Pea Ridge National Military Park

Earl Van Dorn

Photo of Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn
Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn, CSA
public domain

Quick Facts

Significance:
Major General
Place of Birth:
Claiborne County, MS
Date of Birth
September 17, 1820
Place of Death:
Spring Hill, TN
Date of Death
May 7, 1863
Place of Burial:
Port Gibson, MS
Cemetery Name
Wintergreen Cemetery

A West Point graduate and career U.S. Army officer, Earl Van Dorn fought with distinction in the Mexican War. He resigned his commission in 1861 to join with his native state, Mississippi, in the Confederate cause. After serving as commander of the Mississippi Militia, Van Dorn received a commission in the regular Confederate army as a colonel of infantry in March 1861.

In January 1862, Van Dorn, now a major general, was given command of the newly-formed Trans-Mississippi military district. Van Dorn immediately faced a Union invasion of Arkansas. He personally took charge of his two Confederate armies and devised a complex flanking maneuver designed not only to defeat the smaller Union force, but also to advance north through Missouri, capture St. Louis and threaten Grant's armies. Despite his numerical advantage, Van Dorn's two-pronged attack on entrenched Federal positions at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, failed due to delays, lack of supplies, and the loss of his top two army commanders. The Union forces counterattacked and drove Van Dorn's armies from the field.

Van Dorn suffered a similar fate at the Second Battle of Corinth. Again failing to properly reconnoiter the defensive position of his opponent, Van Dorn's attack on Gen. Rosecran's Federal troops fell short and was eventually repulsed, forcing the Confederates to retreat. Following the battle, Van Dorn was relieved of his army command and reassigned to command Gen. John C. Pemberton's cavalry. As a cavalry commander Van Dorn would achieve his greatest success in a raid on Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, on December 20, 1862. Van Dorn's raid thwarted Grant's initial plan to attack Vicksburg and cut the Confederacy in half. On May 7, 1863, Van Dorn was shot dead at his headquarters by a husband jealous of the attentions Van Dorn paid his wife