Civil War Wiki
Earl Van Dorn
[[Image:File:Earl Van Dorn.jpg|center|200px|border]]Earl Van Dorn
Personal Information
Born: September 17, 1820(1820-09-17)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: May 7, 1863 (aged 42)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Nickname: Buck, Damn Born
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Confederate States Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Major (USA)
Major General (CSA)
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Commands: Trans-Mississippi Department
Army of the West
Army of Mississippi
Battles: Mexican–American War
  • Siege of Fort Texas
  • Battle of Monterey
  • Siege of Vera Cruz
  • Battle of Contreras
  • Battle of Cerro Gordo
  • Battle of Churubusco
  • Battle for Mexico City

Indian Wars

  • Seminole Wars
  • Comanche Wars

American Civil War

Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

General Earl Van Dorn

General Earl Van Dorn (September 17, 1820 – May 7, 1863) was a career United States Army officer, fighting with distinction during the Mexican-American War and who, as cavalry commander, successfully defended several tribes of Native Americans from the attacking Comanche. As a Confederate general in the American Civil War, Earl Van Dorn was known for his victories as cavalry commander at Holly Springs and the Battle of Thompson's Station along with his controversial defeats as infantry commander at Pea Ridge and Corinth in 1862. He is considered one of the greatest cavalry commanders to have ever lived.[1] He was murdered by a civilian in the spring of 1863.

The blond-headed cavalier was known to be dashing, bold, and fearless in command while also being somewhat short of stature,[2] impulsive, and highly emotional, Earl Van Dorn was also a noted painter, writer of poetry, horseman and swordsman. While enjoying an extraordinary celebrity status, Earl Van Dorn was known for his seduction and love of women. This last trait would lead to his death in 1863, when his alleged womanizing became public knowledge and a jealous husband assasinated the general for having an affair with his wife. A reporter at the time dubbed him "the terror of ugly husbands" shortly before Van Dorn's murder cut short his promising career.[3]

Fame, Attractiveness, and Womanizing[]

Earl Van Dorn had a wide reputation for being desired by the opposite sex and this was evident when he traveled. His stardom was compounded following his victories over the Comanche and tales of his heroics in the Mexican-American War. According to historian Arthur B. Carter, "...Van Dorn had ample opportunity to participate in the social life of the community. Handsome, debonair, and polished, he presented a dashing figure in Confederate gray, so it was not surprising that he was a major attraction and the center of attention at public and private events. His knowledge of the social graces, coupled with his upbringing and education, drew attractive women to him, which he apparently did little to discourage." [4]

The New York Times concurs in stating, "It’s true that Van Dorn was enormously attractive to many women — one memoirist wrote that 'his bearing attracted, his address delighted, his accomplishments made women worship him.'"[5]

Early life and career[]

General Van Dorn was born near Port Gibson in Claiborne County, Mississippi, to Sophia Donelson Caffery, a niece of Andrew Jackson, and Peter Aaron Van Dorn, who worked as a lawyer and judge. He also had a sister named Emily Van Dorn Miller. In December 1843 he married Caroline Godbold, and they had a son named Earl Van Dorn, Jr. and a daughter named Olivia.[6]

In 1838 Earl Van Dorn attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, and graduated four years later, standing 52nd out of 56 cadets.[7] His family relations to Andrew Jackson had secured him an appointment there.[8] He was appointed a brevet second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment on July 1, 1842, and began his Army service in the Southern United States.[9]

Earl Van Dorn and the 7th were on garrison duty at Fort Pike, Louisiana, in 1842 to 1843, and were stationed at Fort Morgan, Alabama, briefly in 1843. He did garrison duty at the Mount Vernon Arsenal in Alabama from 1843 into 1844, and the was ordered to Pensacola harbor in Florida from 1844 to 1845, during which Van Dorn was promoted to second lieutenant on November 30, 1844.[9]

War with Mexico[]

Earl Van Dorn was part of the 7th U.S. Infantry when Texas was occupied by the U.S. Army from 1845 into 1846, and spent the early stages of the Mexican-American War on garrison duty defending Fort Texas (Fort Brown) in Brownsville, the southernmost town in Texas.[10]

Van Dorn saw action at the Battle of Monterrey on September 21–23, 1846, and during the Siege of Vera Cruz from March 9–29, 1847.[9] He was then transferred to Gen. Winfield Scott's command in early 1847 and promoted to first lieutenant on March 3.[7] Van Dorn fought well in the rest of his engagements in Mexico, earning himself two brevet promotions for conduct; He was appointed a brevet captain on April 18 for his participation at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, and to major on August 20 for his actions near Mexico City, including the Battle of Contreras, the Battle of Churubusco, and at the Belén Gate. Van Dorn was wounded in the foot near Mexico City on September 3,[7] and wounded again during the storming of the Belén Gate on September 13.[10]


Van Dorn in early life

After the war with Mexico, Van Dorn served as aide-de-camp to Brev. Maj. Gen P. F. Smith from April 3, 1847, to May 20, 1848. He and the 7th were in garrison at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from 1848 into 1849, and then at Jefferson Barracks in Lemay, Missouri, in 1849. He saw action in Florida against the Seminoles from 1849 to 1850, and was on recruiting service in 1850 and 1851.[9]

From 1852 to 1855 Van Dorn was stationed at the East Pascagoula Branch Military Asylum in Mississippi, serving as secretary then treasurer of the post.[10] He spent the remainder of 1855 stationed at New Orleans, Louisiana, briefly on recruiting service again, and then in garrison back at Jefferson Barracks.[9] He was promoted to captain in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on March 3, 1855.[7] Captain Van Dorn and the 2nd were on frontier duty at Camp Cooper, Texas, in 1855 and 1856, scouting in northern Texas in 1856, and fought a minor skirmish with Comanche on July 1, 1856. He was then assigned to Camp Colorado, Texas, in 1856 to 1857, scouting duty again in 1857, returned to Camp Colorado in 1857 to 1858, and finally stationed at Fort Chadbourne located in Coke County, Texas, in 1858.[9]

Van Dorn VS. The Comanche[]

Van Dorn saw further action against the Seminoles and also as cavalry commander against the Comanches in the Indian Territory. The United States had established a settlement for displaced Native Americans in the area but since the Comanche don't consider natives or any other ethnic group to be aliies, they had attacked the settlement multiple times and appeared to be planning another attack. American forces had significant difficulty with the Comanche and so Earl Van Dorn was thought to be a different thinker who could possibly repulse their attack. He was successful against the Comanche twice, leading his men to defeat them each time. His victory over the Comanche was described as "a victory more decisive and complete in the history of Indian warfare" by General David Emmanuel Twiggs.[11] He was wounded four separate times against the Comanche,[9] including seriously when commanded an expedition against Comanches and took two arrows (one in his left arm and another in his right side, damaging his stomach and lung) near the village of Wichita on October 1, 1858.[7] Without a surgeon near enough to treat Van Dorn, he pushed the arrow completely through his side.[12] Van Dorn and the 2nd were stationed at Camp Radziminski in the Indian Territory from 1858 to 1859, and at Camp Colorado, Texas, in 1859. Van Dorn was in command of scouting party against the Comanche in 1859, fought in the Valley of Nessentunga on May 13, 1859, and served at Fort Mason, Texas, in 1859 and 1860.[9] While at Fort Mason, Van Dorn was promoted to the rank of major on June 28, 1860.[7] He then was on a leave of absence from the U.S. Army for the rest of 1860 and into 1861.[9]

Civil War service[]


Confederate General Earl Van Dorn

Van Dorn chose to follow his home state and the Confederate cause, and he resigned his U.S. Army commission, which was accepted effective January 31, 1861.[7] He was appointed a brigadier general in the Mississippi Militia on January 23,[7] and replaced Jefferson Davis as major general and commander of Mississippi's state forces in February when Davis was selected as the Confederacy's President.[10]

Van Dorn Declared A Pirate by President Lincoln[]

Leaving New Orleans on April 14 and arriving at Galveston, Texas, Van Dorn led his men successfully in capturing three U.S. ships in the town's harbor. With the motivation of avoiding bloodshed on either side, he assumed command of the ships but allowed the Union troops to keep their weapons, citing that they were all Americans. This resulted in the first surrender of the war on April 17. For this, President Abraham Lincoln declared Van Dorn a pirate under the laws of the U.S. "for seizure of vessels or goods by persons acting under the authority of the Confederate States.[4]" He and his forces reached the last remaining regular U.S. Army soldiers in Texas at Indianola, forcing their surrender on April 23.

Appointed Commander of the Confederate Army of the West[]

After resigning from the Mississippi Militia on March 16, 1861, General Earl Van Dorn entered the Regular Confederate Army as a colonel of infantry on that same date.[7] He was sent west to raise and lead a volunteer brigade within the new Confederate Department of Texas.[8] On April 11 he was given command of Confederate forces in Texas, and was also ordered to arrest and detain any U.S. troops in the state who refused to join the Confederacy.[13]

Leaving New Orleans on April 14 and arriving at Galveston, Texas, he and his men succeeded in capturing three Union ships in the town's harbor[14] on April 17, thus earning the distinction of "pirate" by President Lincoln a few days later, and then headed for the last remaining regular U.S. Army soldiers in Texas at Indianola, also forcing their surrender on April 23.[15][16] While at Indianola, General Van Dorn attempted to recruit the captured U.S. soldiers into the forces of the Confederacy, but was largely unsuccessful.[17]

Van Dorn was sent to Richmond, Virginia, and appointed a colonel in the 1st C.S. Regular Cavalry on April 25, leading all of Virginia's cavalry forces,[8] and then quickly promoted to brigadier general on June 5.[7] After being promoted to major general on September 19, 1861,[18] General Van Dorn was given divisional command in the Confederate Army of the Potomac five days later, leading the 1st Division until January 10, 1862.[7] Around this time Confederate President Davis needed a commander for the new Trans-Mississippi District, as two of the leading Confederate generals there, bitter rivals Sterling Price and Benjamin McCulloch, required a leader to subdue their strong personalities and organize an effective fighting force. Both Henry Heth and Braxton Bragg had turned down the post, and Davis selected Van Dorn.[3] He headed west beginning on September 19 to concentrate his separated commands, and set up his headquarters at Pocahontas, Arkansas.[8] He assumed command of the district on January 29, 1862.[19]

Pea Ridge[]

By late 1861 and early 1862, Federal forces in Missouri had pushed nearly all Confederate forces out of the state.[20] When Van Dorn took command of the department, he was commanding infantry instead of his specialty, which was cavalry command. He had to react with his roughly 17,000 man, 60 gun Army of the West to events already underway. Van Dorn wanted to attack and destroy the Union forces, make his way into Missouri, and capture St. Louis, turning over control of this important state to the Confederacy. He met his now-concentrated force near Boston Mountains on March 3, and the army began moving north the next day.[21]

File:Battle of Pea Ridge 1.png

Plan of the battlefield of Pea Ridge

In the spring of 1862, Union Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis entered Arkansas and pursued the Confederates with his 10,500 strong Army of the Southwest. Curtis collected his four divisions and 50 artillery guns and moved into Benton County, Arkansas, following a stream called Sugar Creek. Along it on the northern side he found an excellent defensive position and began to fortify it, expecting an assault from the south.[20] Van Dorn chose not to attack Curtis's entrenched position head on. Instead he split his force into two, one division led by Price and the other by McCulloch, and ordered them to march north, hoping to reunite in Curtis' rear.[22] Van Dorn decided to leave behind his supply wagons in order to increase their moving speed, a decision that would prove critical.[23] Several other factors and misfortunes caused the proposed junction to be delayed, such as the lack of proper gear for the Confederates (some said to lack even shoes) for a forced march, felled trees placed across their path, their exhausted and hungry condition, and the late arrival of McCulloch's men. These delays allowed the Union commander to repositioned part of his army throughout March 6 and meet the unexpected attack from his rear, placing Curtis' forces between the two wings of the Confederate army.[22] Plus when General Van Dorn's advance guard accidentally ran into Union patrols near Elm Springs, the Federals were alerted to his approach.

The Battle of Pea Ridge would be one of the few instances in the American Civil War where the Confederate forces outnumbered the Union forces. Just prior to taking command of the district, Van Dorn wrote to his wife Caroline, saying "I am now in for it, to make a reputation and serve my country conspicuously or fail. I must not, shall not, do the latter. I must have St. Louis -- then Huzza!"[3]

After waiting for McCulloch to join him, Van Dorn grew frustrated and decided to act with what he had on March 7. Around 9 a.m. he ordered Price to attack the Union position close to Elkhorn Tavern, and despite Price being wounded they had succeeded in pushing the Union forces back by nightfall, cutting Curtis' lines of communication. Meanwhile McCulloch, under orders from Van Dorn to take a different route and hurry his march, had engaged part of Curtis' defenses. Early on in the fighting McCulloch and Brig, Gen. James M. McIntosh were killed, leaving no commander there to organize an effective attack.[24] When Van Dorn learned of the problems with his right wing, he renewed Price's attacks, saying "Then we must press them the harder" and the Confederates pushed Curtis back.[25] That night the junction of Price and what remained of McCulloch's men was made, and Van Dorn pondered his next move.[23] With his supplies and ammunition 15 miles (24 km) away and the Union force between them, Van Dorn maintained his position.[25]

The following day, March 8, showed Curtis and his command in an even stronger position, about a mile back from where they were on March 7. Van Dorn had his men arranged defensively in front of Pea Ridge Mountain, and when it was light enough he ordered the last of his artillery's ammunition fired at the Union position, to see what the Federals would do. The Union artillery answered back and knocked out most of Van Dorn's guns.[26] Curtis then counterattacked and routed the Confederates, mostly without actual contact between the opposing infantries. General Van Dorn decided to withdraw south, retreating through sparse country for a week and his men living off what little they got from the few inhabitants of the region. The Army of the West finally reunited with their supplies south of the Boston Mountains.[27] In his official report Van Dorn described his summary of the events at Pea Ridge:

I attempted first to beat the enemy at Elkhorn, but a series of accidents entirely unforeseen and not under my control and a badly-disciplined army defeated my intentions. The death of McCulloch and Mcintosh and the capture of Hebert left me without an officer to command the right wing, which was thrown into utter confusion, and the strong position of the enemy the second day left me no alternative but to retire from the contest.[28]

Casualties from this battle have never been fully agreed upon. The figures given by most military historians are about 1,000 to 1,200 total Federal soldiers and around 2,000 Confederate.[29] However Van Dorn estimated slightly different numbers in his official reports. He gives losses of about 800 killed with 1,000 to 1,200 wounded and 300 prisoners (about 2,300 total) for the Union, and only 800 to 1,000 killed and wounded and between 200 and 300 prisoners (about 1,300 total) from his army.[28]

The Confederate defeat at this battle, coupled with Van Dorn's army being ordered across the Mississippi River to bolster the Army of Tennessee, enabled the Union to control the entire state of Missouri and threaten the heart of Arkansas, left virtually defenseless without Van Dorn's forces.[30] Despite the loss at Pea Ridge, the Confederate Congress would vote its thanks "for their valor, skill, and good conduct in the battle of Elkhorn in the states of Arkansas" to Van Dorn and his men on April 21.[7] In his report on March 18 to Judah P. Benjamin, then the Confederate Secretary of War, Van Dorn refuted suffering a loss, saying "I was not defeated, but only foiled in my intentions. I am yet sanguine of success, and will not cease to repeat my blows whenever the opportunity is offered."[28]

Second Corinth[]

File:Corinth Oct3-4.png

Second Battle of Corinth, actions on October 3–4, 1862

The performance of General Van Dorn at the Second Battle of Corinth that fall led to another Union Army victory. As at Pea Ridge, Van Dorn did very well in the early stages of the battle on October 1–2, 1862, combining with the Price's men and prudently placing his force that now was roughly equal in size to the Federals at about 22,000 soldiers. However, again acting outside of his specialty of cavalry command, Van Dorn failed to reconnoiter the Union defenses, and his attack on Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans' strong defensive position at Corinth, Mississippi, on October 3 was bloodily repulsed.[31]

On October 4–5 his command was "roughly handled" along the Hatchie River by Union soldiers led by Brig. Gens. Stephen A. Hurlbut and Edward Ord. However Rosecrans' lack of an aggressive pursuit allowed what was left of Van Dorn's men to escape.[31] Total casualties for the Second Battle of Corinth totaled 2,520 (355 killed, 1,841 wounded, 324 missing) for the Union, and 4,233 (473 killed, 1,997 wounded, 1,763 captured/missing) for the Confederates.

After the battle, Van Dorn ordered a retreat, falling back through Oxford and then Coffeeville, and finally reaching Abbeville, constantly skirmishing with Federal cavalry. Along the way Van Dorn and his staff were nearly captured at Water Valley on December 4. Two days later Van Dorn halted the retreat at Grenada.[32] Following the defeat at Corinth, General Van Dorn was sent before a court of inquiry to answer for his performance there. Though he was acquitted of the charges against him, largely due to misfortunes seen as beyond his control,[33] Van Dorn was subsequently relieved of his district command.[32]

The battle was later described by Confederate President Jefferson Davis as an "impossibility" due to many soldiers inherited by Van Dorn who were starving and diseased when he took over and Davis went on to say that Van Dorn handled such an impossibility "masterfully."[34]

Eyewitness Captain H.E. Starke echoed Jefferson Davis in stating that this defeat was not the fault of Van Dorn and in a paper Starke wrote about the battle, he referred to Van Dorn as "the bravest of the brave, the knightly Earl Van Dorn." He went on to say, "If the true history of the attack on Corinth should be written, it would furnish a satisfactory excuse for the failure of Van Dorn in that memorable and desperately fought battle; our defeat must be attributed to the facts, that General Bragg saw fit to ignore the plans of Van Dorn, and to concentrate the army, for the purpose of engaging the enemy at Iuka. The result of that battle is well known; our force was reduced from 30,000 effective men to less than 17,000. But Van Dorn, with this small force, successfully stormed the works of this Gibraltar of Mississippi, defended by 35,000 men, composed of the flower of the entire Federal army, and commanded by their favorite general Grant. I say successfully, because in the face of the strongest and most formidable works, protected by the most powerful field-guns then in use, and supported by 35,000 bayonets, Van Dorn, with less than 17,000 men succeeded in capturing the works and driving its defenders back into the town, with great slaughter, where they were forced to take refuge in the houses. But this success was gained by the loss of nearly one-half of our number in killed and wounded, which weakened our army to such an extent that the largely reinforced enemy were enabled to repulse, and after a stubborn hand-to-hand fight drive us out of the fortifications. This battle ended the West Tennessee campaign, but did not end the brilliant exploits of Van Dorn."[35]

General Van Dorn's Raid At Holly Springs and Victorious Return to Cavalry Command[]

General Earl Van Dorn proved to be exceptionally effective as a cavalry commander; his fateful action in a raid at Holly Springs, Mississippi on December 20, 1862, seriously dismantled Ulysses S. Grant's first Vicksburg Campaign plans and was nothing short of an embarrassing defeat for Grant[31] with General Van Dorn capturing 1,500 soldiers and destroying at least $1,500,000 USD worth of Union supplies.[6] Van Dorn and his men then followed the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, fought briefly at Davis's Mills, skirmished near Middleburg, Tennessee, passed around Bolivar, and returned to their Grenada base by December 28.[32]


Earl Van Dorn in his Confederate general officer's uniform

Viewed by many as having redeemed himself and now living up to the promise he had shown earlier in his military career, Van Dorn quickly recovered his reputation from his losses, mostly because of the extraordinary fame and celebrity status that he held.

Appointed Commander of the Department of Mississippi & East Louisiana[]

On January 13, 1863, General Earl Van Dorn was appointed as commander of all cavalry in the Department of Mississippi & East Louisiana, and then was ordered by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to join the Army of Tennessee, operating in Middle Tennessee. Van Dorn and his force left Tupelo, Mississippi, went through Florence, and reached the army on February 20 at Columbia, Tennessee.

Appointed Commander of All Cavalry in Tennessee[]

General Van Dorn set up his headquarters at the town of Spring Hill, Tennessee to great fanfare from the locals, who celebrated his arrival as a triumphal entry, and he assumed command of all surrounding cavalry members, including Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was instructed by the army commander, Gen. Braxton Bragg, to protect and scout the left of the army, screening against Union cavalry.[36]

Victory in Battle of Thompson's Station[]

Van Dorn was wildly successful at the Battle of Thompson's Station, on March 5, 1863. There a Union brigade, under Col. John Coburn, left Franklin to reconnoiter to the south. About four miles short of Spring Hill Coburn attacked a Confederate force composed of two regiments and was repulsed. Van Dorn then sent Brig. Gen. W. H. Jackson's dismounted soldiers to make a direct frontal assault, while Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's troopers went around Coburn's left and into the Federal rear. After three charges were beaten back, Jackson finally carried the Union position as Forrest captured Coburn's wagon train, blocking the road to Columbia and the Union's only escape route. Nearly out of ammunition as well as surrounded, Coburn surrendered to General Van Dorn.

Back in his element of what Earl Van Dorn was known for as a cavalry commander, on March 16, 1863, he was given command on the cavalry corps of Army of Tennessee[37] and fought his last fight April 10 at the First Battle of Franklin, skirmishing with the cavalry of Gordon Granger and losing 137 men to Granger's 100 or so. This minor action caused Van Dorn to halt his movement and rethink his plans, and subsequently he returned in the Spring Hill area.[31]


File:Cheairs Mansion Spring Hill TN.jpg

Martin Cheairs Mansion in Spring Hill, Tennessee, site of Van Dorn's shooting

It was Earl Van Dorn's reputation as a womanizer and not a Union bullet, that led to his death. In May 1863 he was shot in his headquarters at Spring Hill in Maury County, Tennessee, by Dr. James Bodie Peters, who claimed that Van Dorn had carried on an affair with his wife, Jessie McKissack Peters.[37] Alone in his office at the home of Martin Cheairs (now known as Ferguson Hall), General Van Dorn was writing at his desk when Dr. Peters entered and shot him once in the back of the head, killing him instantly.[38] Peters was later arrested by Confederate authorities, but was never brought to trial for the killing.[37] In defense of his actions, Dr. Peters stated that Van Dorn had "violated the sanctity of his home."[39]

General Earl Van Dorn is one of the three major generals in the American Civil War who died violently but from private problems. The others were Union Major General William "Bull" Nelson, shot as the result of a feud with then Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis in September 1862; and Confederate Major General John A. Wharton, shot as the result of an argument with Colonel George Wythe Baylor in April 1865.[40]

Earl Van Dorn's body was brought back to Mississippi and buried at Wintergreen Cemetery in Port Gibson.[37] His father Peter had also been buried there, and Earl Van Dorn was laid to rest beside him.[41]


An eyewitness writes: "As we watched the immense procession of soldiers, the hearse drawn by six white horses, its gorgeous array of white and black plumes, that bore the grand casket in which the dead hero lay, we thought with sorrow of the handsome face still in death and the heart-broken wife thus cruelly widowed."[42]

"Van Dorn’s troopers would remember with fervent admiration his appearance as dawn arose on Dec. 20 and they waited with him just outside the town. 'Seated on his fine black mare, holding his hat above his head,' one recounted, 'I thought him as fine a figure as I had ever seen.' Colonel Griffith, whose plan Van Dorn had executed to perfection, wrote that 'I felt as if I could charge hell and capture the devil.'[43]

Upon learning of Van Dorn's death, General W.H. Jackson, who served with Van Dorn in the Battle of Thompson's Station, wrote, "Upon the battle field, he was the personification of courage and chivalry. No knight of the olden time ever advanced to the contest more eagerly, and after the fury of the conflict had passed away, none was ever more generous and humane to the sufferers than he. As a commanding officer he was warmly beloved and highly respected; as a gentleman his social qualities were of the rarest order - for goodness of heart, he had no equal. His deeds have rendered his name worthy to be enrolled by the side of the proudest in the Capital of the Confederacy, and long will be sacredly and proudly cherished in the heards of his command."[44]


Controversial throughout his life, General Earl Van Dorn as a military commander was an able and even brilliant leader of cavalry, where his victories earned him immense fame even among civilians. He was inconsistent, however, with larger commands, often due to circumstances beyond his control. Military historian Richard P. Weinert summarized Van Dorn as "A brilliant cavalry officer, he was a disappointment in command of large combined forces."[45]

Historian Arthur Carter wrote of Van Dorn, "Van Dorn had a fearless and dashing nature, coupled with a love of danger throughout his life. During the prewar days in Texas, he had shown remarkable ability as a cavalry officer and Indian fighter. Later, his talent as a leader of mounted troops came to the forefront when he proved his true value to the Confederacy by leading the successful raid on Holly Springs, Mississippi, in December of 1862. His career was resurrected with his appointment as a cavalry commander at a time when the Confederate mounted arm was coming into its own in the West in 1862. By December of that year, Van Dorn appears to have matured as a soldier, giving the impression that he had learned to curb his impatience and recognize the value of intelligence and reconnaissance. This is evident in the action at Thompson's Station, Tennessee, the following March, when instead of dashing headlong into an attack on his adversary, he allowed the enemy to come to him. Van Dorn was contraversial in life as well as in death. He had ardent supporters, particularly among the Texans, who, in the words of Lt. Col. Arthur Freemantle of the Coldstream Guards, considered Van Dorn to be the 'beau ideal' at the time of his death. In contrast, his detractors, such as Sen. Phelan of Mississippi, accused him of 'womanizing' and debauchery. Van Dorn's fatal weakness was his attraction to beautiful women, a weakness that would prove to be his undoing."[46]

Military historian and biographer John C. Fredriksen described him as "a brave and capable soldier, but he proved somewhat lacking in administrative ability." Fredriksen goes on to say that Earl Van Dorn belonged in cavalry command, stating him to be "back in his element" and "demonstrated flashes of brilliance" with that branch of the service. Fredriksen also believed Van Dorn's successes at Holly Springs and Thompson's Station in the spring of 1863 were historic and made him the leading cavalry leader in the Confederacy. He also notes that Van Dorn's death cost the service a "useful leader at a critical juncture of the Vicksburg campaign" and also states that Van Dorn was the senior major general in the Confederate States Army at the time of his murder.[47]

According to the Mobile Register on the day of Van Dorn's death, "Gen. Van Dorn was every inch a soldier and just beginning to reap the reward of public confidence and praise. His loss will be severely felt in that branch of the service of which he was so complete a master."[48]

See also[]


  1. Beck, Brandon (2011). Holly Springs: Van Dorn, The CSS Arkansas And The Raid That Saved Vicksburg. Charleston, SC: History Press. pp. 74–75. ISBN 9781540224422.
  2. Foote, Vol. I, p. 277. height given as 5ft. 5in. tall, or 2 inches above Napoleon
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 ""NPS biography of Van Dorn"". Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Carter, Arthur (1999). The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A. Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press/Knoxville. p. 32. ISBN 978-1572330474.
  5. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= and |date= (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 "" biography of Van Dorn"". Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 Eicher, Civil War High Commands, p. 542.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Foote, Vol. I, p. 278.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 ""Military biography of Earl Van Dorn"". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Dupuy, p. 771.
  11. Carter, Arthur (1999). The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A. Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press/Knoxville. p. 18. ISBN 978-1572330474.
  12. Cannan, p. 44.
  13. Fredrickson, p. 21.
  14. Foote, Vol. I, p. 278. One of the three vessels was the SS Star of the West, known for its role with Ft. Sumter in January 1861.
  15. Weinert, p. 26.
  16. Foote, Vol. I, p. 278. These exploits were heralded in Southern print of the time, and a Northern editor offered $5,000.00 USD for Van Dorn's head, twice the going rate for Beauregard.
  17. Weinert, p. 25.
  18. Wright, p. 22 "Appointed from Mississippi, September 19, 1861, to rank from same date" Confirmed by the Confederate Senate on December 13, 1861.
  19. Eicher, Civil War High Commands, p. 884
  20. 20.0 20.1 Foote, Vol. I., p. 281.
  21. Foote, Vol.I., p. 279.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Foote, Vol. I., p. 283.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Foote, p. 287.
  24. Foote,Vol. I., p. 286.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Cannan, p. 45.
  26. Foote, Vol. I., p. 290.
  27. Foote, Vol. I., p. 291.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 ""Reports of Van Dorn concerning Pea Ridge"". Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  29. Kennedy, p. 37. cites 1,000 Federal soldiers and 2,000 Confederate; Eicher, Longest Night, p. 193, cites 1,384 Union and "about 800 Confederate"; Johnson, p. 337, also cites 1,384 Union and matches Van Dorn's Confederate estimate; Foote, Vol. I., p. 292: Curtis reported 203 dead, 980 wounded, 201 missing, totaling 1,384.
  30. Foote, Vol.I., p. 292.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Dupuy, p. 772.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Weinert, p. 36.
  33. NPS bio. Charges were: negligence of duty, disregarding the welfare of his men, and not adequately planning the campaign.
  34. Miller, Emily (1902). A Soldier's Honor. New York City: The Abbey Press Publishers. p. 329.
  35. Miller, Emily (1902). A Soldier's Honor. New York City: The Abbey Press Publishers. pp. 286–287.
  36. Weinert, pp. 36-7.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 Eicher, Civil War High Commands, p. 543.
  38. "" biography of Van Dorn"". Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  39. Warner, p. 315.
  40. Eicher, Civil War High Commands, pp. 405, 563.
  41. ""Texas St. Historical Assn. biography of Van Dorn"". Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  42. Miller, Emily (1902). A Soldier's Honor. New York City: The Abbey Press Publishers. p. 262.
  43. Bassett, Thom (12/21/2012). "Van Dorn's Wild Ride". The New York Times. Retrieved 5/2/2023.
  44. Miller, Emily (1902). A Soldier's Honor: With Reminiscences of Major-General Earl Van Dorn by His Comrades. New York City: The Abbey Press Publishers. p. 262.
  45. Weinert, p. 37.
  46. Carter, Arthur (1999). The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A. Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press/Knoxville. pp. 201–202. ISBN 978-1572330474.
  47. Fredriksen, pp. 787-8.
  48. Miller, Emily (1902). A Soldier's Honor. New York City: The Abbey Press Publishers. p. 262.


  • Cannan, John, ed., War in the West: Shiloh to Vicksburg, 1862-1863, W.H. Smith Publishers, 1990, ISBN 0-8317-3084-6.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed., ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
  • Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford Univ. Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Vol. I Fort Sumter to Perryville, Vintage Books, 1986, ISBN 0-394-74623-6.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Vol. II Fredericksburg to Meridian, Vintage Books, 1986, ISBN 0-394-74621-X.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Vol. III Red River to Appomattox, Vintage Books, 1986, ISBN 0-394-74622-8.
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac, Checkmark Books/Infobase Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0-860-7554-6.
  • Johnson, Robert Underwood, and Buell, Clarence Clough, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: The Opening Battles, Vol. 1., ISBN 0-89009-569-8.
  • Kennedy, Frances H., ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
  • Miller, Emily, "A Soldier's Honor: With Reminiscences of Major-General Earl Van Dorn by His Comrades", The Abbey Press Publishers, 1902.
  • Warner, Ezra, Generals in Gray: The Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-3150-3.
  • Weinert, Richard P., Jr., The Confederate Regular Army, White Mane Publishing, 1991, ISBN 0-942597-27-3.
  • Wright, Marcus J., General Officers of the Confederate Army, J. M. Carroll & Co., 1983, ISBN 0-8488-0009-5.

Further reading[]

  • Carter, Arthur B., The Tarnished Cavalier: Major General Earl Van Dorn, C.S.A., University of Tennessee Press, 1999, ISBN 1572330473.
  • Cozzens, Peter, The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth, University of North Carolina Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8078-5783-1.
  • DeBlack, Thomas R., With Fire and Sword: Arkansas , 1861-1874, University of Arkansas Press, 2003, ISBN 1-5572-8740-6.
  • Hartje, Robert George, Van Dorn: The Life and Times of a Confederate General, Vanderbilt University Press, 1994, ISBN 0826512542.
  • Lowe, Richard, "Van Dorn's Raid on Holly Springs, December 1862" Journal of Mississippi History, #61, 1999, pp. 59–71.
  • Shea, William & Hess, Earl, Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West, University of North Carolina Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8078-4669-4.
  • Winschel, Terrance J., "Earl Van Dorn: From West Point to Mexico" Mississippi History 62, no. 3, 2000, pp. 179–97.
  • Beck, Brandon H., "Holly Springs: Van Dorn, The CSS Arkansas And The Raid That Saved Vicksburn" The History Press, 2011. ISBN 9781540224422.

External links[]

da:Earl Van Dorn de:Earl Van Dorn fr:Earl Van Dorn ja:アール・ヴァン・ドーン ru:Ван Дорн, Эрл fi:Earl Van Dorn