Meshea writing about Vicksburg’s history rather than ways of rediscovering it—what’s up with that? Well, Morgan is a very busy man of late and I know our history-diehards like this sort of thing better than “tourist advice”. Plus, I am still discussing yet another way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg. There is something here for history lovers and history rediscovers alike, making this piece a win-win! Speaking of winning in two different ways…
Van Dorn: More—or Less—Than the Man That Saved Vicksburg Twice
by Meshea Crysup, RHV
While I have been an avid history lover my whole life, I am not good with remembering the names of all the generals, battles, etc. Like everyone, I know who Grant and Lee were, about the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and of course I can remember Lincoln and Davis by name. Van Dorn however, not so much.
Who is Van Dorn and How Did I Stumble upon Him?
First, the “how”.
My husband’s ancestor fought in the Civil War, right here in Vicksburg, and, if family tales are to be believed, he “walked all the way back to Texas” afterward. Hubby also just happens to work with a very active member of our local Sons of the Confederacy group, so while it took a while to get him there—Thank you Bryan Skipworth—Hubby is now a member. Like Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable, the Sons of the Confederacy have a speaker each month. This month, it was none other than author Brandon H. Beck! (Did you catch that? I just threw in yet another way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg! Two actually! The Sons of Confederacy and a very knowledgeable author and passionate, enthralling speaker, Brandan H. Beck! Yes, the links can be found at the end of the article!)
Now, for the “who”.
Major General Earl Van Dorn was “colorful and controversial” according to Dr. Brandon H. Beck. In fact, the cover of Beck’s book, HOLLY SPRINGS: Van Dorn, The CSS Arkansas, and the Raid that Saved Vicksburg, features the pictures of the two men Van Dorn fought most: U.S. Grant and Earl Van Dorn. This is exactly how Dr. Beck began his presentation and I was hooked!
Van Dorn did indeed save Vicksburg twice. Once by preventing the U.S. Navy from taking it and once by causing U.S. Grant to abandon an attempt to take it. There is no doubt, each of these was a major accomplishment, and having done both of them, one would think that secured his legacy and assured Major General Van Dorn a place in history. It might had, if only Grant has been his only enemy—alas, he was not.
He survived the horrors of war only to have his drinking and fondness of the ladies to be his undoing. His was not the brave and glorious death of a general in battle, nor was it the quiet passing of an aged, respected war hero. Instead, he was shot by a jealous husband and angry father. His less-than-inspiring death was then overshadowed by the incredibly misfortunate, friendly-fire shooting of General Stonewall Jackson, which eventually lead to his death just three days after Van Dorn’s. Thus, the highly respected Stonewall Jackson has become legendary—I easily remember his name too—but Van Dorn, again, not so much.
Like many great men in history—Caesar, King David, and Henry the Eighth—Van Dorn had his weaknesses and personal demons. Unfortunately for him, the Victorian sensibilities of that era were not as forgiving of such things as we are today. To his contemporaries and peers, Van Dorn was a lesser man, in spite of his accomplishments. With the gift of hindsight however, I see him as more than a man who lost the exact same internal battle we all have of Sinner-Saint. General Earl Van Dorn, the military man, certainly should be remembered for saving Vicksburg, not once, but twice.
For the complete story, I highly recommend Dr. Brandon’s book, HOLLY SPRINGS: Van Dorn, The CSS Arkansas, and the Raid that Saved Vicksburg. I also thoroughly enjoyed his speaking style and recommend him for any group wanting to learn more about Civil War history.
For more information about our local Sons of the Confederacy, contact Bryan Skipworth.