Confederate Major General, b. 1820 d. 1863.
A native of Port Gibson, Mississippi, Van Dorn attended West Point and graduated in 1842. He served in the United States Army as a cavalry officer for eighteen years until the outbreak of the American Civil War. He then took his allegiance to the Confederacy and was appointed a colonel.
Within weeks of his appointment, he was promoted to major general. His skills and vision as a cavalry commander were said to be unmatched throughout the Confederate command. He was given command of the Confederate Army along the Mississippi river and lost two battles while in command. In both the battles of Pea Ridge and Corinth he was overmatched. In December of that year he conceived and successfully carried out a raid of a Union supply depot in Holly Springs, Mississippi as part of his strategic plan to drive out the Union Army by cutting off their supply lines.
Van Dorn's efforts did not go unnoticed. Robert E. Lee called him one of the most brilliant strategic commanders of the war, although Confederate leadership tended to look more on wins and losses as a way to judge commanders.
What Earl Van Dorn might have accomplished later in the war became a great unknown. Aside from his military skill and knowledge, Van Dorn was infamous as a womanizer. He did not much care for lonely nights on the battlefield, and often went into town looking for ladies. In May of 1863 a jealous husband, with whose wife Van Dorn had warmed one of his evenings, appeared at his military headquarters and shot him to death.