Baltimore natives Clifton and William Prentiss each died for their country. In 1862, with the USA and Confederate States at war, Clifton joined the Union army and later rose to the rank of brevet (or temporary) colonel. His younger brother, William, however, sympathized with the South and joined the army of the Stars and Bars. Clifton, shocked, swore he would never again speak to his brother.
On April 2, 1865 General U.S. Grant led a final, desperate assault on Gen. Robert E. Lee’s intricate system of fortifications at Petersburg, Virginia, the culmination of a 9-month siege. The Army of the Potomac was finally able to break through; a week later, Lee surrendered at Appomattox at Wilmer McLean’s farm, the very place the first battle of the war had been fought in July 1861.
It was Clifton Prentiss who led the assault on Petersburg on that April morning. He received a bullet in the lung. As it happened, William was there on the Confederate side and he, too, received an injury: a shell fragment in his knee necessitated an amputation. Both men were taken to a field hospital where, after some intransigence on Clifton’s part, they were reunited. At length they were brought to Armory Square Hospital in Washington, where they were treated by none other than Walt Whitman, who was working as an Army nurse. The brothers’ wounds were too severe for recovery: William passed away in June, Clifton in August. The brothers are interred side by side in a Green-Wood meadow, united as they were not during their lifetimes.
Stories of the Civil War, Carved on Headstones, Glenn Collins, New York Times July 4, 2003
FNY’s Green-Wood Cemetery tour takes place October 15, 2011 at 10″30 AM.