GEN. B. M. PRENTISS, one of the chief actors in the War of the Rebellion, is, like many other, noted men of this country, a product of the State of Virginia, his birth having, occurred in Wood County, in 1819. His pathway in youth was by, no means strewn with roses and gave no hint of the honors that a strong intellect, fairly used, coupled with unwearying industry, were to bring him. In the common schools of his native State he managed to pick up a fair education, which he supplemented by hard study after the active work of his life had begun. In 1836, anticipating the famous advice given to young men by Horace Greeley, to "go West and grow up with the country," he came to Marion County, Mo., and engaged in the manufacture of cordage. In the spring of 1841 he moved from that place, to Quincy, Ill., and was there engaged in the same business with his father until 1847, at which time he began the study of law, although he did not practice that profession until the close of the great Civil War. During the Mormon excitement in Illinois he volunteered in the State service, and later, at the commencement of the Mexican War, was appointed adjutant of the First Illinois Infantry, which was raised at Quincy, with which regiment he served throughout that struggle with honor to himself and to the material benefit of his country. Until the opening of the Civil War he was a resident of Quincy, but in response to the call of President Lincoln for 75,000 troops, in April, 1861, Gen. Prentiss began the organization of a company, of which he was elected captain. Three days later he was commissioned colonel of the Tenth Illinois Infantry, and ordered to Cairo, which was the rendezvous for most of the Western troops, and of which he was placed in command just five days subsequent to being commissioned colonel. From there he was ordered by Gen. Fremont to Jefferson City, Mo., to take command of all North and Central Missouri. He was later ordered to the field by Gen. Hallock and proceeded to Pittsburg Landing, where he arrived on the lst of April, where he organized and took command of the Sixth Division. On the morning of the 6th he was attacked by the enemy, against whom he gallantly contended the entire day in what is known as the "Hornet's Nest," the hottest part of that bloody battle, but as his force was outnumbered by that of the enemy, he was surrounded at nightfall and captured. He was held a prisoner six months, during which times he was confined at Talladega, Selma, Madison and Libby prisons and experienced all the hardships and privations which fell to the lot of the Union prisoner of war. After an exchange of prisoners had been effected he visited Washington and was granted a leave of thirty days, but before the expiration of that time was ordered to sit on the court martial in the case of Gen. Fitz John Porter. After the close of this trial he was ordered to report to Gen. Grant at Milliken's Bend, by whom he was assigned to the Eastern Division of Arkansas, with headquarters at Helena. On July 4, 1863; he commanded the Union forces in the battle of Helena, gaining a decided victory over the enemy, whose forces more than four times outnumbered his. Previous to this engagement, for brave and gallant service at the battle of Shiloh, be was promoted to a major-general- ship, but a year after the battle of Helena he deemed it his duty to resign, after which be returned to his home and family with the consciousness of having performed every duty which devolved upon him faithfully, enthusiastically and to the letter. Gen. Prentiss opened a law office soon after his return from the scene of battle, which he successfully followed for six years, and on April 1, 1869, was appointed by Gen. Grant pension agent for Fourth District of Illinois, which position he held with distinguished ability for several years. The General has always been an ardent Republican and a man of decidedly public spirit. He is well known throughout the country and greatly admired for his principles and his war record, and has often been urged by his friends to accept high political honors, but he has usually declined. In 1881 he located in Harrison County, Mo., and his home is at present in Sherman Township. He is the only survivor of the celebrated Fitz John Porter court martial, and as he enjoys fair health will probably live many years yet to relate his thrilling war experiences to an interested public.
Springfield-Greene County Library