” [OR 8 pp.43- 45].

Prentiss sent his report of the Action at Hallsville and Mount Zion Church in January 1862. It is of interest to note that there are almost no reports in regard to Benjamin Prentiss after mid-January 1862. And Prentiss begins to “lose” bits of his “insurgent fighters” to other theatres, and other commanders (Birge’s Sharpshooters to Grant in February; the 26th Illinois joined Pope’s move on New Madrid in February; the 21st Missouri was sent to Grant at Savannah in March.)

In February, Halleck began to indicate to Benjamin Prentiss that he, too, “would soon be wanted south..” His job in Missouri done, on 15 MAR Prentiss turned over command of Northern Missouri to Brigadier General Ben Loan (Prentiss’ lieutenant, based since10 DEC 1861 at St. Joseph) and Brigadier General Prentiss reported to St. Louis for his new assignment(s).



References as sited.

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Would have added this to the initial post of 29 June 2016 if it had been encountered: often discussed, but rarely seen...

GALENA, ILL., May 24, 1861.

Colonel L. THOMAS,

Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:

SIR: Having served for fifteen years in the Regular Army, including four years at West Point, and feeling in the duty of every one who has been educated at the Government expense to offer their services for the support of that Government, I have the honor, very respectfully, to tender my services until the close of the war in such capacity as may be offered. I would say that, in view of my present age and length of service, I feel myself competent to command a regiment if the President, in his judgment, should see fit to intrust one to me. Since the first call of the President I have been serving on the staff of the Governor of this State, rendering such aid as I could in the organization of our State militia, and am still engaged in that capacity. A letter addressed to me at Springfield, Ill., will reach me.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


[Found in OR 122 page 234, and sent by Mr. U.S. Grant just days before being offered colonelcy of 21st Illinois by Gov. Yates.]


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  • 7 months later...

Another witness to the Story of Grant and Prentiss was Orville Hickman Browning, career politician and lawyer from Illinois, involved in the State Legislature, and a lifelong friend of Abraham Lincoln (beginning with their shared experience during the Black Hawk War of 1831.) And, Mr. Browning kept a diary (some entries):

  • 14 APR 1861     (Sunday, at Quincy Illinois) Learned that Fort Sumter had been captured by the traitors.
  • 15 APR               Received conflicting stories of the events at Fort Sumter.
  • 22 APR               Took the train to Springfield, and reached that place just after midnight. Found cars on the track filled with soldiers, under command of Colonel Benjamin Prentiss, about to start for Cairo. A scheme had been set on foot, by which traitors in Southern Illinois (the area was called Egypt) would act in confederacy with other traitors in Missouri and Tennessee to seize Cairo, cut off all of the State south of the Ohio & Mississippi R.R. and [establish a new State and join it to the confederacy.] To prevent the execution of so diabolical a plot, it was deemed advisable to anticipate them in the occupation of Cairo, and it is now in possession of 1200 of our troops, under command of Col. Ben Prentiss. [State militia Brigadier General Richard Kellogg Swift, under orders issued 21 APR 1861 by Governor Yates, rushed a force of 500 men and artillery south and took possession of Cairo. He then turned over command of Cairo to Colonel B. M. Prentiss, and BGen R. K. Swift returned to Chicago.] 
  • 23 APR              (at Springfield) Visited Camp Yates in company with Marshall and Oglesby.
  • 24 APR              (Wednesday at Springfield) busied himself with affairs at the State House. And on 25 April 1861 a Special Military Bill (giving Governor Yates extraordinary powers during the current crisis) was debated. While the debate continued, Judge [Stephen A. Douglas] arrived and met with me; and we acted in concert to smooth out the Military Bill [which was passed into Law.] That night (25 APR) Judge Douglass made a speech in the Hall of the House declaring himself ready to stand by the Government to the uttermost extremity in putting down treason.
  • 7 June                Meeting of the bar this morning in Federal Court Room, Springfield, in regard to Judge Stephen A. Douglass' death (on 3 June 1861). [Orville Browning will subsequently be selected to fill the vacancy as Senator from Illinois, with effect from 26 June 1861.]
  • 2 July                 Orville Browning, appointed as Senator from Illinois, arrived Washington, D.C. to participate in the Summer session of Congress.
  • 6 July                 Met with President Lincoln at the White House.
  • 11 July               Met General John C. Fremont in Nicolay's room (Fremont had just returned from Europe, where he had undertaken major contracts purchasing arms and ammunition on behalf of the United States Government. Fremont had been in Europe since April.)
  • 19 July               Went to the White House to meet with the President. Found a number of others already there, discussing war matters.
  • 21 July              (Sunday) A great fight is going on today at Manassas Junction... At supper we received news that we had "forced the enemy back."
  • 22 July              News everywhere of the disasters at Bull Run yesterday...
  • 25 July              Discussion centers on Appointments of Generals for the War. Senator Browning intercedes on Benjamin Prentiss' behalf. 
  • 27 July              Pope and Hurlbut already being appointed Brigadier Generals, we thought we would be entitled to seven more. I was for Prentiss, McClernand, Payne, Richardson, Palmer, Grant and Stokes.
  • 28 July              Entire Sunday spent in deliberations on proposed Brigadier Generals. The Democrats withheld votes from Prentiss and Palmer in order to give preference to Grant and McClernand.
  • 29 July              Met with President Lincoln and explained how the selection of Brigadier Generals had been carried out. President Lincoln told me he would only appoint three [from the list] at present: Prentiss, McClernand and Payne.
  • 9 AUG                Got order from the Department to Governor Yates for General McClernand. And went to Surgeon General to see about Hospital for Quincy [and Senator Browning departed later that day for home in Illinois, arriving 10 pm on August 15th.]
  • 21 AUG              Senator Browning took it upon himself to go to St. Louis and "see General Fremont about making a military post of Quincy."
  • 26 AUG              Following a constructive, but non-committal discussion with General Fremont, Senator Browning returned to Quincy.
  • 3 SEP                 After learning of serious attacks on the Hannibal & St. Joseph R.R., Senator Browning decides to return to St. Louis to discuss current affairs with General Fremont in person. Travels by rail via Springfield, then to Mississippi River across from St. Louis. By September 5th Senator Browning is in St. Louis.
  • 6 SEP                General Prentiss arrived here (last night) on account of his difficulty with General Grant. At 1 pm I went with Prentiss, Governor Wood, Sam Holmes and Boyle to see General Fremont. Prentiss' difficulty was satisfactorily adjusted. Fremont does not censure him, but will reinstate him in Command... [And on this very day, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant is taking possession of Paducah...]

For those wanting to read more: https://archive.org/details/diaryoforvillehi20brow/page/498  Diary of Orville Browning.

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Having heard it asserted that "Prentiss was not a very good officer" and that "the ill considered actions of General Prentiss in not joining one of the backward movements led to his capture," the following article from Missouri Daily Republican of 16 July 1861 page 2 col. 5 is presented in rebuttal:


The men-in-ranks were aware of the seniority games being played in Illinois and Missouri, even before the first encounter between General Benjamin Prentiss and "General" Grant on 17 August 1861. 

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