HONOR AND TRAGEDY
Monday, April 19, 2010
By Bob Hurst
During the War for Southern Independence there were 425 individuals in Confederate service who officially held the rank of general officer ( brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general or (full) general). By the end of the War the South had lost 126 of these general officers. The majority of these losses, of course, consisted of generals who were either killed in action or later died of their wounds. Others resigned for various reasons and some died of natural causes among the varying reasons for this attrition.
To me, the most tragic losses are those that occurred that didn’t have to happen. The greatest loss to the Confederacy in this category was that of General Stonewall Jackson who was mistakenly shot by Southern troops from North Carolina in the aftermath of the great victory at Chancellorsville. In the darkness of evening, Gen. Jackson and members of his staff, while riding through the woods, were misidentified by the North Carolinians as Federals and the Tar Heels opened fire on them. Death by "friendly fire" occurs in all wars but seldom with the devastating impact of this particular incident. The death of Gen. Jackson changed the entire outlook for the War.
While not as devastating to the Confederacy as the death of Gen. Jackson, the death of another Southern general has always saddened me because of the circumstances of the event.
The great Confederate warrior, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, was quoted as saying, " War is about fightin’ and fightin’ is about killin’ ". Forrest was speaking of killing the guys on the other side – your enemies. War. of course, is about killing people and breaking things. As tragic as this is, it is sometimes necessary.
What is not necessary is for two warriors on the same side to take up arms against each other and this is what makes the confrontation between Confederate generals Lucius Marshall Walker and John Sappington Marmaduke both sad and tragic.
Both men were from outstanding families as were so many of the general officers of the Confederate Army. General Marsh Walker was from Columbia, Tennessee and was a nephew of the greatest citizen to ever reside in that fair city, President James Knox Polk. ( For those of you who might not be aware, the national headquarters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is located in Columbia ). He was a West Point graduate and a successful businessman in Memphis when war broke out in 1861.
General John Marmaduke was the son of a former governor of Missouri and had studied at both Yale and Harvard ( when that meant something ) before he graduated from West Point.
By summer of 1863, both Walker and Marmaduke had been promoted to the rank of brigadier general and were commanding a cavalry division in the District of Arkansas. The trouble between the two began during the Confederate attack on Helena ( Arkansas ).
In his post-engagement report of this encounter, Gen. Marmaduke questioned the competency of Gen. Walker and accused him of not pressing the attack which left Marmaduke’s flank vulnerable. Marmaduke was so angry about this failure to act by Walker that he failed to inform Walker of a retreat order which subsequently left Walker and his men in great danger.
As the Confederates fell back from Helena and advanced toward Little Rock, General Sterling Price ordered Walker and Marmaduke to combine forces. This enlarged force was under the command of Gen. Walker since he held seniority over Marmaduke. This entire situation was akin to a keg of dynamite being pushed closer and closer to an open fire.
The purpose of this combined force was to guard the approach to Little Rock. Once again ill feelings were stirred as Marmaduke believed that Walker again failed to pursue the enemy at a critical point and Marmaduke’s troops were left in a dangerous predicament. Even worse, Marmaduke twice requested assistance from Walker and on neither occasion was the help forthcoming. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Walker even failed to respond to the requests from Marmaduke.
When Marmaduke’s troops finally reached safety in Little Rock, he quickly requested that his division be taken out of Walker’s command and this was immediately approved by Gen. Sterling Price. It was related to Gen. Walker that Gen. Marmaduke had characterized his actions as "cowardly".
On September 2, 1863, Walker sent to Marmaduke a letter requesting a confirmation from Marmaduke of this characterization.This began a series of letters that went back and forth between the two camps and eventually the task of correspondence was passed by each general to a close friend. Walker chose Colonel Robert Crockett, a nephew of Davy Crockett, and Marmaduke chose Captain John Moore. By September 4, nothing had been settled through the exchange of letters so Col. Crockett, on behalf of Gen. Walker, demanded "the satisfaction due to a gentleman". On September 5, Capt.Moore, on behalf of Gen. Marmaduke, accepted the challenge to a duel.
Dueling had been outlawed in Southern states by this time but that made no difference. ( As a side note, those of you living in upper Florida or south Georgia may remember hearing or reading of the establishment of a " no man’s land " between the two states where duels could be fought without occurring within the boundary of either state.) As the challenged party, Marmaduke’s camp established the terms of the duel which included time, place and distance ( fifteen paces ) among others.
The duel took place at 6 A.M. on the morning of September 6, 1863. The second shot fired by Gen. Marmaduke struck Gen. Walker in the side passing through his kidney and lodging in his spine causing immediate paralysis in his lower body. As he was being taken into Little Rock for medical treatment, Walker asked his friend Crockett if he had hit Marmaduke with a shot. When told that he had not, he responded that he was happy he had missed since now Gen. Marmaduke could continue to provide service to his country.
Col. Crockett told Gen. Walker to not speak of death but Walker knew with certainty he would soon die and told Crockett that he desired to see his wife after he died so he could affirm to her that the defense of his honor necessitated the action that he took. He also asked Col. Crockett to tell Gen. Marmaduke that Marsh Walker forgave him and did not want him to be either prosecuted or persecuted for the duel. ( Charges of murder for dueling were soon dropped against Marmaduke.) General Walker died shortly after making this request – an honorable man to the end.
General John Marmaduke lived for more than 30 years after the War ended and accomplished much during these years culminating in his election as governor in Missouri where he died in office after serving for more than a dozen years.
It was written that John Marmaduke always regretted the fact and the circumstances of the duel. To my knowledge this was the only instance of a duel being fought during the War involving two Confederate generals. I’m sure that, considering the volatility of the relationships between many of the generals ( Forrest and Bragg, for instance ), the thought crossed many minds.Thankfully, in those other disagreements the contending parties determined that it was best to not war against your compatriots.
As tragic as the end result of this disagreement was, I cannot speak against the concept of honor. It seems to me that in this world in which we now find ourselves that honor is a trait that is in short supply. Would that it not be so.