Benjamin D. Prather was born November 5, 1828 in Madison County, Kentucky. His father, Benjamin Higgins Prather had arrived in Kentucky sometime before 1810 with his father and mother from Maryland. They settled in Madison County and later moved north to Lusby Mill, Owen County shortly after our Benjamin was born. Seemingly un-important at this moment; Lusby Mills is about 45 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio and just off a main route handling “traffic” north and south along it.
The border state of Kentucky was officially neutral at the beginning of the Civil War, but soon was solidly under Union control after Confederate attempts to take it and its legislature’s petitioning Washington for assistance. Once neutrality ended recruiting activity commenced within its borders and men from the state fought for both the Union and Confederate armies. It is from border-states like Kentucky that the Civil War phrase “Brother against brother” comes from.
During the late summer and early fall of 1864 the 183rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment was being formed at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio. Benjamin Prather of Lusby Mill, now 36 years old, chose to follow the route north and volunteer to serve with them. Reasons for his doing so are not known, however he could have been offered and accepted a bounty as a replacement or followed others from the area recruited for service to end the war once and for all. General John Bell Hood was about to begin his Tennessee Campaign with the express goal of re-taking Tennessee and continuing north to Cincinnati and then on to assist in Lee’s eastern campaign.
Starting in mid-October troops were drilling and training and the last of regiment’s companies was mustered in on Nov. 18. Extra troops were now desperately needed in Tennessee and on Nov. 19 orders were given to have the troops ready to leave camp the next day. Less than 24 hours after being fully organized the 183rd Ohio was to ship out. That afternoon 700 officers and men rolled out on rail cars headed for Cincinnati and by 9:00 p.m. that night most were aboard the steamer Prima Donna for the trip down the Ohio River to Louisville. They arrived in Nashville by train on the 24th and late in the day on Nov. 27 they were loaded onto southbound rail cars headed to Columbia, Tennessee.
There the 183rd was assigned to the 23rd Corps, 3rd Brigade, commanded by Col. Silas A. Strickland. The regiment’s commander was Col. George Washington Hoge. From Columbia the Union Army retreated north to Nashville where it would join together with General Thomas’ troops there. However, on the way they engaged Gen. Hood’s men at Spring Hill and Franklin. The fighting at Franklin was particularly brutal and fully engaged in it, Cpl. Prather and the men of the 183rd acted gallantly and were instrumental in preventing the Confederate Army from taking any final measure of control along the Union’s defensive line. For all practical purposes Hood’s Army was defeated at Franklin, but it did survive to fight a couple days more. That final confrontation took place December 15 and 16 at Nashville.
Eric Jacobson and Richard Rupp, historians and authors of Baptism of Fire and for Cause for Country researched Benjamin Prather’s death and found a very tragic ending to his life. Consider that at Franklin Benjamin rushed forward from his reserve position into a Confederate break-through of Union lines and was engaged in hand-to-hand combat, or at best found himself in the midst of a mass of men fighting for their lives. On Dec. 15 at Nashville the 183rd began the day in support of artillery on the far right of the Union front. Late in the day they left their rifle pits and with other units pushed south toward Shy’s Hill where the Confederate Army on that front retreated to. They engaged in a short half hour battle with Confederate troops from Ector’s Brigade. The fight ended as night fell and in that half hour seven of the men became casualties, one was Benjamin. The Corporal was shot in the foot.
Eric and Richard write “he lingered in a Nashville hospital until Dec. 26th when the bullet was finally removed and his big toe amputated…..around the time the toe was amputated he began to suffer muscle spasms which slowly closed his jaw, preventing him from being able to eat. Chloroform was administered next, and so the posterior tibial nerve was severed to relax his jaws, but the spams immediately returned. The attending doctors did what they thought was best and at midnight on the 27th amputation at the lower third of the leg was performed…but without effect. Almost mercifully, Prather died on December 28.”
These authors have written in their recently researched books that the long forgotten 183rd regiment deserved a better fate. Corporal Benjamin Prather certainly deserved a better fate. He is interred at the Nashville National Cemetery and a grave-site photo can be found elsewhere in this blog and in the Find-a-Grave web-site.