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Earl Van Dorn
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Confederate Military
Earl Van Dorn
In February, 1861, Earl Van Dorn accepted command of the Mississippi militia when his commander, Jefferson Davis, left to become provisional President of the Confederate States of America. He could not stand the paperwork required for the position and left to recruiting duty in Texas as a Confederate colonel. It was van Dorn who was in command when Star of the West was seized at Indianola.
Following the battle of Wilson's Creek, Sterling Price and Benjamin McCulloch were so at odds that Jefferson Davis appointed van Dorn as overall commander in the West. The battle of Pea Ridge pitted Van Dorn and Price against Samuel Curtis [US] in an attempt to liberate Missouri. Van Dorn refused to make a frontal attack and after a forced nighttime march the Confederates attacked an entrenched federal line from the north.
Van Dorn detached McCulloch's division down Ford Road towards Leetown, then continued northeast along the "Bentonville Detour." By the time this happened Col. Grenville Dodge had already reported the Rebel movement to Curtis. During the attack on the Union left at Pea Ridge, McCulloch and one of his brigade commanders, James McIntosh, were killed and his demoralized men withdrew.
Sterling Price's division, under the command of Earl Van Dorn hit Brigadier General Eugene Carr's [US] troops in the late morning of March 7. Carr was driven back steadily, but Van Dorn broke off the attack at dusk. During the night the Yankees moved east, reinforcing the weakened US line. After an early morning artillery bombardment Curtis attacked, driving Van Dorn from the field of battle.
High water prevented Van Dorn from joining the Confederate army at Shiloh as ordered by Albert Sidney Johnston, but he did join P. G. T. Beauregard in Corinth following the battle. The Trans-Mississippi Army helped build the fortifications around Corinth. On May 9, 1862, Van Dorn struck federal units under John Pope in the vicinity of Farmington, Mississippi, marking the largest battle of Henry Halleck's advance on Corinth.
When Braxton Bragg took the Army of Mississippi east to Chattanooga, Van Dorn was placed in charge of the Department of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana to do what he could to prevent complete federal control of the area. His major offensive moves in this command were Sterling Price striking William S. Rosecrans at Iuka and joining him to strike Rosecrans again at Corinth. By the time Price reached Iuka, he was no longer speaking to Van Dorn, who had unrealistic plans of taking Memphis, Tennessee.
At the Battle of Corinth, Van Dorn advanced against Rosecrans reinforced skirmish line, forcing it from an outer perimeter of forts to a strong circle of forts that Van Dorn had helped build when Confederates controlled the city. With Ulysses S. Grant and Edward O. C. Ord advancing towards his position, Van Dorn wisely withdrew.
A Confederate general accused Van Dorn of being drunk on duty during Corinth. Although he was exonerated of these charges, Van Dorn was found guilty of negligence. Braxton Bragg took the opportunity to relieve Van Dorn of duty and reassigned him to the cavalry. John Pemberton took his place.
It was Van Dorn's raid on Ulysses S. Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs that earned Van Dorn his greatest victory. Capturing a garrison and destroying more than a million dollars of supplies, Van Dorn effectively ended William T. Sherman's first attempt to reach Vicksburg.
In April, 1863, Van Dorn's cavalry struck Gordon Granger in Franklin, Tennessee. Less than a month later the Confederate commander lay dead, not the victim of a federal bullet, but one from the gun of a doctor whose wife Van Dorn had been seeing.
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Earl Van Dorn was last changed on - February 18, 2007
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