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Dedication of U.S. Grant Trail sign in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

U. S. Grant in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Grant Moves Through the Ranks

     The nation’s eighteenth President, Ulysses S. Grant, began his military career as a humble soldier. During the Civil War, Grant quickly rose through the ranks and achieved the status of Brigadier General of Volunteers. Officially notified of his new appointment in mid-August while stationed in Ironton, Missouri, Grant arrived in Cape Girardeau from St. Louis on August 30, 1861. Grant took command of the Union District of Southeast Missouri and the beginning of his historic campaign for control of the Mississippi River would start here.

Grant promptly sent out orders that the Union regiments stationed at Ironton should proceed to Cape Girardeau, in order to prepare to go on the offensive. The troops arrived on September 2, which resulted in a dispute between General U.S. Grant and General Benjamin Prentiss.

Prentiss had been born in Virginia, but moved to Quincy, Illinois in the 1840’s in his early twenties. He had been a lawyer during his civilian career, but served in the military during the Mexican American war. Grant and Prentiss, along with ten other men, were nominated and confirmed to the rank of Brigadier General on August 7, 1861. Because of Grant’s previous service as an officer in the regular Army, he held seniority over Prentiss. When the two had met in Ironton previously, Prentiss had made clear that he believed himself to be the senior Brigadier.

After that altercation, when Prentiss arrived in Cape Girardeau with the troops that he had brought from Ironton, he expected to be placed in command of the whole of the forces amassed. However, when he was met by Grant, Prentiss was surprised to learn that Grant was to take command. The two exchanged words resulting in Prentiss placing himself under arrest in order to plead his case in St. Louis. Unfortunately for Prentiss, Grant’s authority over him was upheld.

Two days after their exchange in Cape Girardeau, Grant moved his headquarters from Cape Girardeau to Cairo, Illinois on September 4, 1861. Then, on the evening of September 5, Grant developed a plan to occupy Paducah, Kentucky, as a response to the actions of the Confederate army which had entered Kentucky in spite of the state’s declared neutrality early in the war. After this successful occupation of Paducah, Kentucky, Grant returned to Cape Girardeau, Missouri on September 7, 1861 to advise the troops still posted there.

     Grant’s last campaign in southeast Missouri was from Cairo, on November 7, 1861 in which he attacked Belmont, Missouri . From Cairo, Grant would move on to Fort Donelson, Tennessee and later, Shiloh. Seven months after their altercation, at the Battle of Shiloh, it would be Prentiss and his troops which fought so valiantly to provide protection for Grant’s defensive lines in the “Hornet’s Nest.”

About the Author
Whitney E. Tucker is the Member Services Coordinator for Missouri's Civil War Heritage Foundation. Whitney is completing her master in Historic Preservation at Southeast Missouri State University. Contact her at

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