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[450] even pushed as far as the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, cutting it in several places. On the 18th of December these Federal troopers were quietly passing through a country which they thought to be defenceless, when to their astonishment they learned that they had very nearly fallen in with a body of five or six thousand Confederate horse. They followed in their wake, soon overtook them, and hiding in the woods—for they were not strong enough to attack them—they could see the rear-guard of the enemy, which was proceeding rapidly in a northerly direction. This was Van Dorn, who, burning to avenge his defeat at Corinth, was attempting a bold and well-conceived stroke against Grant's depots established at intermediate stations along the railroad. The Federal colonel had the misfortune or the stupidity not to immediately communicate to his chief the important fact that chance had just revealed to him. Grant only heard of it on the evening of the 19th. He at once sent word to all the posts recommending increased vigilance, and despatched at the same time a body of four thousand men by rail to reinforce the garrison of Holly Springs, which was the centre of his depots of provisions, arms and ammunition. He had unfortunately entrusted this post to Colonel Murphy, who had already exhibited great weakness in abandoning Iuka at the approach of Price. All the garrisons were on their guard except that of Holly Springs.

This village had become the rendezvous of that floating population which follows armies at a distance, and which the military authorities are always trying to keep at a distance. Adventurous speculators had come over for the purpose of engaging in the cotton contraband trade. All the army sutlers procured their supplies at depots which Northern merchants had established in the place. Officers on duty, either in the garrison or in the quartermaster's department, thinking themselves perfectly safe, had taken up their residence with their families in the houses of the village, where they lived on good terms with the inhabitants, although the latter made no secret of their sympathies with the enemy. Hence arose that negligence and carelessness of which Murphy was the first to set the example.

A large hospital had been established for the numerous sick who suffered from dysentery, typhoid or malarial fevers. Murphy

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