Earl Van Dorn at Spring Hill

I’ve had this photo sitting in the hopper for months, and then of course, I missed the date. The swell of end-of-the-semester grading has had me underwater for days—my apologies!

This is the house in Spring Hill, Tennessee, where Earl Van Dorn made his headquarters, the Martin Cheairs Mansion. Van Dorn was murdered here on May 7, 1863. “Gen. Van Dorn is dead—,” wrote War Department clerk John B. Jones, “killed by a man whose peace he had ruined.”

Van Dorn, a notorious lothario, had purportedly been carrying on an affair with Jesse Helen Kissack Peters, whose husband, Dr. George Peters, had been out of town serving in the state legislature. Peters came home in mid-April to gossip in town about his wife’s extramarital activities, and he soon caught his wife and Van Dorn together. Although Peters spared Van Dorn at the moment, he stewed on the incident and, on May 7, went to Van Dorn’s office and shot the general in the back of the head.

Authorities arrested Peters, but they never charged him. When word got out about the cause of Van Dorn’s death, public condemnation of Van Dorn’s activities brought widespread scorn.

Van Dorn is buried in Wintergreen Cemetery in Port Gibson, Mississippi, not far from Vicksburg, where he’d once commanded.

Matt Atkinson will recount the story of Van Dorn’s death at this summer’s Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge. (Check here for details!)

I want to thank Greg Wade of the Franklin (TN) Civil War Roundtable for pointing the place out to me on a super-rainy day last September. Greg was a super-gracious host and showed me lots of cool stuff on my visit. You can see some of the videos Greg did with me on the ECW YouTube page.

John Jones, by the way, jotted his note about Van Dorn’s death in his journal on May 11. On that same day, he made mention of Stonewall Jackson’s death, who died May 10. “The flags are at half-mast, and all the government offices and even places of business are closed,” Jones wrote. “A multitude of people, mostly women and children, are standing silently in the streets, awaiting the arrival of the hero, destined never again to defend their homes and honor.”

5 Responses to Earl Van Dorn at Spring Hill

  1. Dan Sickles, who killed his wife’s lover(a descendant of FS Key), was tried and acquitted, while Dr. Peters avoided the judicial process. Earl Van Dorn was unlucky!

  2. Van Dorn has played prominently in my second and third Civil War novels, part of the Asunder Trilogy. He will be even more prominent in book 4. Thanks so much for keeping history alive

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