Just as the trains were ready to move and all my orders were issued a force of the enemy, some 6,000, came dashing into the railroad depot and on my infantry camp (my left), which did not contain over 200 effective men. My last message expressed the fact that about 5,000 or 6000 men of the enemy were in sight. Before this I had called on Mr. Nilson, train superintendent of railroad, to furnish me with all the aid he had to barricade with cotton bales around the depot and public stores. At the same time I had ordered the commanding officers of the detachment of the Sixty-second and Twentieth Illinois to concentrate all their available forces at the railroad depot immediately. The two trains nearly ready to move, the one to the south as far as the tank, the other to the north as far as Coldwater, were to carry orders to all commanders of stations to hasten to this point with nothing but their available men and all their ammunition. As all these dispositions were made the enemy made their appearance in the force mentioned (6,000) and charged by two roads, the right led by General Van Dorn, on my small infantry camp: the left and center on the road which led direct to the depot. In attempting to escape by the rear of the depot building in order to join my infantry forces I was captured by a company of cavalry. I was taken to the rear, and found the force of the enemy to be twenty two regiments of cavalry, or about 10,000 men. My own force was less than 500 men, and they scattered to form posts on picket and in general guard duty over the city. It was impossible for me to concentrate at one given point in the time allowed more than 150 men. The cavalry never reported to me at all, as I had ordered, but I hear from Lieutenant Edinger, ordnance officer, they behaved badly in town when they encountered the enemy, and instead of cutting their way through the force sent into the town to capture me personally (thinking I was not yet up) they received two volleys from the enemy and then cleared out, taking, I am told, the Pigeon Roost road. I have no fault to find with the fighting of the infantry; they did all they could; they were taken in detail, as the posts were of necessity so, and there was no time for concentration. What orders I did give were founded on information from a contraband, which I telegraphed you this morning at 5.30.
My pickets, both cavalry and infantry, were out and faithful, but the force was so large that they were overwhelmed and in every instance killed, wounded, or taken prisoners before daylight.
General Van Dorn burned up all the stores, depot buildings, armory, and ordnance buildings; in fact a large portion of the business part of the town is in ruins. There are no supplies here for the paroled prisoners and the sick, and what shall be done for them! My fate is most mortifying. I have wished a hundred times to-day that I had been killed. I have done all in my power--in truth, my force was inadequate. I have foreseen this and have so advised. No works here, and no force to put in them if they were here, and yet I know General Grant is not to blame; he has done all for the best, and so did I. I have obeyed orders, and have been unfortunate in so doing. The misfortune of war is mine. This railroad line cannot be maintained without an immense force. They make a feint on Jackson and the real attack on Holly Springs, The first depletes the latter and makes the move almost certain. Colonel, I send this by an officer who was here and knows the facts; he can tell you many things I cannot write.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
On that morning the town of Holly Springs was taken by the Confederate forces under General Van Dorn. As soon as I discovered the enemy were in possession of the place I repaired to the headquarters of the rebel general, near town, and made a formal request that the armory hospital should not be burned, entering an earnest protest on the subject, as the Confederates had already set fire to the railroad depot and commissary storehouse and had declared their intention to destroy all houses occupied by our troops. I received the assurance of General Van Dorn’s adjutant that the armory hospital should not be burned, but that it would be protected by a guard. Satisfied with this I returned to my quarters, but had not been there an hour when I was informed the building was on fire, and thus this fine structure, with two thousand bunks, an immense lot of drugs and surgical apparatus, thousands of blankets, sheets, and bed-sacks was soon in ashes. This proceeding, in violation of an express promise, and of all the rules of civilized warfare, is an evidence of the barbarity and want of principle of Confederate officers. But this is not all; an attempt was also made to destroy the general hospital, located on the main square, and which at the time contained over 500 sick.
A quantity of ordnance stores had been deposited in a building on the next block to the hospital, and by order of General Van Dorn, as stated by the Confederate officer who had charge of the matter, the barrels of powder and boxes, containing shells and cartridges, were taken out and piled up nearly in front of’ the hospital and set fire to. Two medical officers protested against this wanton act, but their requests were treated with contempt, and before there was time to remove the sick the walls and windows of the hospital were riddled with flying balls and shells, and finally a terrific explosion took place which shook the entire building, destroying almost every window and door in the establishment, wounding about 20 men and creating a scene of the wildest confusion. A large number of buildings on the public square took fire from the explosion, and it was only by the utmost efforts that the hospital was preserved as a shelter for the men from the night air, together with the medical officers, who assisted me in caring for the sick and wounded on that trying day.
I thought that the rebels had now done us all the harm in their power;
but to injury insult was yet to be added in a manner I hope never to witness
A rebel cavalry officer named Brewster, who stated he had been detailed by General Van Dorn to "march off every sick man who had not been paroled," collected together, pistol in hand, about 150 sick soldiers, forced them to rise from their beds and fall in line, threatened to shoot the medical officers who expostulated with him, and actually made the poor fellows, suffering from typhoid fever, pneumonia, and diarrhea, start with him on the road. The men fell down in the street and had to rise again for fear of being shot, when they were so weak that the slightest motion was agony. On being importuned if there was anything in the name of humanity to induce him to cease his brutal proceedings he finally consented to let them alone on receiving a paper, signed by all the surgeons present, stating that the men were too sick to walk and their removal was an impossibility.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of Dr. E. M. Powers, of the
Seventh Missouri Infantry, after the capture of Holly Springs. The efforts
of this able and accomplished officer for the care of the sick were untiring,
and from morning till night he was actively engaged in doing anything that
lay in his power to preserve hospital property and make helpless beings
who were driven from their beds and shelter as comfortable as circumstances
Dr. Reilley, assistant surgeon of the Forty-fifth Illinois Infantry, also rendered great assistance by his well directed and efficient endeavors.
On the west side of town I was joined by Captain Marsh, now carrying three wounds, notwithstanding which he continued with me on duty nearly all day. His wounds are severe but not dangerous.
Captains Jones and Higgins ably seconded Lieutenant-Colonel McNeil on the northeast, and passed out with Captain Marsh on the west. The former, as before stated, was taken prisoner and the latter, passing around to the south to the aid of Major Bush, who forced the rebel lines on the southeast, and with the aid of many of our officers and men, passed through town and back, fighting at every corner and recapturing our camp and releasing many of our men who were prisoners; thence to Coldwater, where I subsequently joined him and aided Colonel O’Meara in preparations for defending his position, then threatened.
Major Bush’s report (inclosed)(*) will do justice to other officers who were not under my personal observation. I would be doing violence to justice were I to omit to mention Lieutenant Stickel, commanding Company F, as peculiarly worthy of commendation;as well also Lieutenants Weakley and Venard. Lieutenants Hall, Naylor, Moore, and Holt, and Captain Whitaker, I am told, acquitted themselves with honor.
On Sunday morning, under orders of Colonel O’Meara, I came here under
flag of truce, and finding the place deserted, and being joined by Lieutenant
Stickel with a few men, I took possession of the place and held it until
the arrival of Colonel Marsh, at 10 o’clock. I have to report the loss
of 8 men killed (including 1 since dead) and 39 wounded. A few are yet
missing, some of whom may be wounded. Somewhere about 70 of my men went
to Memphis and are yet there.
The paroled prisoners reported to Major Fullerton, who left with them in my absence, and I am without a list, and cannot report the number, but it is about 100. This loss is heavy, but the odds were great, and any but the most resolute men would have surrendered without attempting to fight or escape.
Our regimental books were saved, but the papers, as well as most of
the company books and papers, were destroyed. Our camp and garrison equipage,
together with baggage and clothing, were all destroyed, except a few tents,
and our men are suffering for want of tents, blankets, clothing, and rubber
I cannot close this report without expressing the opinion that this disaster is another added to the long list occasioned by the drunkenness or inefficiency of commanding officers. I cannot doubt but that the place could have been successfully defended by even half the force here had suitable precautions been taken and the infantry been concentrated, their officers in camp with them and prepared to fight. This was not done; but on the contrary they were scattered in four or five different sections of the place, their officers quietly sleeping at the houses of rebel citizens, who were no doubt apprised of the advance of the enemy and would be of course unusually agreeable and polite and lavish with their wines and brandies. Our list of prisoners paroled was increased and our efficiency decreased by having 55 men up town on detached duty, as orderlies, messengers, provost patrols, &c.
We took 12 prisoners, one of whom was a major. We also captured 12 others,
whom we were compelled to release, not being able to take care of them.
All of which is respectfully submitted by your obedient servant,
I arrived at Ripley early in the afternoon, having encountered only one squad of 5 rebels, whom we captured, and from whom I gained information of the movements of General Van Dorn. From a negro I learned that the rear guard of the rebel army had passed through Ripley at 1 o’clock, and that a large force had encamped 1 mile south.
I approached the town and after a personal reconnaissance dashed into the place with my men, driving their straggling rear before us into their camp, firing on them as they ran and being fired on by them in return. I held possession but a short time (knowing my force was entirely inadequate to operate on the defensive), but determined to move north to meet Colonel Mizner’s forces, which I learned were advancing on the rebel rear. Fortunately they were near, and I reported to Colonel Mizner at 3 o’clock p.m. and was ordered to join in pursuit.
Next day at noon I was ordered by Colonel Mizner to move in direction of Oxford, to communicate with Colonel Hatch, said to be advancing to support. At 3 o’clock I reported having struck Colonel Hatch’s trail leading northeast, and at 4 o’clock Colonel Mizner’s command overtook me. I was then allowed to move according to my own judgment to this place, and arrived with all my men at 8 o’clock last evening without casualty of any kind, having sent in 6 prisoners of war and paroled 8 others, who had been conscripted and served against their will. I took a little provision with me, but left it with Colonel Deitzler, expecting to join him on return, but did not; consequently had to forage for supplies. Most of the citizens of Tippah County are unwilling supporters of the rebellion, and should be as far as possible protected from the lawless raids of straggling thieves always following an army.
Near Hickory Flats, 20 miles from this place, live several wealthy and unscrupulous rebels. One of them, by name of Martin, is said to be employed much of the time in paroling deserters from the One hundred and ninth Regiment Illinois Volunteers; another, by name of Marmon, is said to be engaged in same business; one by name of Johnson, a New York man, has a large stock of cattle and 200 sheep, and a Mr. Potts has a very large property. I mention their last names to apprise you of the whereabouts of stock to forage on in case of necessity.
I desire to report that owing to inability to find the ordnance officer
I was compelled to make this expedition with a very scanty supply of ammunition.
After a long search and delay of an hour I found the ammunition train,
but the persons present would not issue without a bundle of red tape attached,
and none of them could tell where the officer was quartered, only that
he was downtown. Thus the lives and safety of my men were imperiled for
the care and convenience of officers who prefer quartering in houses to
remaining in the field.
All of which is respectfully submitted by your obedient servant,
SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS No. 33.
By the terms of the Dix-Hill cartel each party is bound to take care of their prisoners and send them to Vicksburg, Miss., or a point on James River, Virginia, for exchange-parole, unless some other point is mutually agreed upon by the general commanding the opposing armies. By a refusal to be paroled the enemy, from his inability to take care of the prisoners, would have been compelled either to have released them unconditionally or to have abandoned all further aggressive movements for the time being, which would have made their recapture and the discomfiture of the enemy almost certain.
It is gratifying to notice in contrast with this the conduct of a portion
of the command; conspicuous among whom was the Second Illinois Cavalry,
who gallantly and successfully resisted being taken prisoners. Their loss
was heavy, but the enemy’s was much greater. Such conduct as theirs will
always insure success.
Had the commandant of the post exercised the usual and ordinary precautions for defense the garrison was sufficiently strong to have repulsed the enemy, saved our stores from destruction and themselves from capture. The general commanding is satisfied that a majority of the troops who accepted a parole did so thoughtlessly and from want of knowledge of the cartel referred to, and that in future they will not be caught in the same way.
By order of Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant:
GENERAL ORDERS No.4.
II. Col. R. C. Murphy, of the Eighth Regiment Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers,
having, while in command of the post of Holly Springs, Miss., neglected
and failed to exercise the usual and ordinary precautions to guard and
protect the same; having, after repeated and timely warning of the approach
of the enemy, failed to make any preparations for resistance or defense
or show any disposition to do so; and having, with a force amply sufficient
to have repulsed the enemy and protect the public stores, disgracefully
permitted him to capture the post and destroy the stores--and the movement
of troops in the face of an enemy rendering it impracticable to convene
a court-martial for his trial---is therefore dismissed the service of the
United States, to take effect from the 20th day of December, 1862, the
date of his cowardly and disgraceful conduct.
By order of Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant: