NORTH MISSISSIPPI 439 VAN DORN’S RAID ON HOLLY SPRINGS When Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn captured the Union supply depot at Holly Springs in 1862 during the Civil War, his soldiers blew up train cars and warehouses of supplies meant for the Union Army. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Cotton and Railroads Although the North Mississippi hillsides were white with cotton bolls, profits from prolific crops nonetheless depended to a great extent on cost-effective transportation. In Holly Springs, planters depended on dirt roads to haul bales to Memphis fifty miles away. The town’s leading boosters included Judge Jeremiah W. Clapp and Colonel Harvey W. Walter. In an article in De Bow’s Review, Judge Clapp calculated the immense savings a railroad would bring. He estimated the cost for a planter living sixty miles from Memphis at $3.24 per bale, or $194.40 for a crop of sixty bales. A railway through Holly Springs would slash the cost to only 31¢ a bale, or $18.60 for sixty bales. At the Southwestern Railroad Convention in New Orleans in April 1851, Colonel Walter presented a battery of statistics on the immense amount of cotton that could be shipped to the city from North Mississippi. Led by Clapp and Walter, supporters proposed a railway across the wilderness of Mississippi linking Grand Junction, Tennessee, with New Orleans running through Jackson. The Mississippi Central was incorporated in 1852 and was built in fits and starts, depending on the availability of slave labor contributed by investors in lieu of cash. The railroad reached Holly Springs in November 1853. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on the courthouse square, with Colonel Walter turning the first spade of earth before a crowd of 6,000 cheering spectators. When the Mississippi Central built a new two-story brick depot, the railroad’s investment sparked economic growth and a building boom in the town. The municipal government floated a bond issue to construct a grand three-story hotel on the square to accommodate new visitors, and wealthy planters constructed a series of luxurious Greek Revival homes. In 1859, the Jones- McElwaine Iron Foundry produced 1,350 tons of castings, followed by rails for the Mississippi Central along with grillwork and balconies for New Orleans. The railroad was completed in 1860.