small quantity used in arming and equipping his command, General Van Dorn committed to the flames.
He has been censured for burning the buildings in which the property was stored, but there was no other plan he could have adopted. It must be remembered that he was under the shadow of a large, hostile army, while he occupied the town, and a considerable portion of his command had to be employed in guarding the prisoners, who were being paroled, and in covering the approaches of the enemy. He could not reasonably have hoped to hold his position long enough to have moved the stores out of the buildings and destroyed them with the force available for that purpose.
The explosion of the magazine and bursting of shells communicated fire to some buildings, which otherwise would have escaped being burned.
At sunset the work of destruction had been completed, the prisoners paroled, and the command moved out of town. In a few short hours, with a comparatively insignificant force, General Van Dorn had destroyed an accumulation of military supplies which it had taken months to collect from the factories and store-houses of the North. It was a terrible disaster to General Grant; and as censure had to rest on some one, Colonel Murphy, the commander of the post, was selected as the scapegoat. Incompetency, negligence, and all sorts of charges were brought against him. It was said that he was not sufficiently rigid in excluding citizens from his lines, and in that way General Van Dorn obtained the information which enabled him to effect a surprise; but when it is considered that there were numbers of men in his command whose homes were in and around Holly Springs, and who were perfectly familiar with every road and by-path in the country, it may readily be supposed that he did not have to rely on citizens for information.
Colonel Murphy's cavalry had been active and vigilant. There was no hostile force near the town at dark on the evening of the 19th. The attack on the morning of the 20th came like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, and under the circumstances was irresistible. Had Grant and every general in his army been present the result would probably have been the same. Mrs. Grant had established her headquarters in town; the General visited her frequently, and he must have known and been satisfied with the condition of affairs at the post. Holly Springs was connected with army headquarters by telegraph, and Colonel Murphy might very properly