The Quick 10: 10 People Killed in Duels


I hope you guys like today's Quick 10, because if you don't, I may be forced to challenge you to a duel. Although the only type of duel I could hope to best anyone at would be a Guitar Hero or Rock Band duel. Still. Consider yourself warned.

10 People Killed in Duels

1. Alexander Hamilton. Let's start with the obvious, right? Aaron Burr thought Alexander Hamilton was talking smack about him and demanded an apology. Hamilton refused. A duel was scheduled for dawn on July 11, 1804. Hamilton missed Burr (perhaps on purpose), but Burr got Hamilton right in the gut. He died on July 12.

2. Charles Dickinson. This guy should have known better than to challenge Old Hickory himself, Andrew Jackson. As an expert marksman (he had killed 26 in duels before he met his match), Jackson's political opponents had Dickinson insult Jackson's wife so the notoriously hot-headed Jackson would challenge him to a duel, and, presumably, lose. Not so much. When the duel happened, Jackson calmly waited for Dickinson to shoot him. He took a bullet in the ribs and then returned fire. Dickinson died a couple of hours later.

3. Stephen Decatur. Commodore James Barron challenged Commodore Stephen Decatur to a duel after Decatur insulted Barron's tactics in a naval battle 13 years earlier. The two hashed it out at Bladensburg Duelling Field in Bladensburg, Md., on March 22, 1820. Decatur was shot in the abdomen and was taken home to die, supposedly saying, "I did not know that any man could suffer such pain!" Oddly, while he was upstairs dying, there was a party raging downstairs. James Monroe's daughter had just gotten married and a celebration was thrown in honor of the first White House wedding.

4. Mikhail Lermontov. The Russian poet was known for his quick wit, including the ability to assign a perfectly-suited (although maybe unflattering) nickname and a talent for scathing caricatures. A fellow army officer took offense to one of Lermontov's jokes and challenged him to a duel. Lermontov chose the edge of a precipice at Mashuk mountain overlooking the city of Pyatigorsk so that if one of them was wounded, they would topple down the cliff. Lermontov was killed in the first shot.

5. Robert Lyon. Lyon's 1833 death is the last-known dueling death in Canada. He and his friend and fellow law student, John Wilson, were in love with the same woman. You can see where this is going. Encouraged by a fascinated town (and by one military enthusiast in particular), the dueling challenge got out of control rather quickly. It might have died out if so many people hadn't gotten involved. Alas, it did not die out "“ instead, Lyon died from Wilson's second shot (the first shots fired by both were harmless).

6. Ferdinand Lassalle. Political activist Lassalle found himself in love with Hélène von Dönniges and decided to marry her during the summer of 1864. However, she was the daughter of a Bavarian diplomat who was horrified at the very idea and quickly promised her hand to another man, Count von Racowitza. Lassalle challenged the Count and Hélène's father to a duel; the Count accepted. And won. Lassalle died on August 31, 1864, three days after the duel took place.
7. Lucius M. Walker. Walker was the nephew of 11th U.S. President James K. Polk (whom I can tell you all about, thanks to They Might Be Giants). In August of 1863, Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke basically called Walker a coward and said he had endangered his men by not joining them in battle. Walker challenged Marmaduke to a duel. Major General Sterling Price ordered both officers to stay in their quarters so the duel could not go on, but the orders were never delivered to Walker. So, they faced off of September 6 and Walker was mortally wounded on his right side. Marmaduke offered Walker his assistance and Walker forgave him for everything. Walker died the next day.

8. Jonathan Cilley This member of the U.S. House of Representatives was killed after serving just one term in Congress. In 1838, he was challenged to a duel by fellow Congressman William J. Graves. Cilley said Graves of writing a newspaper article that accused another Congressman of immorality (can you imagine all of the duels that would be going on today if this was still common practice?!). Cilley was close friends with both future President Franklin Pierce and writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who published two posthumous biographies of his dear friend.

9. Peter Tordenskjold. Tordenskjold was a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy and is considered one of the greatest naval heroes in Denmark and Norway. He survived the Great Northern War with flying colors and high honors only to be killed in a duel soon after. He fought Jakob Axel Stael von Holstein using nothing but a decorative rapier, while von Holstein was armed with an extremely superior sword. Tordenskjold had been told the duel was going to be with firearms, but von Holstein tricked him "“ at the last minute, he told the firearms man to leave because the duel had been canceled. Thus, Tordenskjold, believing a firearm would be supplied, had not brought a proper sword. This didn't matter "“ they dueled anyway and Tordenskjold had two arteries severed when he was run through by von Holstein. He died almost immediately. All of this because he called von Holstein a cheater at gambling.

10. Alexander Pushkin. One of Russia's greatest authors died in a duel over his wife's alleged dalliances. In 1837, he challenged Georges d'Anthès, the man who insulted his wife, to a duel. Pushkin was wounded badly and died two days later. On his deathbed, he sent a message to d'Anthès forgiving him for everything; d'Anthès, who pretty much had a little scratch on his arm, laughed and said, "Well, tell him I forgive him too."

[Image courtesy of The Alexander Hamilton Institute.]