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Earl Van Dorn, the "Terror of Ugly Husbands"

March 29, 2016

Earl Van Dorn

By volunteer Allison Bailey

General Earl Van Dorn has been engaged in military life since his graduation from West Point in 1842. He fought in the Mexican War where he earned two brevets, and was wounded in a battle engaging the Indians in 1858 which spread his reputation as a national hero (findagrave.com). With the outbreak of the Civil War he became a colonel in the Confederate Army where he earned a somewhat different reputation than before, leaving some soldiers to speculate that his position came from political influence rather than his military ability. After losing the battle of Pea Ridge and later Corinth, he was requested to appear in court to explain his actions. His last skirmish was at Franklin, Tennessee before returning to his headquarters in Spring Hill.

Jessie Helen McKissick Peters was born in Spring Hill in 1838 and was the wife of Dr. George Bodie Peters, a physician. Peters was away frequently to serve on the Tennessee state legislator (http://burnpit.legion.org/). In 1863 Peters was once again absent, and Van Dorn being in the area did not hide his feelings toward Peters’ wife. Van Dorn was also married with children and it was well known that his physical features attracted the attention of women wherever he went- he was even known as the “terror of ugly husbands.” 

Mrs. Peters was 25 at the time and Van Dorn made no attempts to keep their affair a secret. He frequently invited her to his headquarters and her visits attracted local attention. The rumors had finally reached the ears of the doctor, and he pretended to go on another trip in an attempt to catch Van Dorn and his wife. He entered his room at 2:30 am to find that the rumors were true, and the furious doctor demanded the general sign papers exonerating his wife.

Tensions had not simmered down by the next day, May 7, 1863. The doctor called Van Dorn to the home of Martin Cheairs to settle the matter, but things got out of hand rather quickly. The conversation was raised to a heated argument, until finally Peters pulled out his gun and shot the general in the head. Some accounts say he was killed instantly, others report he was in a comatose state for 4½ hours before his decease. Peters was tried in court but later acquitted. Van Dorn’s widow never remarried.

After a brief divorce and remarriage, Dr. Peters and Jessie moved to Memphis where he was well established in his business until his death in 1889. Mrs. Peters remained in the area until her own death in 1921. Dr. & Mrs. Peters are buried in Elmwood in the Miller Circle section.

 

Sources

"Gen Earl Van Dorn (1820 - 1863) - Find A Grave Memorial." Gen Earl Van Dorn (1820 - 1863) - Find A Grave Memorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Siggurdsson. "Confederate General Earl Van Dorn Murdered by Cuckolded Husband." The American Legion's Burnpit. N.p., 7 May 2013. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Magness, Perre. "General Lived Wildly until the Last." Commercial Appeal [Memphis] 1996: n. pag. Print.

"Earl Van Dorn." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. 

Earl Van Dorn
Lot purchased by Dr. George Peters where he and his wife are buried. Neither has a headstone.

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