31 August 2016

"He was Game to the Core." The Stabbing of Alexander Stephens.

Alexander Stephens (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons.A couple of years ago, I wrote a bit about Judge Francis H. Cone (here and here) and his tombstone at the Southern Graves blog.  The physical attack he made on Alexander H. Stephens (pictured at right) is a well-known incident in Georgia history, yet I did not delve into it there.  While working my way through Lucian Lamar Knight's volumes of Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials, and Legends, I came across a recounting of the fight.  I'll share it here.

Judge Cone's Assault Upon Mr. Stephens.  Alexander H. Stephens was not an athlete.  It is doubtful if the former Confederate Vice-President ever tipped the scales at more than ninety-six pounds, his exact weight in 1843, when he made his maiden speech in the national House of Representatives.  Throughout his long career in public life, he presented the typical look of an invalid, wan and emaciated.  But Mr. Stephens was an utter stranger to the sense of fear, either moral or physical.  He was game to the core; and every ounce of flesh which gripped his spare bones contained as much real pluck as Caesar ever displayed in Gaul.

Let me interject a moment here with some words from a newspaper article titled "Sketches of Georgia Lawyers: Number Five: Francis H. Cone." This article appeared in the 14 June 1867 edition of Georgia's Macon Weekly Telegraph (viewed online at GenealogyBank), and provides a physical description of Cone.  It's interesting to imagine the two combatants side-by-side.

...His person was rather remarkable -- of medium height, full habited and heavy. His face was round and rubicund. No one would mistake him for a starveling -- nor yet for a bon vicant...He relished a glass of wine or other like creature comforts, but was by no means a devotee of Bacchus. His large fleshy face was lit up by eyes black and sparkling, the visible testimonials of geniality and genius. He wore, too, a fine head of hair, which he was accustomed to neglect. He had not the presence of majesty. He did not assume the port of Jove, nor emulate the beauty and grace of Apollo. His gait was shuffling and his manners rough -- something uncouth...

Back to Mr. L. L. Knight:

On the steps of the old Thompson Hotel, in Atlanta, during the fall of 1848, there occurred an incident which well illustrates the courage of Mr. Stephens.  It will also serve to show that he bore a charmed life.  At this time he encountered somewhat unexpectedly Judge Francis H. Cone, of Greensboro, with whom he was then on strained terms.  Judge Cone had severely criticized Mr. Stephens for something which the latter had either said or done in Congress, and among other choice epithets which the Judge is said to have used was the term "traitor".

Difficulties almost immediately ensued…Judge Cone, delving underneath his broadcloth, whipped out a knife with which he made a leap toward Mr. Stephens.  The later was doubly at a disadvantage, not only because in avoirdupois he was a pigmy beside Judge Cone, but also because he was unarmed, except for an umbrella which shot out from his left elbow…Mr. Stephens sought to parry the blow of Judge Cone; but he was soon overpowered by his antagonist and fell bleeding upon the floor.

"Retract!" demanded the irate jurist, who now bent over his prostrate foe.

"Never!" replied Mr. Stephens, the blood gurgling from his wounds, but the proud spirit of the man still unquenched.  Again the knife descended, severing an intercostal artery, but Mr. Stephens still refused to retract.  He continued to grapple with his adversary…until at last rescue came from some hotel guests who, hastening to the scene of the encounter, separated the belligerents.

Mr. Stephens hovered on the brink of death for weeks, but eventually "arose from his sick bed" and returned to politics.  Mr. Knight goes on to say Judge Cone was "a man much beloved in his social and domestic relations, [and] it may be said that he was completely upset by his violent anger." Not sure what good that did for Mr. Stephens, who never fully regained the use of his right hand and bore scars from the battle for life.

Francis H. Cone died 11 years after the brutal encounter.  He was laid to rest in Greensboro City Cemetery at Greene County, Georgia.


To The Memory of the
Hon. Francis H. Cone
1797 - 1859

24 August 2016

Peter Crawford was Disparaged, and His Son Took Exception

I don't know what was said, but apparently George W. Crawford thought his father was being maligned in an anonymous "letter to the editor" published in an Augusta, Georgia newspaper some time in 1827.  The editor refused to reveal the author of the political rant – some say it was a woman – which angered Crawford even more.

Eventually, a young lawyer named Thomas E. Burnside stepped forward and took responsibility.  Almost immediately, George Crawford, in defense of the his father's honor, challenged Burnside to a duel.

[Burnside] seems to have been reluctant to fight, but at a time when the Code Duello was in vogue, he well knew the consequences to himself and to his political fortunes, should he refuse to meet his antagonist on the field.  He, therefore, accepted the challenge and repaired at once to the scene of combat.  But, on the night before the fatal meeting…he dispatched the following note to Mrs. Burnside:

…Dear Wife and Mother:
Tomorrow I fight.  I do it on principle.  Whatever may be my fate, I believe I am right.  On this ground I have acted and will act.  I believe I shall succeed, but if I do not I am prepared for consequences.  Kiss the children and tell them that if I fall my last thought was of them.  Yours most affectionately, THOMAS E. BURNSIDE.

Lucian Lamar Knight, historian for the state of Georgia, after writing the quote above about 1914, described Burnside's note as a "pathetic fragment."

burnside-crawfordduelThe story of the duel was covered in seemingly every newspaper, and they all recounted it just as was published in the 19 January 1828 South Carolina State Gazette [via GenealogyBank]:

Duel – On Tuesday last, Messrs. Thomas E. Burnside and George Crawford both of Columbia county, met west of the Chattahoochee, and exchanged two shots without effect.  On the third fire, Mr. Burnside received in the right side his antagonist's ball.  He fell and instantly expired.  The dispute, it is understood, originated about some publications which appeared last year, concerning Mr. Burnside and Mr. Crawford's Father, Old Peter Crawford. – Statesman & Patriot…

Mr. Knight goes on to describe the aftermath in his book, Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials, and Legends (Vol. II):

[Burnside's] body was interred, with every show of respect, in the private burial ground of Col. Crowell, whose residence was not far from the spot on which the unfortunate man fell.  More than two weeks elapsed before Burnside's family received the sad news, which, when it finally came, after so long a period of suspense, almost cost Mrs. Burnside her life; but she rallied her strength for the sake of her children and afterwards removed to Dahlonega, Ga., where she resided until her death.

Photo by Michael Dover via FindAGrave. Used with permission.A grave marker exists for Thomas E. Burnside at the Crowell Family Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Russell County, Alabama, but I think the date should be January 15, 1828. An obituary for Thomas was "communicated" to the Augusta Chronicle (Georgia) and published in that paper 29 January 1828 [full article at GenealogyBank].

Near the Creek Agency, in this State, on the 15th instant, THOMAS E. BURNSIDE, Esq. in the 34th year of his age.

It is ever a melancholy and affecting duty to record the death of those we respect and esteem…But when they fall into an untimely grave in the prime of manhood, with the rich glow of health upon their cheeks, and in the full promise of future usefulness and fame, the withering shades of grief pass o'er our bosoms like the dark Simoom of the Desert, and the tongue refuses utterance to the overwhelming fullness of the heart.  Such was the fall of our beloved and lamented friend, and long will his loss be mourned with feelings of the deepest sorrow and affection.

Mr. Burnside was a native of Laurens District, South Carolina, and came to Georgia in 1817. – He was occupied as a Schoolmaster till 1820, in which year he was married to Miss Catherine Wood, of Columbia County, and six months afterwards commenced the practice of the Law.  His extensive abilities as a lawyer and fine talents as a speaker, together with his unwearied attention to the duties of his profession, soon acquired for him a large and lucrative practice; and the unostentatious liberality with which he dispensed the fruits of his industry upon all who needed this assistance, gained him the unbounded love and gratitude of the poor, & the respect and esteem of all around him. – In 1822 he was elected to the Legislature, where he continued as a Representative from Columbia County to the time of his death, and was considered one of its most efficient and distinguished members…But his life was cut short in the midst of its usefulness, & he has left an aged & infirm mother, an affectionate wife, and three small children, together with a numerous circle of relations and friends, to mourn an event which has bereaved them of one who performed all the duties of a son, a husband, a father, and a friend, with a degree of tenderness, affection, and anxious solicitude for the welfare of others, which made him respected, beloved, and admired by all who knew him.

12 August 2016

Ambrose Baber had the Misfortune to Kill Thomas Mitchell in a Duel

Grave of Dr. Ambrose Baber"It is hardly an exaggeration to say that not less than a thousand duels were fought in Georgia in consequence of this feudal enmity between Clark and Crawford; and there were few households in the State which were not bereaved, either directly or indirectly, by the countless sacrifices which were made during this period to appease the demands of this bloody Moloch." [Lucian Lamar Knight, Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials, and Legends, Vol. II]

Ambrose Baber was a medical doctor who could not resist the political life.  He represented the United States as Minister to Sardinia, and he sat repeatedly in the Georgia State Senate.  "He was a power in politics," wrote L. L. Knight, "but among the other distinguishing marks of this accomplished gentleman was his deadly aim with a pistol and his expert use of the sword." In short, Dr. Baber was many things – including a duelist.

Dr. Baber was the attending surgeon for Major Robert A. Beall for his 1825 duel with the honorable Thomas D. Mitchell.  Two shots were exchanged without consequence, and Beall and Mitchell shook hands before leaving the field of honor.

Dr. Baber apparently couldn't leave things well enough alone and had a snide comment for Mitchell.  Mitchell retaliated by publishing a "card which gave offence to Dr. Baber, who, after a brief controversy on the subject, demanded of Col. Mitchell the satisfaction due a gentleman under the Code." The challenge was accepted, and the weapon of rifles was chosen.  The particulars follow:

baber-mitchellduelConnecticut Herald (New Haven, Conn.)
28 March 1826, via GenealogyBank

Another Fatal Duel. — We have a letter from a friend at Hamburg, S.C. dated the 9th inst. detailing the particulars and fatal result of an honorable meeting which took place early that morning at Campbell Town, S.C. three miles above Hamburg.  The parties were Doctor Baber and Thomas Mitchell, Esq. of Milledgeville, Geo.  The misunderstanding had its origins in a difference in political opinion, (the former being for "Troup and the treaty," and the latter a Crawfordite and Clarke man,) which proceeded to such lengths that Mitchell posted the Doctor, and made use of the epithets of coward, villain, &c.  The Doctor accordingly challenged him, which Mr. M. accepted, and being, by the rules of duelling [sic], entitled to the choice of weapons, &c. selected short rifles, and to fight at fifteen paces.  The first fire was without effect, when the seconds endeavoured [sic] to comprise the matter, to which the Doctor agreed, provided that Mr. M. would retract the aspersions cast on his character, but the latter refused, at the same time stating that what he had asserted he conscientiously believed, and therefore neither could or would retract.

The rifles were again loaded, and on their both firing at the word, Mr. M. fell mortally wounded, the ball of his antagonist having entered the left breast near the shoulder, and passed out at the right side near the shoulder blade.  He expired in fifteen minutes.

Mr. Mitchell was a native of South Carolina, but had resided for the last few years in Georgia, of which state he was Attorney General. – N.Y. Gaz.

Thomas Mitchell was in his early thirties and unmarried.  His brother, Dr. Isaac Mitchell, was at the duel as the attending surgeon for Thomas.  Dr. Baber lived another twenty years.  He died 8 March 1846 in his home town of Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, and was laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery.

04 August 2016

Crawford and Van Allen Exchange Two Fires

But the Golden Age of the Code Duello in Georgia was the period extending from 1800 to 1830, when the public life of this State was dominated by two powerful personalities:  Gen. John Clark and Hon. William H. Crawford. – Lucian Lamar Knight in volume two of Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials and Legends (pub. 1914).

The duel between William H. Crawford and Peter L. Van Allen requires a bit of backstory regarding politics in Georgia. (Go here for a short overview of dueling, with specifics to Georgia.)

John Clark, son of famed Revolutionary soldier Elijah Clark/e, was all about the common man.  He was born in North Carolina, but was settled early on with his family in northeast Georgia.  John Clark's rise in politics stemmed from his early and consistent rise in the military.  By the age of sixteen, he was a captain in the Georgia militia and fought in many engagements alongside his father on the Georgia frontier.

Trained in the exercise of arms, it is not strange that he should have carried his characteristics as a fighter into the arena of politics; nor is it strange that the veterans who followed his distinguished father and who knew John Clark himself in the perilous days of battle should have remained his loyal supporters to the very last.

Though not an educated man, at least in the academic sense, he was a man of strong intellect, rugged in character, somewhat blunt of expression, full of bold initiative, and with a rare capacity for leadership.

Most of John Clark's followers were immigrants from North Carolina and settlers of frontier Georgia.

William H. Crawford, via Wikimedia CommonsWilliam Harris Crawford, on the other hand, led the more "aristocratic" faction.  He was born 1772 in Virginia, was settled at Richmond (later Columbia) County, Georgia by age eleven, and was practicing law by age twenty-seven.  David Tucker, in his article for the New Georgia Encyclopedia, says the following:

William Crawford aspired to live the life of a country gentleman, but he would not get the chance to do so until the end of his career. In the meantime he gradually added to his landholdings at Woodlawn [his estate] and became the overseer of a good-sized plantation. By 1834 he owned 1,300 acres and forty-five slaves.

Leading the plantation owners and residents of the more affluent, established Georgia, Crawford was against "gross land speculation" and the Yazoo Land Act.  This was in direct opposition of John Clark.

The elimination of Crawford became naturally the first strategic move of the Clark faction; and to accomplish this end a duel offered the most convenient instrument and promised the most effective results.

Mr. Crawford, unlike Gen. Clark, possessed little knowledge of the use of arms…For this reason, his opponents argued that he would, in all likelihood, decline a challenge to the field of combat.  In fact, such a refusal to fight was exactly what his enemies wanted, since they could then post him as a coward and easily accomplish his political undoing. [L. L. Knight]

Enter Peter Van Allen.  Though a New Yorker by birth, Van Allen came to Georgia to practice law.  He was a staunch "Clarkite" and supporter of the Yazoo Act.  In the very early 1800s, Van Allen began "hostile tactics" to discredit Crawford.  He did this by going after a long-time friend, law partner, and ally of Crawford, Judge Charles Tait.  The short of the story is Van Allen baited Tait hard with criticism and "merciless satire" – needling him to the point to which Tait challenged Van Allen to a fight.  Van Allen then attempted a shot in the dark to get to Crawford.  He claimed Tait was not a gentleman, nor worthy of the Code of Honor by which all duels are "ruled," and refused to meet him.  With this, Van Allen expected Crawford (who would surely have been Tait's "second" for the duel) to "carry on hostilities." Crawford did not take the bait, though he did receive some jeers from members of his own faction.

Some time later, Crawford and Van Allen happened upon each other "at the Willis Hotel, in Washington, Ga." Van Allen took the direct approach and publicly berated Crawford in the lobby and challenged him to a fight.

According to the imperious standard of the times, there was no alternative for Mr. Crawford; and, rather than jeopardize his political fortunes by exposing himself to the charge of cowardice, he agreed to meet his antagonist. [L. L. Knight]

Sunset Clarks Hill Lake - License CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsCrawford and Van Allen were to meet at "Fort Charlotte, the famous old duelling [sic] ground, twelve miles below Petersburg, on the Carolina side." (Now under the waters of Clarks Hill Lake.) It has been said that Crawford was ill prepared, and had to borrow an old set of pistols for the fight.  The rest is told in a Spooner's Vermont Journal article dated 5 October 1802 (viewed online at GenealogyBank):

On Saturday the 31ft July, about 11-o'clock, a duel was fought on the eaft bank of Savannah river, between Peter L. Van Allen, Efq. Solicitor general, and W. H. Crawford, Attorney at law. – They exchanged two fires; the firft was without effect, but the fecond was fatal to the Solicitor.  He received a ball about two inches above his right hip, it paffed thro' the Abdomen and lodged againft his left hip bone, from whence it was extracted on the ground.  He lived about 38 hours.

Crawford was thrust into the limelight and rose even higher in the political ranks, probably much to the disappointment of John Clark.  The two were to be bitter rivals for more than two decades.

03 August 2016

Under the Code Duello

By G. Durand - Harper's Weekly, New York: Harper Brothers, Vol. 19, No. 941 (9 January 1875), p. 41; Wikimedia Commons"The general practice of dueling to settle affairs of honor between gentlemen," wrote Lucian Lamar Knight about 1914 for volume two of Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials and Legends, "may be said to have commenced in 1527, when Francis I, of France, issued a challenge to Charles V, of Germany, directing him to name his own time and place and to make his own choice of weapons with which to fight."

No duel ever happened between the two high-ranking men, but the mere notion of it attracted so much attention throughout Europe.  Other gauntlets were thrown, and the challenges were accepted.  L. L. Knight went on to write, "During a period of eighteen years, under the reign of Henry IV, it is said that 4,000 lives were sacrificed on the Field of Honor.  [T]he mania for dueling swept the civilized world like a besom of fire, involving, on both sides of the water, men of the highest political and social distinction…[T]he duel became one of the established institutions of society, among men of Caucasian blood.

So it's apropos for Wikipedia to note, "Between 1798 and the Civil War, the US Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did in combat at sea…"

With all the talk of chivalry and honor, dueling became quite a regular practice in the South.  Speaking specifically about the Peach State, let's return to Lucian Lamar Knight:

Georgia was one of the first States of the Union to find the duel an effective instrument for the adjustment of differences between gentlemen; and likewise one of the last States to abandon the custom…At a time when party strife was most intense and bitter, it was an almost daily occurrence for men to cross swords or to exchange shots in personal encounters, but everything was done according to prescribed form and with punctilious regard for the Code of Honor.  There was scarcely a public man in Georgia who was not credited with at least one duel, fought usually in the earlier stages of his career…Political honors were not awarded to cowards nor to those who…were found wanting in courage; and…the public life of this State was ruled with a rod of iron by that grim arbiter of destinies:  the Code Duello.

Jack K. Williams, author of Dueling in the Old South, echoes this by writing, "[A] number of public figures gained prominence and were pushed ahead in their careers because of prowess in dueling." He goes on to highlight a writer from Mississippi and noted, "[I]t was understood as late as 1850 that one rarely reached the pinnacle of political success unless he had displayed his macho…in a duel or some other acceptable mode of personal warfare."

So let us look at some historic Georgia duels…