Vicksburg was a city Union Generals Grant and Sherman had fixed their eyes on as a big prize. It was crucial they take the town as it was the only major point to connect their Eastern campaign with the Confederates to the West, the Trans-Mississippi territory. They would attack from two directions and capture Vicksburg and all of its resources.
The plan was in place. Troops had already occupied the nearby town of Holly Springs, Mississippi, and were guarding a huge store battle supplies in a depot.
But this master plan was about to be put to the test.
The date was December 20, 1862. As union forces slept in the occupied homes, the silence of the early morning was shattered by gunfire, Rebel yells, and the clamor of a charging Confederate Cavalry. Major General Van Dorn had a master plan of his own – to destroy those huge supplies and thwart General Grant’s grand plans for the attack on Vicksburg.
The Rebels came into town from all directions, and quickly were able to capture the Union troops. But instead of making them prisoners of war, he paroled them immediately. His main focus was on destruction of the supplies not having to deal with a bunch of Yankees.
The Rebels took for themselves what they could carry, and then torched every boxcar of an enormous trainload full of Union goods. One estimate put the value of the supplies that went up in smoke that day right at 1.5 million dollars.
No, Grant and Sherman hadn’t figured on meeting up with the likes of Confederate Major General Van Dorn who dashed their dreams of a captured Vicksburg.
Things were looking grim for General Grant. Not only were the supplies gone, and a victory in Vicksburg, but also Confederate General Forrest had disrupted rail and telegraph lines. So, he withdrew to Tennessee. At the same time General Sherman was taking a beating at Chickasaw Bayou.
Major General Van Dorn had done his job well and won a grand victory. The raid on Holly Springs was just the kind of thing he was born to do. Yes, everyone knew how he loved the ladies and enjoyed a good drink, but Van Dorn was an aggressive fighter, and an inspiration to all the men who fought with him for the cause.
One of his senior officers wrote what it was like serving under him; “I felt as if I could charge hell and capture the devil.”