The valiant stand in the Hornets’ Nest position at Shiloh by Union generals William H.L. Wallace and Benjamin M. Prentiss helped to save the rest of the Union army from ignominious defeat on April 6, 1862. Instead of honoring their achievement, General Ulysses S. Grant offered two implausible assertions in his Personal Memoirs. First, he unjustly cast blame on one of his subordinates for the surrender: “In one of the backward moves, on the 6th, the division commanded by General Prentiss did not fall back with the others. This left his flanks exposed and enabled the enemy to capture him with about 2,200 of his officers and men” (although most of those captured actually came from Wallace’s Second Division, and Grant ignored how Wallace would have been as guilty as Prentiss). Second, Grant improbably noted, “my recollection is that the last time I was with [Prentiss] was about half-past four, when his division was standing up firmly.”
At that time, however, with the Confederate envelopment of the Hornets’ Nest on both flanks nearly complete and the Union supporting divisions heading toward the rear, the grave state of affairs should have been obvious, and Grant would have been even more culpable—if he actually had been present—for not ordering a hasty retreat. In all probability, he was not there at that time. Prentiss, in a speech that the General’s Memoirs vouched for as a “correct report,” remarked that “Gen. Grant knows that I communicated to him at 4 o’clock at the landing, and tried to get re-inforcements, and received orders to hold on. I held.” Responsibility for Prentiss’ maintaining his place at all hazards, which resulted in his capitulation, belonged entirely with General Grant. And Grant’s phraseology, “one of the backward moves,” further implied that coordinated withdrawals took place throughout the day. Instead, the repeated retreats by Stuart, McArthur, Hurlbut, McClernand, and Sherman happened unsystematically and without any coordination by Grant. That commander, however, refused to acknowledge his culpability for the mass surrender of Prentiss’ and Wallace’s men.