Civil War

Published on December 20th, 2012 | by Newt Rayburn

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December 20, 1862 – Confederates Raid the Union Garrison at Holly Springs, Mississippi

December 20, 1862.

Union troops stationed at Holly Springs, Mississippi under the command of General US Grant were overrun by Confederate Cavalry lead by General Earl Van Dorn.

Confederate General Earl Van Dorn

Confederate General Earl Van Dorn

Grant’s sleeping army was aroused to the Rebel Yells of the Confederates and caught completely off guard.

The Rebels captured, killed, or drove out the entire Union garrison at Holly Springs and confiscated stock piles upon stock piles of ammunition, weapons, clothing, medicine, and rations.

The Confederates kept as much as they could carry, and then burned or blew up anything they could not. Many buildings, hospitals, communication offices, and the train depot were destroyed. Much of Holly Springs was reduced to rubble.

Van Dorn captured over 1,500 Union soldiers and destroyed over $1,500,000 of supplies and buildings. (That’s over $66,000,000 today!)

On this day, the Rebels road away from Holly Springs as the best equipped cavalry in the entire Confederacy.

The Holly Springs, Mississippi Train Depot in 1862. This sketch was made by A. Simplot of Harper's Weekly shortly before Van Dorn's raid.

The Holly Springs, Mississippi Train Depot in 1862. This sketch was made by A. Simplot of Harper’s Weekly shortly before Van Dorn’s raid.

Grant, who was headquartered in Oxford, initially suspected Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as the perpetrator. He was surprised to learn that Van Dorn was responsible. Grant’s army was completely taken off guard.

For the 40,000 Union troops stationed in the Oxford area, the raid at Holly Springs cut off their supply line and communications. When the news of the attack reached Oxford, it caused a great deal of rejoicing and gloating by the locals.

Union General Ulysses S. Grant

Union General Ulysses S. Grant

Grant later wrote in his memoirs: “They came with broad smiles on their faces indicating intense joy, to ask what I was going to do now without any for my soldiers to eat. I told them I was not disturbed; that I had already sent troops and wagons to collect all the food and forage they could find fifteen miles on each side of the road. Countenances soon changed, and so did the inquiry. The next was, “What are WE to do?”

Grant and the Army of the Tennessee slowly began their retreat from North Mississippi and pulled back to Memphis. As Grant’s troops left Oxford, he ordered the train depot and telegraph office burned.

Van Dorn’s raid on Holly Springs was the pinnacle of his military career and it effectively ended General Grant’s expedition into North Central Mississippi.

Although the burning of Holly Springs was a great Confederate victory and a terrible defeat for the Union, General Grant learned that his army could live off the land instead of relying totally on supply lines. This realization changed Union strategy for the rest of the Civil War.

Van Dorn’s raid and the burning of Holly Springs happened 152 years ago today, December 20, 1862. The Local Voice Ligature

The Holly Springs, Mississippi town square in 1862. This sketch was made by A. Simplot of Harper’s Weekly shortly before Van Dorn’s raid.

The Holly Springs, Mississippi town square in 1862. This sketch was made by A. Simplot of Harper’s Weekly shortly before Van Dorn’s raid.

Union Officers in the 47th Illinois camped in Oxford, Mississippi in December of 1862 during the Civil War
Union General Ulysses S. Grant's Correspondence from Oxford, Mississippi - December 19, 1862

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About the Author

Newt Rayburn founded THE LOCAL VOICE in 2006.

Previously, Newt was Editor of PROFANE EXISTENCE in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Art Director for Ole Miss’ LIVING BLUES magazine. Newt won a National Magazine Award in 1999 for his SOUTHERN MUSIC ISSUE with THE OXFORD AMERICAN.

A seventh-generation Lafayette County, Mississippian, Newt is perhaps best known as the leader of the Mississippi RocknRoll band THE COOTERS, but he also has the Country & Southern Rock group, HAWGWASH.

Newt is a Photographer, Writer, and Civil War Enthusiast.



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