Thursday, February 2, 2006

Lois Swanee
Museum Curator

The Civil War in Holly Springs

The War Between the States happened when Holly Springs was 25 years old. We had been founded by an aristocratic group of settlers from Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. Holly Springs was considered the capital of North Mississippi. Mississippi had more millionaires than anywhere in the United States with the majority being in Natchez.

Because of our heritage, when war came we produced 11 bonafide Confederate generals, and nine members of the Confederate Congress. Nowhere else had such an astounding record. Helena, Ark., was next to us as they produced four Confederate generals (not even close.) Mississippi produced 27 generals in all.

General U.S. Grant of the United States Army chose beautiful Holly Springs for his headquarters because it was on the railroad. The Mississippi River had been captured up to Natchez. When the Northern army arrived in Natchez, the local people threw up their hands and surrendered and consequently not a shot was fired. Nothing was destroyed. When the northern army arrived at Vicksburg, it was a different story. In Holly Springs, it was different too. All of our men were away fighting the war; only one policeman was left to guard the town. All the women in Holly Springs sympathized with the Confederates since their men were in the Confederate army, so all the women were spies. They fraternized with Northern officers by entertaining with soirees and parties. Then the secrets they had learned they passed on to the Confederates. The Northern officers were living all over town in our homes. Consequently, we suffered 62 raids. (Which were marked on the wall at Fort Daniel House until a zealous painter painted over them.)

The biggest thing to ever happen was the raid of General Earl Van Dorn, a Confederate from Port Gibson on December 20, 1862. After they changed command there was a surprise raid (they probably all were surprised) with the Southerners arriving in town on that cold December morning. The Federal camp was still sleeping and were surprised, no, shocked by the arrival of the Confederates announced by rebel yells in the air and horses galloping down the streets.

That day the Federals surrendered and were taken prisoner by Van Dorn, then released in the early afternoon, as there was no way Van Dorn could take that many prisoners with him. I thought there weren’t any casualties but there was a little boy, with the last name of Stradley, who lived on West College just west of Big Star. When he heard all the noise and guns going off, he ran out onto the porch to see what was happening. A stray bullet hit him in the head and killed him. His father pulled him into the house and he died in his father’s arms in his living room. His father was the deputy sheriff. The little boy, aged nine, was buried right by the last gate in Hill Crest Cemetery. He’s the only one on the plot. One of the Northern officers wrote in his memoirs about seeing this child. He thought he was a girl as he had a head full of yellow curls. When he found out the child had died, he said that memory haunted him more than any other of his war experiences.

All buildings with “Yankee” on it were blown up, including the Magnolia Hotel on the north side of the Square because the Northern officers were living in it. The Masonic Lodge, the three-story building on the east side of the Square was full of ammunition. A boy of 11, Sam Finley, was watching the fray from across the Square. The building was surrounded and planted with dynamite. Witnesses said it lifted up in mass about 10 feet off the ground and was a gigantic explosion. One of the bricks flew across the Square and hit Sam Finley in the forehead. He lived but carried the terrible scar forevermore. He lived to be old and to tell about what happened.

The south side of the Square was spared and is still in its beautiful antebellum state, although the Northern paymaster’s office was there. Uncut bills were picked up by some townspeople and it formed a fortune which is still handy today. Mr. Mickle wrote about it, as it was his first memory which started out to be the Holly Springs encyclopedia.

There are so many stories that came out of Van Dorn’s Raid that died with the vicissitudes of time and we will never know them. Van Dorn’s Raid was the biggest thing to ever happen here. Van Dorn was definitely the victor that day but from here he went up to Davis Mills (now Michigan City) to rout the Yankees. They knew he was coming and were barricaded behind confiscated cotton bales and the Indian mound that is still there. They killed 32 Confederates that day; as the Yankees knew they were coming, the surprise element was gone. The depot and the railroad roundhouse were blown up. One building is still there and now used as the railroad office. The Foundry-Armory on the northeast corner of the city map by the railroad was also blown up. It’s where the first arms were put together and stamped with the same seal as the Airliewood gates. In October of 1862, the armory had moved to Macon, Georgia. (We lost this industry early.) The Federals then made the buildings into a hospital. They had stocked them with bottles of medicine and planned to open it for patients the day after the raid so no patients were in it. The Confederates blew it up.

My children and I went out and picked up burned bricks and pieces of medicine bottles from this holocaust. The pond, necessary for the armory, was there until after World War II but someone drowned in it and the pond was destroyed. Today there is nothing here where used to stand three buildings each 200 feet long. The floors of the buildings were left and were brick, all laid in different ornate patterns. All this, too, was bulldozed. We had wanted to turn it into a park like Jamestown. All they had were floors, but it wasn’t to be. However, but it would have been nice.

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