Confederate General Earl Van Dorn is more often remembered for his antics off the battlefield than on it. Rumors of extra-marital affairs began circulating as early as 1858, and by the time the handsome general was dead, his reputation was firmly established as a seducer and libertine, his few military successes often overlooked in the pages of Civil War history. Instead of a medal of honor, the general’s notable accomplishments include a host of scandalous love affairs and battlefield blunders. Yet, I would be remiss if I did not speak of the daring cavalry leader’s better qualities. The fair-haired Van Dorn was charming and artistic, educated and well heeled. He was a doting father to his daughter Olivia and a loving and loyal brother to his sisters Emily and Octavia. As a small division cavalry leader, he often proved himself a brilliant strategist – most notably, his successful raid on General Grant’s supplies in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Earl Van Dorn was indeed a complex character, a volatile mixture of pride and lust. In my study of him, I found him to be both admirable and detestable, yet I could never bring myself to loathe the man. After all, in the end he paid quite dearly for his discretions. He was a man possessed by an insatiable appetite for glory and an incurable penchant for the ladies. His death at the hands of an enraged Dr. Peters was inevitable. This piece of historical literature reveals the nasty truth behind this famous murder.
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