The following letter was written by 43 year-old Mitchell Campbell Lilley (1819-1897), the proprietor of a moderately successful bindery and printing firm in Columbus, Ohio, at the time that civil war erupted in 1861. Having served previously in the Mexican War, and being a member of the local militia, Lilley was quick to offer his service as Captain of Co. H, 46th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). Ill health, however, forced Lilley to resign from active service in January 1863 but he returned to Columbus to command a home guard militia for the duration of the war.
Following the war, Lilley convinced the Ohio General Assembly that deaf students at the state institution for the deaf could be trained in bookbinding skills which enabled him to expand his business and branch out into other endeavors, such as manufacturing and distributing fraternal regalia.
Lilley was married in 1849 at Paris, Illinois, to Amanda C. Brooks. They had 13 children, five of who died in infancy.
The 46th OVI took part in Grant’s first attempt to seize Vicksburg which was to march his army overland from La Grange, Tennessee, following the Mississippi Central Railroad south toward Vicksburg. He imagined that a supply line could be maintained from Columbus, Kentucky, but this proved impossible. Once Grant’s forces had made it as far as 35 miles south of Grand Junction, the large supply depot he had established at Holly Springs in his rear was swiftly and unexpectedly attacked by Earl Van Dorn’s Cavalry, destroying $1.5 million of supplies, capturing the Federal garrison quartered there, and destroying track and bridges. The damage inflicted by Van Dorn’s troopers caused sufficient harm for Grant to withdraw his forces to Memphis and rethink his strategy.
In this letter, Capt. Lilley describes their return to Holy Springs and what they found when they got there.
For an interesting article by my friend Dan Masters, see “Crank” Worthington’s Boys at Shiloh, published on 28 June 2020.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed & published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Holly Springs, Mississippi
December 31, 1862
After marching for over a month among the hills of Northern Mississippi, we have settled for a short time here. We were south of here about fifty miles. Our last and most southern camp was the one I wrote from last on the Yachnapatufa and is 30 to 35 miles north of Grenada. We have generally had good roads for the sort, having had dry weather most of the time. The worst roads were from the Tallahatchie to this place. I have seen several Columbus gentlemen since we came up. Mr. Weaver and brother, Mr. Day, Mr. Jones—not Amisy but his cousin, and Mr. Williams.
Holly Springs, January 1st 1863. I wish you all a happy New Year. It came in with a heavy frost here and is as cold as it generally gets here, altogether the coldest day of the season, clear and frosty with a bright sunshine. This is a very pretty location for a town and has some very handsome residences. We had heard that the town was burned but found on reaching here that there had been several of the best blocks burned which were used as Government storehouses—also the depot, and all the necessary buildings usually found around a depot. All the government property here was destroyed and all on account of a fancy man, Col. [Robert C.] Murphy, who was caught for the third time in the same trap. Don’t you think he should be made a Major now when he might be able to surrender his thousands.
Well, talk enough about that. I expect you know more about it than I do. I received your three letters—one from Cairo, Paris, and home—on the 29th, the day we came here, and the first news we have had for over a month. The railroad is being put in running order from here to Memphis and will be done in about three days when we will be able to go to Memphis in about three hours. We expected when we came here to go on to Lafayette on the Memphis & Charleston Road where we were last summer, but we were ordered by Gen. Grant to halt here. I understood the reason to be that he wished to convene a court for the trial of some officers and could not do so without Denver’s Division. 1 The only objection to this place is there is not the abundance of water that we would have had on Wolf River, and would have been within thirty miles of Memphis. Some say we will move as soon as the court gets through with their business.
We are looking for another mail in a few days. John Cryder was to get the wood off our timber was to take down timber. We have had no pay yet—six months due us. Howell has gone to Memphis. Col. Wolcutt is well. So are all our boys. My legs gave out the last two days march and I had to take an old rackabone of a horse with a blanket for a saddle which was a hard way of getting through this world certain. I would not have rode but it was impossible to pull my legs along and I got the cramps in my left foot, with the rest of my troubles. The last day I got a saddle and got along well. Yours, — M. C. Lilley
I will send this by Mr. Taylor of Worthington who has resigned and is going home on the first train. His Captain Crow was dismissed from the service and will probably go soon. There is one way for me to advance in rank. That sets me one notch ahead but you must not put on any airs on that account. When you have enquired into matters and are satisfied, let me know, but I suppose you have before this. But your letters have not come yet.
Beckett wants to make out his report and table room is scarce so I must close. I saw Mr. Wheeler the day we came in. Are you not all mistaken about Riley? Tell Louis to do the best he can. I will helm him as soon as I am able, but can’t tell when we will get any pay. Give my respects to all the friends. I saw Lowrie Rankin at the Tallahatchie River as we went south. He is chaplain of the 113th Illinois. I saw some of the 4th Illinois Cavalry but did not see Mr. Mooberry. Be careful of the little ones. Yours, — M. C. Lilley
1 Gen. James W. Denver remained in command of this brigade until about November 23, 1862 when he was given the command of one of the three divisions Sherman’s division was split into. During this period Gen. Denver and his brigade participated in the Siege of Corinth, a march to Memphis, and a brief move south with Sherman toward Holley Springs, December 5, 1862. After returning to Memphis his division transferred to Gen. Hurlbut’s XVI Corps where it was designated as the First Division. Its assignment was to guard 65 miles of the Memphis & Charelston Rail Road. He was preforming this duty when he resigned his commission March 18, 1863. He remained in his command until his replacement, Gen. William Sooy Smith, took command of the division.