May 4: “Let him come.”

Fort Prentiss (Fort Defiance), Cairo IL, 1861
Cairo, Illinois in 1861: Guns at Fort Prentiss, later renamed Fort Defiance.

[This spot is underwater at the moment; how deep depends on what the Corps of Engineers has decided to do.][Update: The Corps of Engineers blew the levee at Bird’s Point, so the water dropped several feet. However, Fort Defiance park is right at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi, and I’m sure it’s still under water.]

Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi
Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers at Fort Defiance, Cairo, IL. (Mississippi is the brown water on the right)

Confederate General Gideon Pillow was notorious for having constructed an earthwork with the ditch on the wrong side at Camargo in the Mexican-American war. I confess I’d probably have made the same mistake, and in fact I’m still a little confused. This discussion of earthworks indicates that they can be built with trenches in the front, the rear, or both. Still, the incident was well-known, and apparently plenty of people who know more about entrenchment than I do thought he was pretty much a laughing-stock.

The New York Times reports that General-to-be Benjamin Prentiss taunted him a bit:


CAIRO, Ill., Saturday, May 4.

Gen. PILLOW, Gen. ELY and other prominent officers of the Confederate army, with a large number of Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee troops, are at Memphis, and heavy guns are arriving there daily. Colonel PRENTISS, commanding officer at this point, has just received the following despatch from three of the most prominent citizens of Cincinnati: — “General PILLOW has several steamers ready at Memphis. He meditates on immediate attack on Cairo.” Col. PRENTISS replied: “Let him come. He will learn to dig his ditch on the right side. I am ready.”

Gideon J. Pillow
Gideon J. Pillow

Benjamin Prentiss
Benjamin Prentiss

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One Response to May 4: “Let him come.”

  1. Pingback: Cockades and Cairo | Blue Gray Review

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