November 13, 1862 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant began his drive on the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, securing an important town for his supply base.
As Grant assembled his attack force at Grand Junction, Tennessee, Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton held the important railroad junction at Holly Springs, Mississippi, 25 miles southwest. When Pemberton learned of the size of Grant’s force being prepared, he directed his troops to fall back toward Abbeville, across the Tallahatchie River. He was soon joined by Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates. Pemberton left just a cavalry force and soldiers convalescing in the hospital at Holly Springs.
The 7th Kansas Cavalry, led by Colonel Albert Lee, rode into Holly Springs near dawn on the 13th. After a brief skirmish, the Federals drove the Confederate troops out of town and took the sick and wounded soldiers prisoner. The Confederates briefly tried taking Holly Springs back, but the Federals secured the town by nightfall. This gave Grant control of the rail center there, which he would use to supply his army’s drive on Vicksburg.
As the Federals advanced from Grand Junction into northern Mississippi, Grant ordered Major General William T. Sherman’s division to begin moving out of Memphis; Grant and Sherman were to unite at Holly Springs on the 30th. Major General Frederick Steele, commanding Federals across the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas, was to lead his force east and advance on Grenada, Mississippi, about 80 miles behind enemy lines. Rear Admiral David D. Porter was to lead his Western Flotilla down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River.
General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck threatened to ruin Grant’s plan when he ordered Grant on the 23rd to send as many troops as possible directly to Vicksburg without confronting Pemberton. Grant disagreed with this because it would leave Pemberton’s army intact and able to counterattack in the future. He urged Halleck to reconsider because orders had already been issued. Halleck responded, “Proposed movement approved. Do not go too far.”
The movement would begin when Steele’s cavalry, led by General Cadwallader Washburn, raided the railroad near Grenada. Washburn’s troopers destroyed track and cut telegraph wires in the vicinity, clashing with Confederates around Charleston, Penola, and Oakland. Pemberton countered by falling back and reconcentrating most of his forces at Oxford.
Meanwhile, complaints about northern merchants seeking profit in the occupied areas continued. General Alvin Hovey, commanding the lead brigade under Steele, reported, “I cannot refrain from stating to you the effects of the great evil growing out of our commercial intercourse with the rebels. Unprincipled sharpers and Jews are supplying the enemy with all they want… War and commerce with the same people! What a Utopian dream!”
Like many Federal commanders in the department, Hovey accused the Jews of leading the profiteering craze: “Every secret of our camps is carried by the same men that formerly sold their God for thirty pieces of silver, to our worst enemies for a few pounds of cotton.” Hovey stated that his troops had regularly encountered “the blighting effects of their cupidity. No expedition has ever been dreamed of at Helena that these bloodhounds of commerce have not scented out and carried to our enemies days in advance.”
By month’s end, Grant was headquartered at Holly Springs while most of his army had continued south toward Abbeville. Sherman’s Federals reached Wyatt, downriver from Abbeville, where they had to repair a bridge destroyed by retreating Confederates. Steele’s lead brigade landed at the mouth of the Coldwater River, about 50 miles west of Holly Springs. Grant’s advance toward Vicksburg continued into December.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 230; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 287; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813