The Richmond Daily Dispatch
Jan. 15, 1863
Van-Don's brilliant Cavalry raid
|Gen. Earl Van Dorn|
(Library of Congress)
The recent cavalry raid of Gen. [Earl] Van-Dorn in the West was one of the most brilliant feats of the war, not falling short of any that have been made by the renowned Stuart or ubiquitous Morgan. A correspondent of the Mobile Register gives the following interesting particulars of his brilliant achievements in the vicinity of Holly Springs, Miss:
Van-Dorn took a by-way and meandering route through the swamp, and came within eight miles of Holly Springs in the evening, where he bivouacked his force until two hours before day, when he moved cautiously into town, leaving the Texas brigade upon the heights outside as a reserve. As our forces dashed in from all sides, the entrance proved a complete surprise, the breaking streaks of daylight showing the Yankee tents with their yet undisturbed slumberers. A charge was ordered upon them, and the torch applied to the canvas which covered them. To paraphrase "Belgium's" picture--
"Ah, then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And, running in hot haste
And checks all pals and blanched with woe,
Exhibiting Yankees cowardice"
The rapidity with which the tents of the enemy were vacated was marvelous; and impelled by burning torches and rapid discharges of side arms, the Yankees took no time to prepare their toilets, but rushed out into the cool atmosphere of a December morning clothed very similarly to Joseph when the lady Potiphar attempted to detain him. The scene was wild, exciting, tumultuous. Yankees running, tents burning, torches flaming, Confederates shouting, guns popping, sabres clanking, Abolitionists begging for mercy, "rebels" shouting exultingly, women en dishabille clapping their hands, frantic with joy, crying "kill them, kill them"--a heterogeneous mass of excited, frantic, frightened human beings, presented an indescribable picture, more adapted for the pencil of Hogarth than the pen of a newspaper correspondent.
The surprised camp surrendered 1,800 men and 150 commissioned officers, who were immediately paroled. And then commenced the work of destruction. The extensive buildings of the Mississippi Central depot, the station house, the engine houses, and immense store houses, were filled with supplies of clothing and commissary stores. Outside of the depot the barrels of flour, estimated half a mile in length, one hundred and fifty feet through, and fifteen feet high. Turpentine was thrown over this, and the whole amount destroyed — up town, the court house and the public buildings, livery stables, and all capacious establishments, were filled, ceiling high with medical and ordnance stores. These were all fired, and the explosion of one of the buildings, in which was stored one hundred barrels of powder, knocked down nearly all the houses on the south side of the square.
Surely such a scene of devastation was never before presented to the eye of man. Glance at the gigantic estimates: 1,809,000 fixed cartridges and other ordnance stores, valued at $1,500,000, including 5,000 rifles and 2,000 revolvers, 100,000 suits of clothing and other quartermaster stores, valued at $500,000; 5,000 barrels of flour and other commissary stores, valued at $500,000.
$1,600,000 worth of medical stores, for which invoices to that amount were exhibited, and 1,000 bales of cotton and $600,000 worth of sutlers' stores!
While the capture of the camp, paroling of the prisoners, and destroying of the stores was going on, the Texas Rangers, comprising the 9th, 6th, and 3d legions, became engaged with the Michigan cavalry, and drove them pell-mell through town and run them off north, with a considerable lose to the Abolitionists, and a loss of thirty in killed and wounded on our part.
The ladies rushed out from the houses, wild with joy, crying out: "There's some at the Fair Grounds. Chase them, kill them, for God's sake!" One lady said: "The Yankee Commandant of the Post is in my house; come and catch him;" and a search was instigated, but without success, when the noble woman insisted that he was there, concealed; and finally, after much ado, the gallant (save the mark!) Colonel Murphy, the intrepid Yankee Commandant of Holly Springs, was pulled out from under his bed, and presented himself in his nocturnal habiliments to his captors.
The Provost Marshal was also taken, and, addressing General Van Dorn, said: "Well, General, you've got us fairly this time. I knowed it. I was in bed with my wife when I heard the firing, and I at once said: "Well, wife, it's no use closing our eyes, or hiding under the cover; we've gone up."
Our attention was given to Grant's headquarters, which he had left twenty-four hours before. All his papers, charts, maps, etc., were captured, together with his splendid carriage, which was burned. Among his papers was found a pass, to pass the bearer over all railroads and steamboats in the United States, at Government expenses; to pass all pickets and guards, and other papers, at once interesting and valuable. Mrs. Grant was also captured, but no indignity was offered to her.
Nearly every store on the public square was filled with sutler stores, and after our men had helped themselves the balance of the goods were burned.
When our forces first reached the depot, there was a train about leaving. The engineer jumped off and run away, and one of our men took his place, shut the throttle valve, and stopped the train. Sixty cars and two locomotives were then tired and destroyed.
After the complete destruction of all public property about the place, and after each man had supplied himself with a suitable quantity of clothing and boots, at six o'clock in the morning the march was renewed, and Davis's mill was the next place attacked. Here the enemy were entrenched, and sheltered themselves in a block house and fort formed of cotton bales. The cavalry were commanded to charge, and attempted to do so; but the swamp and intricate lagoons breaking off in front of the enemy's position would not permit it. The Yankees opened fire with some effect from their fort, and were supported by a 9-pound rifled gun, mounted on an iron- clad railroad car, forming a railroad battery.
The Texans were again ordered to charge, and Major Dillon, of Van Dorn's staff, whose gallantry during the expedition was particularly conspicuous attempted to lead them to the attack; but the men refused to follow, believing the way impassable and the position too strong for cavalry demonstration alone. Col. McCullough, of the Missouri cavalry, was ordered to get in the rear of the railroad battery, cut the track to prevent its escape, and capture it. I believe he succeeded in cutting the road, but our forces were compelled to withdraw, and the steam battery was not taken. The force then pushed on to Middleburg and Bolivar, and attacked both places, but found them too strongly defended and garrisoned to succeed in taking either of the points.
When the command turned back after its unsuccessful attack upon Bolivar the enemy sent a force of 10,000, comprising the three branches of the service, out after Van Dorn, and made great efforts to flank and cut off its force; but this dashing officer was too wary for them, and succeeded in returning with 400 head of captured horses and mules, laden with spoils taken from the enemy.
The people of Tennessee are represented as having been almost frantic with joy at the appearance of our forces once more upon their borders. They fed our soldiers with a bountiful hand, and wept for joy. "Thank God, you have come at last!" one and all exclaimed.--Their hospitality was not a little surprising to our soldiers, who have been so uniformly swindled and extorted from in Mississippi.--The people of Tennessee had been induced to believe that Gen. Grant's headquarters were at Jackson, Miss., and that our whole army had been captured. Judge, then, of their surprise, when they were visited by Van-Dorn's command.
The entire number of prisoners captured and paroled during the raid is 2,100 privates and 175 commissioned officers.