Portrait of Earl Van Dorn

Earl Van Dorn was a prominent Confederate general officer who commanded the Army of the West from January 29 – June 20, 1862. His military career was cut short when a jealous husband assassinated him in 1863. [Wikimedia Commons]

Earl Van Dorn - Facts

September 17, 1820 - May 7, 1863

Key facts about Earl Van Dorn, a prominent Confederate general officer whose military career was cut short when he was assassinated by a jealous husband in 1863.

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Full Name:

  • Earl Van Dorn

Birth Date:

  • September 17, 1820

Birth Location:

  • Port Gibson, Mississippi

Parents:

  • Peter Aaron and Sophia Donelson (Caffery) Van Dorn

Education:

  • United States Military Academy (1842)

Occupation:

  • Military officer

Career Summary:

  • Major (USA)
  • Major General (CSA)

Spouse:

  • Caroline Godbold (1843)

Nickname(s):

  • Buck
  • Damn Born

Place of Death:

  • Spring Hill, Tennessee

Date of Death:

  • May 7, 1863

Place of Burial:

  • Wintergreen Cemetery, Port Gibson, Mississippi

Significance:

  • Earl Van Dorn was the fifth of nine children and oldest of three sons born to Peter Aaron and Sophia Donelson (Caffery) Van Dorn .
  • Earl Van Dorn’s father was a Princeton-educated lawyer and circuit judge in Mississippi.
  • Earl Van Dorn’s mother was a niece of President Andrew Jackson.
  • In 1838, former U.S. President Andrew Jackson secured an appointment for Earl Van Dorn at the United States Military Academy.
  • Earl Van Dorn graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842, ranked 52nd in his class of 56 cadets.
  • Following his graduation from West Point, Earl Van Dorn was brevetted as a second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry.
  • On December 23, 1843, Earl Van Dorn married Caroline Godbold, daughter of a prominent Alabama plantation owner. Their marriage produced one son, Earl Jr., and one daughter, Olivia.
  • On November 30, 1844, Earl Van Dorn was promoted to second lieutenant.
  • Earl Van Dorn served with distinction during Mexican-American War (1846-1848).
  • Earl Van Dorn was promoted to first lieutenant on March 3, 1847.
  • Earl Van Dorn was brevetted to captain on April 18, 1847 (for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battle of Cerro Gordo).
  • Earl Van Dorn was brevetted to major on August 20, 1847, (for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco).
  • Earl Van Dorn was promoted to captain in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on March 3, 1855.
  • Earl Van Dorn was seriously wounded by two arrows during an engagement against the Comanche near Wichita Village in the Kansas Territory on October 1, 1858.
  • Earl Van Dorn was an outspoken defender of states’ rights.
  • Shortly after Mississippi seceded from the Union on January 9, 1861, Earl Van Dorn resigned his army commission to accept an appointment as brigadier general of Mississippi state troops under the command of Jefferson Davis.
  • Earl Van Dorn was promoted to major general of Mississippi State Troops, circa February 1861.
  • Earl Van Dorn accepted an appointment as colonel in the Confederate Army on March 16, 1861.
  • Van Dorn was promoted to brigadier general on June 5, 1861, and placed in command of Forts Jackson and St. Philip near New Orleans.
  • Earl Van Dorn was promoted to major general on September 19, 1861, and transferred to Virginia where he commanded the 1st Division of the Confederate Army of the Potomac.
  • On January 10, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed Earl Van Dorn in charge of the Trans-Mississippi Division of Department No. 2, which included parts of Louisiana, Missouri, the Indian Territory, and all of Arkansas.
  • Union Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis defeated Earl Van Dorn at the Battle of Pea Ridge (aka the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern) (March 7-8, 1862).
  • Following the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Earl Van Dorn moved the remnants of his tattered Army of the West across the Mississippi River.
  • Earl Van Dorn participated in Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard’s evacuation of Corinth, Mississippi on May 29-30, 1862,
  • Earl Van Dorn was appointed commander of the Department of Southern Mississippi and East Louisiana on June 20, 1862.
  • Earl Van Dorn was named as commander of the District of the Mississippi, Department #2 on July 2, 1862.
  • In August 1862, Earl Van Dorn ordered an ill-fated expedition to recapture Baton Rouge, losing the Confederate ironclad Arkansas during the encounter.
  • On September 11, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Earl Van Dorn to march troops east from Vicksburg, and take command of the Army of the West.
  • Union Major General William S. Rosecrans defeated Earl Van Dorn at the Second Battle of Corinth (October 3-4, 1862).
  • On December 20, 1862, Earl Van Dorn achieved his greatest military success, leading a raid on Ulysses S. Grant’s supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, taking 1,500 prisoners and destroying over $1.5 million worth of Union supplies.
  • Earl Van Dorn was promoted to corps commander of the cavalry in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana on January 20, 1863.
  • On February 25, 1863, Earl Van Dorn and his cavalry troops were reassigned to General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.
  • On March 5, 1863, Earl Van Dorn’s 300 troopers defeated Colonel John Colburn’s nearly 2,000 Union soldiers at the Battle of Thompson’s Station in Williamson County, Tennessee.
  • Earl Van Dorn was promoted to command of the cavalry corps of the Army of Tennessee on March 16, 1863.
  • Throughout his army career, Earl Van Dorn developed a reputation as a womanizer.
  • Earl Van Dorn’s allegedly fathered three children with Martha Goodbread during his years in Texas.
  • On May 7, 1863, Dr. James Bodie Peters assassinated Earl Van Dorn in his headquarters in Spring Hill, Tennessee, because he believed Van Dorn had violated the sanctity of his marriage.
  • Earl Van Dorn’s body was temporarily interred on the property of his wife’s family at Mount Vernon, Alabama, because his hometown of Port Gibson, Mississippi was in Federal hands at the time of his death.
  • In November 1899, Earl Van Dorn’s sister, Emily Miller, had her brother’s body disinterred and reburied at Wintergreen Cemetery in Port Gibson, Mississippi, where it now rests.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Earl Van Dorn - Facts
  • Coverage September 17, 1820 - May 7, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords Earl Van Dorn
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 2, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021