Tuesday, June 28, 2011

1812 Boredom: Dueling with Bayonets


A scene from The Duelists. Dueling was well-enough established in the French Grand Armee that regiments often had a designated sword master and duelist to uphold the honor of the unit. 

I come across some odd things in my research, but dueling was a typical pastime of the upper classes in Federal period America. In 1814, the Franklinton, Ohio Freeman's Chronicle even ran an article about dueling among members of  the House of Representatives. The lower classes brawled and boxed, with the Kentuckians and Westerners, known as the "ring-tailed roarers", preferring to sharpen their thumbnails so as to better gouge their foes' eyes out with. Some of the scenes from the film "Gangs of New York," set in the 1860s Five Points, would undoubtedly have been familiar to Americans decades earlier. Some of the lower classes, though, sought a classier way of settling their grudges, and adopted the formal ways of the upper class duelists, as in the following instance:

During the War of 1812, the United States Marines apparently recruited from the toughest army in the world, the French. Two of these  marines got into a fight and settled it "as is the way among soldiers in the French army", by unfixing their bayonets and having a formal duel. After puching triangular wounds in each other for a while, one of them admitted defeat and they were both admitted into the Navy yard hospital at Norfolk. It made the papers as far away as Franklinton, Ohio:

Sanguinary Combat.
Two Frenchmen, privates in capt. Swift's company of Marines, quarreled a few days ago; and neither would be satisfied without an appeal to arms. The weapons they chose for the occasion were their own bayonets, which, as is the way among soldiers in the French army, they unfixed from their muskets, and, having chosen their seconds, proceeded to a spot in an adjacent thicket. Here these heroes, (alias?) monsters, set at each other with all the formality and skill of experienced adepts, and continued to parry and stab, until one of them, pierced with repeated wounds, fell exhausted, and declared himself vanquished; while the other, having been thrice stabbed by his fallen antagonist, was very willing to receive his submission. Both, were borne bleeding to the hospital in the navy yard, where they have been properly attended, and we since learn, are in a fair way of recovery. Norfolk paper.