Holly Springs and the great Cavalry Raid

Several of the Confederate Cavalry commanders petitioned Pemberton for permission to raid Holly Springs. There was a rifle manufacturing plant there and they wanted to disrupt the rail lines and shipment as well. Grant had accumulated thousands of tons of supplies there. General Pemperton liked the idea and ordered Van Dorn to assemble a force. There were three brigades assembled to participate and consisted of Col. Red Jackson’s Tennesseans, Col. Robert McCullough’s Missouri and Mississippians and Col. Griffith’s Texans. They marched in the dead of winter in rain and mud and reach the outskirts of Holy Springs. They were being lead by General Van Dorn himself. At dawn on the 20th of December 1962 they pounced upon the town of Holly Springs. The Texans broke into a gallop and rent the chill silence of early morning with their wild rebel yell. The distant roar grew louder as the galloping hooves and clanking sabers drew near. The Texas Brigade approached from the east, swept through the infantry camp at the depot, and dashed onto the heart of the town. As the Texans poured across the campground near the depot, the terrified Yankees dashed out of their tents in their underwear and finding themselves surrounded, without firing a shot. The raiders circled the courthouse, captured its occupants and began to look around them in the early morning light.

The capture of the stores and equipment was complete and vast. There were long trains loaded with rations and clothing. Heaps upon heaps of boots, blankets, whiskey, cigars, canned goods, unopened cases of carbines and pistols. Hundreds of bales of cotton lined the court house square as the towns people came out and shouted, "Hurrah for Van Dorn", "Hurrah for the Confederacy!" " Hurrah for Jeff Davis." For about ten hours the Cavalry Brigade ran carefree through the streets and most of the equipment that could not be taken out was destroyed and burned. The trains burned, the quartermaster’s stores and some 1500 prisoners were taken. Many of the confederate horses were in very bad shape and were gleefully exchanged for excellent mounts formerly of the Yankee cavalry. Within twenty-four hours the Cavalry Brigade was gone from Holly Springs, much to the anger of General Grant who had dispatched a force to meet them, but it arrived late.


The Texas Brigade soon came across the Davis Mill defended by 250 Indiana infantrymen and commanded by Colonel William H. Morgan. They had built a blockhouse that was heavily defended and very secure. The Texas Brigade was dismounted and attacked on foot. Fighting was heavy but in attacking in three separate charges the attempt was fruitless. Sharpshooters killed several Texans. There were twenty-two dead and thirty wounded with no one reaching the blockhouse. Finally, fearing that thousands of Union Cavalry would be pursuing them, General Van Dorn called off the attack and bivouacked a few miles away.

The raid continued across Tennessee and hit the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, burning trestles and tearing up track. They then continued through Moscow, Bolivar, and Brownsville. By the 24th of December the Texas Brigade was hit the Mississippi Line railroad and then to Middleburg. By the 27th of December Van Dorn and the Texas Brigade had reached the safety of Grenada. As this was going on, General Bragg, to the North, was involved by month’s end at Murfeesboro, Tennessee. On January 11, 1863 Van Dorn received orders to take his cavalry and organize it as part General Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.


Private Ben T. Roberts served in Company E of the 3rd Texas Cavalry. In this image he is holding a double barrel shotgun and large Bowie knife. In his belt is a revolver and a smaller knife. His shotgun was probable brought from home and these found good
use early in the war by most confederate cavalry.