The Battle of Holly Springs

December 20, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi

Union Forces Commanded by
Col. Benjamin H. Grierson and
Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
± ? ? ? ?
Confederate Forces Commanded by
Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
± 3,500 ? ? ?
Conclusion: Confederate Victory
Grant's 1st Vicksburg Campaign

Late in 1862, Col. John S. Griffith of the Texas Cavalry Brigade suggested to Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton that Pemberton organize into a division 3 mounted brigades then in north Mississippi, that he place Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn in charge, and that he send this formidable force against Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs. At Pemberton's request, Gen. BNraxton Bragg ordered Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest to distract Grant by striking the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, the Union supply line running from Columbus, Kentucky, south through Jackson, Tennessee. When Grant learned that Forrest's cavalrymen were tearing up track in West Tennessee, he suspended his march beyond the Yocona River on December 19th.

Though Grant did not know it, Van Dorn had left Grenada, Mississippi on the evening of the 17th at the head of 3,500 men. Swinging well to the east of the Union force, he rode northeast through Potomac and New Albany toward Ripley, then cut west to Holly Springs. Though he was sighted at Pontotoc on the 18th by Union cavalry returning from a raid on the Mobile & Ohio Railraod, more than 24 hours passed before Grant was alerted to the danger. Late on the 19th, Grant warned Col. Robert C. Murphy at Holly Springs and the commanders of other posts on the Mississippi Central Railroad.

That night, a few miles east of Holly Springs, Van Dorn divided his force, sending half to the town by way of a side road, the rest by the Ripley road. At daybreak on the 20th, his brigades swept into Holly Springs, the cavalrymen attacking from the east, northeast, and north. On the road heading south out of the supply depot, Van Dorn posted a patrol to prevent Union reinforcements from reaching Holly Springs. Most of the Union troops were surprised out of their sleep, trying in their confusion to form a defense. Van Dorn's men routed them, and the vital supply depot with its tons of medical, quartermaster, ordnance, and commissary stores quickly fell into Confederate hands. While about 1,500 prisoners were being paroled, the Confederate raiders plundered the warehouses, cut telegraph lines, and tore up railroad track. After putting the torch to the supplies that they could not carry themselves, the raiders remounted and withdrew. In 10 hours they had destroyed $1.5 million worth of supplies and burned several buildings, including a new 2,000-bed hospital.

Van Dorn headed north, away from Grant's headquarters at Oxford, Mississippi, hoping to delay pursuit. Sweeping to the west of La Grange, Tennessee, his column lunged toward Bolivar. Col. Benjamin H. Grierson pursued Van Dorn in vain for days before the Confederates easily reentered Confederate lines at Grenada.Van Dorn returned to Grenada on the 28th by way of Saulsbury, Tennessee. Though Grant pushed his cavalry hard, it failed to overtake the darling Confederates.

The holly Springs raid had immediate and far-reaching repercussions for Grant's Vicksburg campaign. Van Dorn had desroyed Grant's most important supply depot, and the countryside had been exhausted by the billigerents. Grant realized the error of trying to maintain his supply and communication along rail lines. He yielded the initiative and on the 21st, began to pull back to Memphis.

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