Welcome back to another installment of our 2021 Emerging Civil War Symposium Spotlight. Today we have Matt Atkinson previewing his presentation on fallen leader Earl Van Dorn. Read on below to find out more about this fallen leader and just some of the stories you will hear at the Seventh Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium, August 6-8, 2021.
The phone rang the other day and I picked up… “Matt!” said Chris Mackowski, managing editor of ECW, “we need you back! Can you make the 2020 Symposium in August?” “Sure,” I responded, “what’s the topic?” “Fallen Leaders,” he responded. “Rob [Orrison] thinks you should do something on Earl Van Dorn. What do you think?” “What do I think? Sex and violence always sells and ol’ Earl has plenty of both.” “Great!” Chris said. “By the way, how’s that Vicksburg book coming? You know we’ve been waiting with great anticipation for some time now.” I couldn’t resist the opening. “It reads like a future Pulitzer winner for sure. I’ll be sure to give all the folks an update at the symposium, Chris.”
Earl Van Dorn does not need any introduction to the Civil War community. “The terror of ugly husbands” was a native of Mississippi, a West Point graduate, veteran of the Mexican War and various Indian expeditions as the Civil War began. He resigned from the United States Army and quickly went up through the ranks of the Confederate Army. By September 1861, Van Dorn held a Major General’s commission and by March 1862, he was the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department. In one of the few battles where the Confederates outnumbered the Union, Van Dorn managed to lose the Battle of Pea Ridge. Van Dorn and a portion of his army crossed the Mississippi in a belated effort to join forces with the Army of the Mississippi before the Battle of Shiloh.
Van Dorn may have missed the battle but he certainly wasn’t out of the war. By October, Jefferson Davis had given Van Dorn command of another army. The brash Mississippian promptly mounted a counteroffensive to regain the vital rail junction at Corinth, Mississippi. With a strategy suiting the man, Van Dorn mounted multiple full-frontal assaults against the stout Union defenses ringing the city. The attacks ended in a bloodbath and this was the last time Van Dorn commanded an army in the field.
Van Dorn subsequently moved on to the cavalry branch and attained much better success. In one of the more under noted events of the War, Van Dorn’s men successfully destroyed Ulysses S. Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs, Mississippi. This single act effectively halted Grant’s advance into the interior of the State. Van Dorn scored another success in March 1863, with the complete capture of a small Union force at the Battle of Thompson’s Station. However, this would be his last fight. His infatuation with the fairer sex would catch up with him at Spring Hill, Tennessee with a young lady named Jesse Peters. But for the rest of this story, I’ll see you at the symposium.
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