General Sherman moved, to Memphis with due celerity. The garrison of that city was reduced as much as possible to re-enforce his column. The Army of Arkansas, then at Helena, was temporarily added to his command. This gave a force exceeding twenty-eight thousand strong to move upon Vicksburg. It was considered sufficiently large to accomplish the desired object—the garrison of Vicksburg having been weakened to strengthen the army in General Grant’s front.
I was in Holly Springs when General Sherman began to move toward Memphis. Thinking there would be active work at Vicksburg, I prepared to go to Columbus by rail, and take a steamboat thence to Memphis. By this route it was nearly four hundred miles; but it was safer and more expeditious to travel in that way than to attempt the “overland” journey of fifty miles in a direct line.
There were rumors that the Rebels contemplated a raid upon Holly Springs, for the purpose of cutting General Grant’s communications and destroying the supplies known to be accumulated there. From the most vague and obscurely-worded hints, given by a Secessionist, I inferred that such a movement was expected. The Rebels were arranging a cavalry force to strike a blow somewhere upon our line of railway, and there was no point more attractive than Holly Springs. I attached no importance to the story, as I had invariably known the friends of the Rebels to predict wonderful movements that never occurred.
Meeting the post-commandant shortly afterward, I told him what I had heard. He assured me there was nothing to fear, and that every thing was arranged to insure a successful defense. On this point I did not agree with him. I knew very well that the garrison was not properly distributed to oppose a dash of the enemy. There were but few men on picket, and no precautions had been taken against surprise. Our accumulation of stores was sufficiently large to be worth a strong effort to destroy them. As I was about ready to leave, I concluded to take the first train to Columbus.
Less than forty-eight hours after my departure, General Van Dorn, at the head of five thousand men, entered Holly Springs with very slight opposition. He found every thing nearly as he could have arranged it had he planned the defense himself. The commandant, Colonel Murphy, was afterward dismissed the service for his negligence in preparing to defend the place after being notified by General Grant that the enemy was moving to attack him.
The accumulation of supplies at the railway depot, and all the railway buildings, with their surroundings, were burned. Two trains of cars were standing ready to move, and these shared a similar fate. In the center of the town, a building we were using as a magazine was blown up. The most of the business portion of Holly Springs was destroyed by fire, communicated from this magazine.
During the first year of the war, Holly Springs was selected as the site of a “Confederate States Arsenal,” and a series of extensive buildings erected at great expense.