Major Clifton Kennedy Prentiss, 6th MD, USA
In my historical fiction series, MY BROTHER'S FLAG, I imagined how the Civil War might have played out for a family on Maryland's Eastern Shore. There are many true stories of brothers joining opposing sides in the war, and recently I stumbled upon the tale of the Prentiss brothers, which I thought I would share with you.
The brothers, Clifton and William, were born near Baltimore, Maryland. When the war broke out, Clifton enlisted in the Union Army and rose through the ranks to major. William enlisted in the First Maryland Infantry of the Confederate States in spring of 1862.
Although Clifton and William were present at more than one battlefield, camped just over the hill from one another, they did not meet again until April 2, 1865. The Union and the Confederate armies had been stalemated at Petersburg, Virginia for almost ten months when General Grant ordered a full assault to break the Rebel lines.
Major Clifton Prentiss led the 6th Maryland as they attacked the Rebels and was reported to be the first officer to enter the enemy's defensive works. Almost immediately, he was shot in the chest.
An account given in 1920 by J.R. King in the National Tribune recorded this "pathetic incident":
"Two of the 6th Md. men like many others were going over the field ministering to the wounded without regard to the uniform they wore, came upon a wounded Confederate, who after receiving some water, asked if the 6th Md. was any way near there. The reply was, "We belong to that regiment. Why do you ask?" The Confederate replied that he had a brother in that regiment. "Who is he?" he was asked. The Confederate said, "Captain Clifton K. Prentiss." Our boys said, "Yes, he is our Major now and is lying over yonder wounded." The Confederate said, "I would like to see him." Word was at once carried to Maj. Prentiss. He declined to see him saying, "I want to see no man who fired on my country's flag."
Colonel Hill, after giving directions to have the wounded Confederate brought over, knelt down beside the Major and pleaded with him to see his brother. When the wayward brother was laid beside him our Major for a moment glared at him. The Confederate brother smiled; that was the one touch of nature; out went both hands and with tears streaming down their cheeks these two brothers, who had met on many bloody fields on opposite sides for three years, were once more brought together."
William died at the Armory Square Hospital on June 24, 1865, and his remains were interred at Green-Wood Cemetery. Clifton, holding out hope for his recuperation, returned home. But he died there on August 18, less than two months after his brother succumbed.
Clifton was buried next to his brother William, and they have lain side by side for more than a century at Green-Wood.