Earl Van Dorn

Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn was murdered May 7, 1863, in his Spring Hill headquarters by Dr. George Peters, who charged that the short, dapper general had carried on an affair with his wife while he was out of town. Van Dorn was unattended and sitting at a desk in the Matt Cheairs’ home, later known as Ferguson Hall, when shot once in the back of the head, apparently while writing a pass for Peters. Confederate authorities arrested Peters, but he was released and never tried for shooting Van Dorn.

Van Dorn is buried in Port Gibson, Mississippi, near the plantation where he was born, September 17, 1820. He graduated from West Point in 1842, ranking fifty-second in a class of fifty-six. His record for bravery and daring in the Mexican War and in fighting the Seminoles and Comanches led to high expectations when Van Dorn entered Confederate service as a colonel in March 1861 and then advanced to brigadier general in June and to major general in September. But Van Dorn’s incompetence as an army commander turned the battles of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge), Arkansas, in March 1862, and Corinth, Mississippi, in October 1862, into important Union victories. Later, as commander of mounted infantry, Van Dorn was more effective. His destruction of the Union supply center at Holly Springs, Mississippi, along with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raid through West Tennessee in December 1862, hindered U. S. Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg. Van Dorn’s only notable Civil War action in Tennessee was a minor victory at the battle of Thompson’s Station on March 4 and 5, 1863.

Suggested Reading

Arthur B. Carter, The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A. (1999); Robert G. Hartje, Van Dorn: The Life and Times of a Confederate General (1967)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Earl Van Dorn
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018