Major General Earl Van Dorn
Commander, Army of West Tennessee
Major General Earl Van Dorn is remembered because of the way he died. He was killed by Dr. George B. Peters for violating the sanctity of his marriage. It occurred in Spring Hill, Mississippi on May 7, 1863. Dr. Peters and his young wife divorced soon after the incident, but they were later reunited in Arkansas where Dr. Peters mysteriously received a land grant. General Van Dorn's sister wrote a book entitled A Soldier's Honor in 1902 which argued that Dr. Peters' reason for the murder was to eliminate a Confederate commander. Dr. Peters' motivation can not be known for sure, but there had been previous rumors of General Van Dorn's womanizing and drinking.
General Van Dorn had great promise as a commander at the beginning of the Civil War. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point by President Andrew Jackson. He graduated in 1842. First Lieutenant Van Dorn won two brevet promotions for gallantry during the Mexican War. He fought victoriously as a troop commander against the Indians in the West. By 1861, he had risen to the permanent rank of major in the well respected 2nd Cavalry. The commander of this unit was Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, the second in command was Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, and one of the other officers was Major George H. Thomas.
General Van Dorn commanded a division at the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run. He was sent to Arkansas to get Sterling Price and Ben McCulloch to cooperate. General Van Dorn's army was defeated at the Battle of Pea Ridge. He later led an unsuccessful attack on the fortified city of Corinth, Mississippi while General Bragg, his commander, was invading Kentucky. A court of inquiry was convened to determine if General Van Dorn negligently conducted the battle. He was replaced by General Pemberton, and General Van Dorn was given command of General Pemberton's cavalry. A cavalry raid lead by General Van Dorn on Holly Springs, Mississippi destroyed enough supplies that General Grant was forced to terminated his campaign in central Mississippi.
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