The Hornets Nest
Official Report of Brig.Gen. B.M. Prentiss
Commanding Sixth Division, at Shiloh
Quincy, Ill, November 17, 1862
Col. J.C. Kelton. Asst Adjutant General, U.S. Army, Washington D.C.
Colonel: Upon my return from captivity in the hands of the
enemy, I have the honor to submit my report of the part taken in the battle of
April 6th, at Shiloh, by the Sixth Division, Army of West Tennessee, the
command of which was assigned to me.
Saturday evening, pursuant to instructions received when I
was assigned to duty at Shiloh, the usual advance guard was posted, and in view
of information received from General Grant, I sent forward five companies of
the Twenty-fifth Missouri and five companies of the Twenty-First Missouri
Infantry. At about 7 o'clock, Colonel David Moore, of the 21st Missouri returned, reporting that a rebel cavalry reconnaissance was going on in our front.
I strengthened the pickets on the Cornith Road, extending the line a distance
of a mile and a half, at the same time extending and doubling the lines of the
At 3 o'clock on Sunday morning, Colonel Moore, with ten
Missouri companies, went to the front, and at day break was driven back by the
enemy's advance, commanded by General Hardee. I communicated this fact to
Generals Hurlbut and Wallace and send a brigade to the front.
Shortly before 6 o'clock, Colonel Moore now being severely
wounded, the Missouri regiments commenced falling back, the enemy being close
on their rear. At this point I ordered my entire force, and the cavalry which
had been held in the rear, advanced to the extreme front and
immediately they came under fire, receiving the assault made by the entire
force of the enemy. This position was held until the enemy had passed our right
flank. Realizing the enemy was flanking me, I ordered the division to retire in
line of battle to the color line of our encampment, at the same time
communicating this fact to Generals Hurlbut and Wallace.
Being now attacked by an overwhelming force, and not being
able longer to hold the ground against the enemy, I ordered the division to
fall back to the line occupied by General Hurlbut, and at 9 o'clock, reformed
between Hurlbut's and Wallace's divisions.. My battery (Fifth Ohio) was posted
to the right on the road.
At 10 o'clock my line was again attacked, and finding my
command greatly reduced by reason of casualties and because of the falling back
of many men to the river, they being panic-stricken, I called for help from
General Wallace and he sent me the Eighth Iowa.
At this point General Grant appeared upon the field. I
showed him the disposition of my force, and I received his final orders, which
were to maintain the position at all hazards. This position I did maintain
until 4 o'clock when General Hurlbut, being overpowered, was forced to retire.
I was then compelled to change front with the 23rd Missouri, 21st Missouri, 18th Missouri, 18th Wisconsin, and part of the 12th Michigan, occupying a part of
the ground vacated by General Hurlbut. When Hurlbut retired, I conferred with
Wallace and was informed that the entire army, except for us, had fled to the
river. A few minutes later General Wallace was killed and his division left the
I was about to be surrounded, so I ordered my command to
charge the enemy which was done, but we found them advancing in mass,
completely encircling my command, and nothing was left to do but continue to
fight; we did so until 5 o'clock when further resistence meant the slaughter of
every man in the command. I surrendered.
It is difficult to discriminate among so many gallant men as
surrounded me when we were forced to yield to the overpowering strength of the
enemy. Their bravery under the hottest fire is testified to by the devotion
with which they stood against fearful odds.
I have the honor to be,
very respectfully, your obedient servant,
PRENTISS, Brigadier-General, U.S. Volunteers
admitting here that Night saved him.
The Grave of
Harrison County, Mo.
Grant's Tomb by Comparison
Myth of the
How much Benjamin Prentiss deserves credit for the Union
stand in front of the gap that carried the Corinth road to the landing must be
dragged out of the dust of history. William Wallace's division played a very
important role in stemming the rebel tide sweeping over the Union center and
left; but he was killed and Prentiss survived.
What seems reasonably clear is that by about 10:00 a.m. Prentiss had lost over half of his division and could not have held his second
line, formed behind his camps, without the aid of Wallace's division.
The battlefield tablets show that the dead were
comparatively light in the center of the Union line, where the Hornets Nest was
located. Troop positions also show that there was little action from rebel
attacks coming directly across the farm field in front of the road where
Prentiss had an Ohio artillery battery in action. The most severe action
against the Hornets Nest came on both its flanks, Bragg pushing with
Tennesseans and Kentuckians, on the north end, Breckinridge, under the
direction of Sidney Johnston, pushing with two brigades against the south end.
along the road toward the center of the Hornets Nest
toward the center of the Hornets Nest
John Breckinridge, handling two brigades, supported by a
third, spent several hours pushing his front against the left flank of the
Hornets Nest, until he told Johnston that he did not think he could get the men
to charge again. "Oh, yes!" Johnston is reported to have said;
"I think we can," and joining a Tennessee regiment, he led a charge
up the road, past the Union flank, into the ten acre Peach Field. Breckinridge
rode with his staff on the left flank of the regiment in the charge. Every
single member of his staff was wounded here. Then, about 2:30 p.m. the word came that Johnston was killed and Breckinridge was on his own.
All this time, the battlefield was in furious chaos, the
sound of rifle volleys and artillery blasts getting louder and louder, mixed
with furious quavering yells as the rebels came on, broke, fell back in to a
lull, then came running forward again like howling wolves in packs. In front of
them, the captain of the Ohio battery sang the commands, and the men ramed and
primed, touched off the vents—the guns exploded—and the men rolled them back
and loaded again, the smoke from the guns billowing out from the muzzles of the
cannon, lacing with spikes of yellow light. The faces of everyone on boths
sides were the color of ashes, their cheeks red with powder burns, their hair
singed by fire, their mouths full of grime from biting cartridges, their hands
black with powder from the ramrods.
Then there was rebel infantry running between the guns, and
the Union men that were crowded behind in the trees took off running, looking
back over their shoulders, going hard for the rear without their rifles. Horses
were mixed in it, running with the bits in their teeth. The Union resistance at
the Hornets Nest had finally collapsed.
Regiments That Stood
21st Missouri Volunteer Regiment
All of Prentiss's regiments—three from Missouri, one from
Michigan, one from Wisconsin, and one from Iowa, all arrived at Pittsburg
Landing by steamboat ride from St. Louis on April 5, 1862. All but the three
from Missouri had been in uniform for less than three weeks. The Missouri regiments had been operating in Northwest Missouri since November 1861.
The Origin And Object Of The War
The War In The West
Union Control of the Mississippi
Papers of Ulysses S Grant
The Hornets Nest
The War in the East
General McClellan Progression Toward Richmond