" On the 20th of December, 1862, Gen. Grant was endeavoring to push his army of eighty thousand men through the interior of the State of Mississippi, along the line of the Central Rail Road, with the view of capturing Jackson and assailing Vicksburg from the East. His progress had been slow and tedious, owing to the fact that he was compelled to rebuild every railroad bridge and trestle along the track, while the heavy rains of the season had rendered the ordinary roads almost impassable by army trains and artillery. His advance was within seven miles of Grenada, but the main body of his force was on the banks of the Yockany, eight miles south of Oxford, considerably depleted by the absence of the numerous detachments required to garrison the towns and guard the railroad, from Columbus, Ky., which was his base of supplies, to Oxford, Mississippi, which was the most southerly point to which the road had been repaired. Several weeks had been spent reconstructing the long bridge over the Tallahatehie, seventeen miles south of Holly Springs, and, in the meantime, the immense supplies of every description, required for so large an invading army, had .been transported from Columbus to Holly Springs, where they were placed in depot, awaiting the completion of the bridge below. Federal officers estimated the cost of those supplies at seven millions of dollars. A Federal garrison of some two thousand men occupied the town, as a protection to the stores. Grant and his men were confident and boastful, expecting to occupy Vicksburg before the middle of January.
Just before daylight on the morning of the 20th of December, the Confederate General Van Dorn, at the head of a small cavalry force, surprised and captured the garrison of Holly Springs, without the loss of a man on his part. The Federal loss was but one killed and two wounded. Scarcely a score of the garrison contrived to escape. Van Dorn proceeded at once to destroy Grant's supplies, by firing the buildings in which they were stored. He also burnt several thousand bales of cotton, most of which, the planters in the vicinity had been plundered, and which was then awaiting shipment to the North. A long train of cars, laden with army supplies, which was on the point for starting for Oxford, shared the same fate. By three o'clock, P. M., the work of destruction was completed, and Van Born, who was well aware that a largely superior force might be concentrated against him there within a few hours, paroled his prisoners upon the spot and withdrew towards Jackson, Tenn. By this single blow, alone, the entire plan of Grant's campaign was disastrously defeated. He was unable, for want of ammunition, to give battle to Pemberton at Grenada; the country around him, as far as his foraging parties could scour it with safety, was stripped of all supplies; his communications with Columbus and with Memphis were cut off by Van Dorn's operations upon the railroad above, and a hurried retreat upon Memphis was his only resource against actual starvation. This retrograde movement was commenced on the 20th of December, and on the afternoon of the next day, the Federal troops, crest-iiillen and exasperated, re-entered Holly Springs. As they marched through the streets, the citizens, gazing upon them through the windows, were admonished, by brick-bats and other missiles hurled at them from the ranks, that t/iey were to be held responsible for the brilliant exploit of Van Dorn.
These ferocious soldiers, who, on their backward march from Oxford, through a thickly-settled region, had burned every house along the road, were at once turned loose to gratify their cupidity and wreak their malice upon the citizens. The work of indiscriminate pillage was instantly inaugurated. Every dwelling was 'soon swarming with men in uniform, some of whom wore the shoulder-straps of captains and colonels, who, with oaths and curses, brandishing their weapons, and threatening death to any who should oppose them, ransacked every nook and corner, every drawer, closet, cupboard, work-box, trunk or other receptacle in which money, plate and other valuables might be stored, and "confiscated" or "jay-hawked " — to use their own expressive synonym for robbery — whatever of value they were able to carry off with them. Nothing came amiss to these marauders. Provisions, money, silver plate, jewelry, watches, blankets and other covering, parlor ornaments, daguerreotypes, books, china, glass-ware, table cutlery, kitchen utensils, clothing, (and especially rich and costly articles of ladies' apparel, with which these brigands afterwards decked the sable damsels who filled their camps,) all such articles, as well as the contents of the numerous stores in the town, were speedily appropriated. Furniture, in some instances, was uninjured by the soldiers, either during or after the process of plunder. In others, such articles as wardrobes and bureaus, which were locked, were broken open, the soldiers refusing, even when the keys were presented to them, to use them, or suffer them to be used for unlocking them. In other cases still, all the furniture in the house was smashed, and everything of value, that had not been stolen, wantonly destroyed. While this work of pillage was proceeding, many of the soldiers announced their purpose of burning the town, and declared that they had been ordered to do so.
Within half an hour after the Federal troops had re-entered the town, a dense smoke rising from the residence cf Mrs. John D. Martin, a wealthy widow lady, indicated that the torch of the incendiary had been brought into requisition. The soldiers fired her premises, including the negro houses and all the other buildings on the grounds, and stood by, preventing her servants from removing anything of hers from the dwelling, or of their own from their habitations, until the flames had made such progress that the buildings could no longer be approached. It was avowed that this was a punishment inflicted upon Mrs. Martin for her conduct on the previous day. The crime of which she had been guilty was this : She had a son, a captain of cavalry in the Confederate army. He came to Holly Springs, the day before, with Van Dorn ; and his mother, seeing him at a distance, requested the writer to call him to her. He came and dismounted b/ her side, and she kissed him in the street. She detained him as he was about to hasten away, to beg him to show any kindness in his power to a Federal officer, naming him, who had that morning been taken prisoner by Van Dorn, and who, said she," has afforded protection to your poor mother and your little brother and sister."" Promising to remember the benefactor of his mother, he rode off to rejoin his company. The writer witnessed the entire interview between the mother and the son, and he has set forth, in all its enormity, the particulars of that offense which was visited upon her by the conflagration of her sumptuous home, with all its treasures of art and beauty, and its thousand holy mementoes of other years.
Wm. F. Mason, Esq., upwards of sixty years of age, and an invalid, for his presumption in daring to implore some soldiers not to enter the room where his wife lay sick, was knocked down with the buts of their muskets, kicked, trampled on, and left for dead. His dwelling, filled with rich and costly furniture, was then completely " gutted." Three weeks afterwards, his life was still considered to be in danger from the frightful injuries he had sustained. Many other citizens were subjected to personal violence, while none, whatever their age, sex or condition, escaped the most brutal insults that could be heaped upon them. The epithets applied to ladies by the freebooters who thronged through their houses day after day, are unfit for publication. (" Damned bitch of a secesh whore " was one of the most decent of those which were unusually employed.)
As darkness drew on, the soldiers fired other dwellings, in diferent parts of the town ; and, during the whole of that weary night, the wretched inhabitants, fearing to lie down, lest they should be consumed in their houses, watched the flames that were devouring the houses of their neighbors, not knowing at what moment it might become necessary for them also to flee for their lives. For two long weeks afterwards, while the Federals continued to occupy the town, and the different division?, with their long trains, were slowly passing through, did this reign of terror continue. Not a night passed, during that period, that was not lit up by the flames of blazing houses; and not a woman dared to disrobe herself for slumber, or even to seek repose at all during the night, unless she knew that the house was watched by those who would give her prompt notice of it should it be fired. More than a third of the town was reduced to ashes, and, had it been compactly built, scarcely a dwelling would have escaped.
Personal insults were not those alone to which the people of Holly Springs were compelled to submit. The Presbyterian Church was used, without necessity, as a depository of ordnance stores. The Episcopal Church, of which the late Dr. J. H. Ingraham had been rector, was broken open, the seats destroyed, the carpets cut up, the prayer-books mutilated, the organ chopped open with axes and the pipes taken out of it by the soldiers to amuse themselves with, upon the streets, the altar disgustingly defiled, the walls defaced with obscene inscriptions, and the building itself devoted to the vilest of human uses. Nor was this all. Even the beautiful cemetery of the town was not spared from the hand of ruthless violence. The soldiers entered its hallowed precincts with sledge-hammers and axes, broke down the ornamental iron railings around the private lots, made a wreck of the costly monuments that marked the resting-place of the departed, uprooted the shrubbery, and left that spot, which, but the day before, had been so lovely, a scene of ruin and devastation.
Gen. Grant, during the commission of these outrages, had his quarters in the finest house in the town — that of Wm. Henry Cox, Esq. He could not have been ignorant of what was going .on; and yet if he ever made an effort to prevent these atrocities or to punish the offenders, or if he ever expressed a regret that they had occurred, the citizens of Holly Springs never learned the fact. If a commander, who shrinks from the responsibility of openly ordering the perpetration of such barbarities by his troops, wishes to encourage his men in acts of vandalism, he has but to imitate the example of Gen. Grant at Holly Springs — shut his eyes and say nothing."