Archive for the ‘Code of Honor’ Category

A singular cost of war

A repeat post. Given the popularity of the musical Hamilton and Hamilton’s death in a duel, I thought it would be interesting to repeat this post on the development of a code of honor in America that supported dueling.

Facing the British, when the fighting began in Boston in 1775, were eager American volunteer militias. If they had survived the first battles, the volunteers often went home after their terms of six months or one year had expired. Recruiting new soldiers for the war’s duration was a constant worry for General Washington, the lack of responsible officers was another. America did not have a military culture, as Great Britain and many European nations did. To distinguish the wheat from the chaff, American officers, many from elite families, viewed themselves as “gentlemen” and espoused a code of honor to be defended at all costs.

Janet Livingston Montgomery knew the costs of the War. Her beloved husband of two and a half years, General Richard Montgomery, had given his life for the American cause attempting to capture Québec (31 December 1775). She mourned him the rest of her long life. On 6 September 1780, she wrote, somewhat dryly, to her cousin Sarah Livingston Jay about how some American officers met their fates.

Dr Cosin. …
[Y]esterday we where inform’d from Camp: of the Death of your Cosin William Alexander Livingston who received his Death from a Mr Steaks in a Duel—also was buried at the same time, in like circumstances a Mr Peyton, from Virginia—you may judg how fashionable dueling is grown, when we had had five in one week and one of them so singular that I cannot forbear mentioning it—it haptend between two Frenchmen who where to stand a certain distance and marching up: where to fire when they pleas’d one fired and miss’d the other reserving his; till he had placed his Pistol on his Antagonist forehead—who had just time to say Oh mon Dieu, pardonne moy at the same time bowing—whilst the Pistol went off and did no other Mischief but singe a few of his hairs. … dueling is a very foolish way of putting ones self out of the world. …
I am with Much esteem yours— J. Montgomery

The characteristics of dueling pistols were standardized in 1777: “a 9 or 10 inch barreled, smooth bore flintlock of 1 inch bore, carrying a ball of 48 to the pound.” Dueling pistols were often elaborately decorated. The pair shown (1786), have ivory stocks and many decorative details. Dueling died out by the mid 1800s.

Letter at Columbia University, Butler Library, Rare Book & Manuscript Division, The Papers of John Jay, Jay ID: 06951.

posted March 31st, 2016 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Code of Honor,Dueling

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