Meeting of April 30, 2024

Join us at 6:30 PM, April 30, at Holder’s Country Inn Restaurant located at 10088 N Wolfe Road, Suite 130, Cupertino, CA 95014, across from the former Vallco Fashion Mall and via ZOOM. This month’s topic is

Alan Sissenwein on “Worst Generals of The Civil War – Earl Van Dorn.”

On the eve of the Civil War, there were few professional soldiers in North America who were held in higher esteem than Earl Van Dorn. Like many of his contemporaries, he had distinguished himself during the Mexican War. Far less typically, he had also earned a reputation as an Indian fighter leading cavalry against the elusive Comanches in Texas. He belonged to a select group of officers, which included George McClellan and Joseph Johnston, from whom great martial deeds were expected when the War Between the States started.

Again like McCellan and Johnston, Van Dorn would prove a disappointment, siding with the Confederacy, he lost important battles at Pea Ridge in Arkansas and Corinth in Mississippi. His conduct of these battles marked him as one of the war’s worst army commanders, but Van Dorn’s defeats did not end his military career. Reassigned to commanding cavalry, Van Dorn conducted a raid that thwarted Grant’s first attempt to capture Vicksburg, and he later captured 1,221 Federal troops at Thompson’s Station in Tennessee.

By May 1863, Van Dorn had seemingly found his military niche when he met a sudden and scandalous death that was perhaps the most embarrassing ever suffered by a Civil War general. Van Dorn’s story is thus a tale of defeat and near redemption that took a final turn into ignominy.

Alan Sissenwein has been a longtime active member, and is now vice president of, the South Bay Civil War Round Table. He is currently writing the second draft of a nonfiction book.