Saturday, March 21, 2009

Duel of the Month Club: Decatur v. Barron

Steven Decatur (Left) v. James Barron (Right)

We here at Ten Miles Square love a good duel. We are of the belief that when it comes to honor, all challenges must be answered! Though we are likely to run away when personally affronted, if others want to "have it out," that's okay with us-- we'll watch from afar...or read about it a few centuries later.

Fortunately for us, DC was a prime dueling locale. To kick us off, a battle between Commodore James Barron and Commodore Stephen "Conqueror of the Barbary Pirates" Decatur.

It all started during the Napoleanic Wars, when the British were bullying the nascent American navy, and impressing American sailors into the British navy. In 1807, Barron's ship, the Chesapeake, was approached by the somewhat larger British Leopard. Judging his odds unfavorable in a true contest, he elected to fire his guns once, and promptly lower his colors in surrender. Though Stephen Decatur was a former subordinate and close friend of Barron to whom he admitted that he owed his career, Decatur sat on the the jury that would issue a court-marshall and five year leave to Commodore Barron for the "Chesapeake Affair." An outraged Barron left the United States and returned in 1818, well after the War of 1812 concluded. Decatur remarked on Barron's inaction in the war, stating that he had failed to serve his country and do his patriotic duty. After a period of correspondence, the two set a date on March 22, 1820 to restore their honor in a duel.

Admittedly, this duel did not take place in the District. It occurred just over the DC line in Bladensberg, Maryland. But, Stephen Decatur lived in Washington, and at any rate it was illegal to duel in the District (but not in MD). After a last minute attempt to reconcile, the two gentlemen counted off their eight paces, turned and fired. Both were wounded; for Decatur the wound was mortal. He was rushed back to his home in Lafayette Park where he slowly bled to death in the evening of the 22nd. So grieved was the nation at the War Hero's death that the U.S. Senate ajourned so that members could attend his funeral procession, and towns across the United States were named in his honor.


  1. Ha! A dual commentary for duel day. I just got that...