Late in 1862, Col. John S. Griffith of the Texas cavalry Brigade suggested to Lt. Gen. john C. Pemberton that Pemberton organize into 3 mounted brigades, then in Mississippi, into a division, that he place Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn in charge, and that he send this forminable force against Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs. At Pemberton's request, Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest to distract Grant by striking the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, the Union supply line running from Columbus, Kentucky. south through Jackson, Tennessee. When Grant learned that Forrest's cavalrymen were tearing up track in West Tennessee, he suspended his march beyond the Yocona River on the 19th.
Though Grant did not know it, Van Dorn had left Grenada, Mississippi, on the evening of the 17th at the head of 3,500 men. Swinging well to the east of the Federals, he rode northeast through Pontotoc and New Albany toward Ripley, then cut west to Holly Springs. Though he was sighted at Pontotoc on the 18th by Union cavalry returning from a raid on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, more than 24 hours passed before Grant was alerted to the danger. Late on the 19th, Grant warned Col. Robert C. Murphy at Holly Springs and the commanders of other posts on the Mississippi Central Railroad.
That night, a few miles east of Holly Springs, Van Dorn divided his force, sending half to the town by way of a side road, and the rest by the Ripley road. At daybreak on the 20th, his brigades swept into Holly Springs, the horsemen attacking from the east, northeast, and north. On the road leading south of the supply depot, Van Dorn posted a patrol to prevent Union reinforcements from reaching Holly Springs. Most of the Union troops were surprised out of their sleep, trying in their confusion to form a defense. Van Dorn's men routed them, and the vital supply depot with its tons of medical, quartermaster, ordance, and commisary stores fell quickly into Confederate hands. While about 1,500 prisoners were being paroled, the Confederate raiders plundered warehouses, cut telegragh lines, and tore up track. After putting the torch to those supplies that they could not carry with them, the Confederates remounted and withdrew. In 10 hours, they had destroyed &1,500,000 worth of supplies and burned several buildings, including a new 2,000-bed hospital.
Van Dorn headed north, away from grant's headquarters at Oxford, Mississippi, hoping to delay pursuit. Sweeping to the west of LaGrange, Tennessee, his column lunged toward Bolivar, then returned to Grenada on the 28th, by way of Saulsbury, Tennessee. Though Grant pushed his cavalry hard, it failed to overtake the daring Confederates.
The Holly Springs raid had immediate and far-reaching repercussions for Grant's campaign against Vicksburg. Van Dorn had destroyed the general's most important supply depot, and the countryside had been exausted by the belligerents. Grant now yielded the initiative and on the 21st, began to pull back to Memphis.