For some Mississippians, the Civil War was the event of a lifetime; for others it was merely a footnote in a life filled with adventure, travel, and celebrity. One example of the latter was Prentiss Ingraham of Natchez who was one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century.
Ingraham was born in Adams County, Mississippi, on December 28, 1843, the son of Reverend Joseph Holt Ingraham. His father was one of the pioneer settlers of Mississippi, moving to the state about 1830 and settling in Natchez. In 1835 he wrote The Southwest, By A Yankee, which is one of the best early accounts of life in Mississippi.
Ingraham was still attending school when the Civil War started, and the teenager left his
studies to enlist in the Confederate army. He joined Company K, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery at Port Gibson, Mississippi, on May 7, 1862. The private spent much of his time detailed to the regimental headquarters of the battery, and he eventually worked his way up to the rank of sergeant.
During his service with the battery, Prentiss took part in the Port Hudson, Louisiana, campaign in 1863, and in later years he wrote an article about his experiences. In reminiscing about the battle he wrote: The siege was from May 21 to July, under a burning sun. The battle of Port Hudson began miles away from the stronghold, Augur’s division bringing on the fight by a sharp action at Port Hudson Plains. Sharp as it was, and at close quarters, here Abbey’s Battery – (K), First Mississippi Light Artillery – made a charge upon the enemy, unlimbering and going into action and in the very faces of General Augur’s troops, supported only by two hundred of Powers’s cavalry. We – the writer was with this command – advanced our gun muzzles until in our turn we were compelled to retreat upon our reserve, which we did, still firing. There are doubtless men of Augur’s division still living who will remember this artillery charge, which allowed the Confederate forces to retreat in good order into Port Hudson.
After being captured and paroled at Port Hudson when the garrison surrendered on July 9, 1863, Prentiss returned to Confederate service once he was declared exchanged. His service record abruptly ends in 1864 with no indication of why, so his whereabouts for the remainder of the war are uncertain.
When the war ended in 1865, most Mississippians were glad to return home and begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives; but not Prentiss Ingraham. Apparently he had developed a taste for the soldier’s life, for he became a wandering soldier of fortune. He first went to Mexico and fought with the rebels under Juarez against Emperor Maximilian. His service was cut short, however, when he was wounded in a duel with a fellow officer he was serving with.
After recovering, Ingraham went to Europe and joined the Prussian army to fight against Austria, and when this conflict ended he traveled to Crete, where he aided the natives in their fight against the Turks. When this revolt was crushed, Ingraham visited Persia, the Holy Land, India, and China before ending up in Africa. He then toured Egypt, Algiers and Morocco, and then Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia, before finally stopping for awhile in London. It was in the English capital that Ingraham found the calling that would make him world famous: writing. He composed an article for the Pall Mall Gazette, and the editor was so impressed that he had him write a whole series of articles about his views on English society.
Sensing that his future in the literary world was bright, Ingraham decided to return to the
United States, and he began writing dime novels to make his living. In the early 1880s, he traveled to the American west, where he met and befriended Buffalo Bill Cody. Many of his novels featured Cody, as well as other western notables such as Wild Bill Hickok and Texas Jack Omohundro. A prolific author, Ingraham wrote between 600 and 1,000 novels during his 34 year career as a novelist. For much of that time Ingraham lived in New York City, Easton, Maryland, and in Chicago. In his later years he moved back to Mississippi, and eventually went to live at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ former residence, which was then being used as a home for Confederate veterans.
The old soldier died at Beauvoir on August 16, 1904, and is buried on the grounds. During his lifetime the countless novels he had written helped romanticize the old west to a generation of American readers. In his obituary for the Times-Picayune (New Orleans),
a reporter wrote: Though just past 60 years of age, he had gone through a life’s experience as romantic and as exciting as that of the knights of olden times. Soldier, poet, journalist, novelist, traveler in many parts of the globe, he led a strenuous, reckless existence, crowding in less than fifteen years – from 1861 to 1875 – events of military prowess in a meteoric career that is perhaps unrivaled in the history of any soldier of fortune.