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Re: Grant's orders to Prentiss

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  • bjer50010
    ... And what evidence supports Prentiss? I previously posted a response which suggested that the Prentiss version is suspect for a couple of reasons. First,
    Message 1 of 95 , Jun 1, 2002
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      --- In civilwarwest@y..., "josepharose" <josepharose@y...> wrote:

      > Mr. Keene:
      >
      > When I state that there is nothing which contradicts Prentiss, I
      > mean that no evidence advanced offers a contradictory position to
      > his statement that Grant ordered him to "maintain that position at
      > all hazards."
      >

      And what evidence supports Prentiss? I previously posted a response
      which suggested that the Prentiss version is suspect for a couple of
      reasons. First, it was submitted months later, unavoidable given the
      circumstances, but still months later. Second, the fact the wording
      of his OR "hold at all hazards" differs from the wording in
      Hickenlooper's account "hold at all costs" and also from the speech
      which Prentiss gave after the war, where he merely says "hold the
      position". This second point suggests that whatever orders he
      himself received from Grant he passed on to Hickenlooper as "hold at
      all costs". However, because Grant endorsed the speech version and
      not the OR version, I suspect that the orders were less dramatic than
      Prentiss would have us believe. Third, Prentiss's account of the
      withdrawal just does not agree with other accounts. Again, we have
      only his word for what was said to WHL Wallace. Given his penchant
      for self-promotion, as exemplified by the anecdote I alluded to in an
      earlier post, it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility
      that he added the "at all costs/hazards" phrase himself, to remove
      responsibility for the loss of 2,000 men or to make his stand appear
      more heroic.

      > It's always possible to suggest that the writer of an OR was not
      > telling the truth. That kind of suggestion does not "contradict"
      > Prentiss.
      >

      No it doesn't. But when he is the only writer who claims to have
      receieved an order which Grant does not acknowledge giving, and when
      he is known to have blatantly engaged in self-promotion regarding his
      role in the battle, I think it is fair to view his account with
      skepticism. As for the Hickenlooper account, you yourself have
      numerous times discarded the accounts of Grant's subordinates when
      they agree with Grant's version so the same level of doubt has to be
      assigned to Hickenlooper. There is simply no evidence that he heard
      the orders given by Grant so it is possible that he received
      embellished orders from Prentiss. I provided a fuller explanation of
      my reasoning on this point in a previous post.

      > 1) When the nest was breaking down that afternoon, Wallace,
      > Prentiss, et al. had various ideas of staying or leaving. Such
      > thoughts and discussions don't do anything to contradict Prentiss'
      > statement that Grant ordered him after *10 AM* to "maintain that
      > position at all hazards." The rule could not be so hard and fast to
      > prevent officers in that vulnerable position from leaving or
      > thinking about leaving.
      >

      Then why didn't Hurlbut indicate that he had the same orders? We
      have only Prentiss's account which relates what he and Wallace
      discussed the situation prior to falling back. And the fact that
      both Hurlbut and Wallace began to withdraw indicates that there was
      no hard and fast order to "hold at all hazards". In fact, as Mr.
      Keene correctly points out, the discussion between Prentiss and
      Wallace indicates that there may have been no order to "hold at all
      costs" and that Prentiss made the decision to stay on his own. One
      further point is that the very fact that Prentiss discussed the
      situation with Wallace, true or not, absolves Grant of any
      responsibility for Prentiss's capture. Prentiss made the decision to
      stay on his own. If there were orders to "hold at all hazards" also
      issued to Wallace, he still made the correct decision to fall back
      when the left flank withdrew, Prentiss did not.

      Mr. Keene's point about "position" is also important to an
      understanding of what orders were issued by Grant earlier in the day
      or when he returned around 4:00. You have provided no evidence that
      disputes Grant's claim to have returned to Prentiss's position later
      in the day.

      > 2) This is also so for Tuttle.
      >
      > As to my agreement "that there is some basis to *suggest*
      > that "Grant expected Prentiss to pull back with the other
      > divisions," that is still not the same as stating that "Grant
      > expected Prentiss to pull back with the other divisions." Even that
      > statement, which is a leap from the initial suggestion, is a big,
      > big leap from the supposition that Grant didn't give such an order
      > in the first place. There's not even a direct connection between
      the
      > two latter statements.
      >

      But you yourself have argued that the implied censure by Grant of
      Prentiss was for not pulling back with the other divisions. If Grant
      didn't believe Prentiss was ignoring orders why would he imply
      censure? The editorial note in Grant's memoirs, which is mentioned
      by Daniel in his book, is directed at Prentiss's failure to fall
      back. In fact the very use of the word "failed" to fall back is very
      telling. Note that Grant didn't write, "Prentiss did not fall back"
      but "Prentiss failed to fall back".

      > As opposed to this double leap into the logical unknown, there is
      > Prentiss stating that Grant ordered him to "maintain that position
      > at all hazards," Hickenlooper stating that Prentiss was ordered to
      > hold at all costs; and Geddes being told by Prentiss to hold at all
      > hazards. There was another subordinate (IIRC) who was maybe also
      > ordered to do the same (maybe it was the battery with Geddes).
      >

      And how many times have you discarded the OR of Grant subordinates
      even when they agree with Grant's version? Without proof that
      Hickenlooper heard the order given his testimony means nothing. He
      may have gotten his orders direct from Prentiss. Do you have the
      reports of anyone else, outside of Prentiss's command who received
      these orders or heard these orders given? But even if these orders
      were issued in the morning you have no evidence that Grant didn't
      change them when he visited Prentiss later in the day. See the
      discussion between Mr. Keene and myself about the possibilities of
      what was discussed in that later visit. Why discard Grant's account
      of his later visit to Prentiss?

      > Unless there is something firm with which to oppose Prentiss'
      > statement, it should be allowed to stand. Have you read of any
      other
      > historians taking the position that Prentiss lied?
      >

      No. But many historians take the position that Grant visited
      Prentiss later in the day. To expect that an order given in the
      morning, when Buell or Wallace were expected within a reasonable
      timeframe, still holds later in the day when it was obvious that
      neither Buell nor Wallace would be there is ridiculous. And you
      still haven't adequately explained why Hurlbut and Wallace began a
      withdrawal while Prentiss dragged his feet. Was he stupid? He knew
      that the flanking divisions were withdrawing, so why wouldn't he do
      likewise? If he was blindly following an order given hours
      previously under better circumstances doesn't that say something
      about his competence as a general? Especially since both Hurlbut and
      Wallace realized the gravity of their situation.

      > I would disagree with your suggestion that Prentiss' position was
      > *defined* by the units on his flanks. Although he may have
      > described it in that way, I can't see an historical basis for
      > interpreting his orders using that definition.
      >

      But the implication in Mr. Keene's interpretation is that the
      defensive line was to be treated as a whole unit. Hurlbut the left,
      Prentiss the center and Wallace the right. Do you know of any other
      CW battle in which the flanking units are given discretionary orders
      to hold while the center is given orders to "hold at all hazards"?
      That would ridiculous. Wouldn't it have made more sense for Hurlbut
      to withdraw, followed by Prentiss then by Wallace? That would be the
      correct manner for withdrawing in the face of overwhelming enemy
      attacks. Prentiss's version makes him seem incompetent, IMHO. He
      watched while the flanks withdrew and the confederates surrounded him
      and then decides to withdraw? Did he consider that by then he had
      exhausted "all hazards?"

      > Joseph
      >
      > P.S. What do you make of Grant's memoirs which state: "I was with
      > [Prentiss], as I was with each of the division commanders that day,
      > several times, and my recollection is that the last time I was with
      > him was about half-past four, when his division was standing up
      > firmly and the General was as cool as if expecting victory. But no
      > matter whether it was four or later, the story that he and his
      > command were surprised and captured in their camps is without any
      > foundation whatever"? If Grant was with Prentiss when the flanks
      > were collapsing, I would have expected Grant to mention that and to
      > state what his new orders might have been. Maybe he was there
      > earlier, before the collapse became apparent.

      I think, that as often happened during the war, Grant's time may have
      been off. Note that I am not implying Grant's time records were any
      more inaccurate than anyone else's but merely that time keeping,
      especially early in the war was not very accurate, especially in the
      heat of battle. I also think that trying to make a case based on
      Grant's remembrance of a specific time, written 20 yrs. after the
      fact, is pretty lame.

      According to Daniel's account, the left end withdrew around 4:00 but
      the center lasted until between 4:45 and 6:00, with the actual line
      breaking around the earlier time. Grant may have been there around
      3:30 to 4:00; but it doesn't really matter. Grant's account was
      meant to answer questions about whether Prentiss's troops were
      surrounded in their camps. I certainly think he got his times wrong
      but what do you make of his claim to have been with Prentiss prior to
      the withdrawal?

      The reason Grant didn't mention the collapse of Hurlbut's flank is
      that it hadn't happened by the time he visited Prentiss and there is
      nothing in his account which indicates that he should have known they
      would collapse.

      JB Jewell
    • bobaldrich2001
      This has been a most interesting discussion. Based on what Slippy says, and the general chorus of agreement, am I correct in drawing the conclusion that the
      Message 95 of 95 , Jun 4, 2002
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        This has been a most interesting discussion. Based on what Slippy
        says, and the general chorus of agreement, am I correct in drawing
        the conclusion that the pow-wow between Prentiss and Wallace was not
        over whether to retreat, but whether to "shift left"? And how long,
        approximately, were Prentiss's men out there on their own before they
        were captured?

        Bob Aldrich


        --- In civilwarwest@y..., "bjer50010" <bjewell@i...> wrote:
        > --- In civilwarwest@y..., "hartshje" <Hartshje@a...> wrote:
        > > --- In civilwarwest@y..., "slippymississippi" wrote:
        > > >
        > > > Hurlbut only states that he notified Prentiss that he was
        > shifting
        > > > left, not falling back. At the point that Hurlbut shifts to
        meet
        > > > the attackers massing to his left , Prentiss speaks with
        Wallace,
        > > > and together they shift left to cover the position left by
        > > > Hurlbut.
        > > >
        > > > Simultaneous to this, two massive assault columns are moving
        > > > through the thickets towards Prentiss' left (Hurlbut) and right
        > > > (Wallace). Soon after the shift was completed, Wallace was
        shot
        > > > dead and his men routed. Hurlbut was thrown back in a near-
        > rout.
        > > > At that point, troops were converging on roads *behind*
        Prentiss'
        > > > position. Even if Prentiss had wanted to escape at the instant
        > > > that Hurlbut began to withdraw, his path would have been
        blocked.
        > > >
        > > > The fact of the matter is that Prentiss did *indeed* attempt to
        > > > flee the position after realizing his situation. However, the
        > > > envelopment was complete and he was unable to cut his way out.
        > > > I still maintain that the thickets and smoke prevented Prentiss
        > > > from realizing both the urgency of Hurlbut's withdrawal and the
        > > > extent to which Wallace's division had disintegrated. In fact,
        > the
        > > > disintegration was probably more a result of the sudden and
        > > > overwhelming artillery bombardment by the entire Confederate
        > first
        > > > corps than the death of Wallace. At this point, the
        Confederate
        > > > reports read that Prentiss' men attempted to fight their way
        out,
        > > > but were finally overpowered.
        > > >
        > > > In light of Prentiss' self-serving claim to have saved the day,
        > and
        > > > his belated attempt to abandon the position, I think his claim
        > that
        > > > he was sacrificing his command in order to hold the position to
        > the
        > > > bitter end is a bit overblown.
        > >
        > > Slippy,
        > >
        > > I think this is an excellent analysis of the events leading to
        > > Prentiss' surrender. Thanks!! I think we should all just give
        > > Prentiss credit for a courageous, hard-fought fight which,
        > > incidentally, also helped save Grant's butt, whether or not
        > > Prentiss' "sacrifice" was intentional.
        > >
        > > Joe H.
        >
        > Slippy,
        >
        > I completely agree with Joe H. Very interesting description of the
        > final stages of Prentiss' stand. It does appear that once the
        flanks
        > gone there was almost no chance for Prentiss to get out. It also
        > makes the issue of whether Grant issued orders to withdraw or not
        > almost irrelevant. Prentiss and Wallace certainly deserve credit
        for
        > a courageous stand, but I do think Prentiss may have overstated his
        > case somewhat.
        >
        > JB Jewell
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