but somewhat unused road to Holly Springs, distant thirty-five miles, and by noon had reached a point within fourteen miles of the town. As it was important to avoid coming in contact with any reconnoitring parties the enemy might have out, we were now halted until night. A careful inspection of arms and ammunition was made, the horses were fed, and at dark we were ordered to move forward in perfect silence; at midnight, the head of the column being within a mile of the enemy's pickets, the men were ordered to dismount and rest in place.
It was a warm, star-light, December night, and oppressively silent. Even our horses seemed to comprehend the situation, for they quietly nodded in their places, while their riders, bridle rein in hand, enjoyed a brief rest on the ground at their feet.
There were various opinions in regard to the strength of the enemy. The sequel proved it consisted of a brigade of infantry and a portion of the Seventh Illinois cavalry—a force about equal in numbers to our own. The infantry was divided—a portion being camped near the railroad depot and very near where the road on which we were advancing entered the town; the balance were quartered in the centre of the town, occupying the courthouse and other buildings on and near the square. The cavalry occupied the fair grounds, immediately north of the town. The three positions were from a half to three-quarters of a mile from each other, and a simultaneous attack upon each would have necessitated the movement of a portion of the troops around the town, which, owing to the darkness and the nature of the ground, would have been impracticable.
There was no trouble about reaching the encampment first named, as that lay straight before us. To get at the other positions, General Van Dorn adopted the simpler plan of going through the town, instead of around it. By hurling his whole force straight at the enemy and entering their lines at one point, he would come in contact with only one picket-post and diminish the chances of alarming the garrison prematurely.
After passing the pickets and reaching certain designated points of the column, without abating its speed, was to divide into three attacking parties, the commander of each detachment being carefully instructed where to strike. The first or head of the column was to dash into and capture the infantry camped in front of us; the second, following immediately after the first, was to sweep by the encampment, move straight into the town until it reached the