Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The general most known for his southern charm was Earl Van Dorn of Mississippi. Southern women thought he was extremely handsome and charming. He had an extremely large ego, in spite of never having won a battle in command of an army.
Although he was married he had extramarital activities, which his wife was aware of. President Davis reduced him to cavalry command and Van Dorn made Springhill, Tennessee his headquarters.
He chose the home of a local doctor. The doctors wife was named Jessie Peters and they were known to take long carriage rides together alone. One afternoon General Van Dorn was working at Dr. Peter’s desk when the doctor slipped around behind him and shot him in the back of the head.
The staff officers found the general slumped at his desk, with a bullet in the back of his head. Cavalrymen were ordered out to find George Peters.
George is said to have ridden quickly home and shouted to Jessie, “I have shot General Van Dorn and I am going to join the Yankees!” Then he rode off.
Jessie is quoted as saying, "Now ain’t that the devil, a sweetheart killed, and a husband run away, all in the same day.”
The story continues. Van Dorn lived about five hours after being shot and apparently never regained consciousness. There is evidence that some Confederate officers, embarrassed by the general’s escapades, did not vigorously pursue George. Van Dorn’s brazen relationship with a married woman had offended many officers and enlisted men, and there was a feeling that the general got what he deserved.
That seemed to be the feeling in Spring Hill and Columbia. “None of the local churches would let Van Dorn’s funeral be preached in their churches, so the funeral was conducted at the Columbia courthouse," according to local hisorian Bob Duncan.
The general’s killer was never brought to justice.
Jessie gave birth to a girl on Jan. 26, 1864, less than nine months after Van Dorn’s death. The child was named Madora.
In 1866, George filed for divorce in Arkansas, claiming he had been deserted by Jessie on May 7, 1863.
An 1868 newspaper article reported George and Jessie had reconciled. Duncan suggests they patched things up for financial reasons, and notes that the reason often given for their marriage was to keep property and money in the family. One of George’s conditions for the reconciliation was that Madora would not be part of the family, and the girl was placed in a Nashville orphanage. A few years later Madora was brought into the family.
George and Jessie sold their Spring Hill home in 1873 and moved to Memphis.
It is ironic that George was in poor health toward the end of his life and was tended in his last few weeks by Madora.
George died in 1889. Jessie died in 1921.