Confederates in Our Attic, part 2 of 3

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

John S. Marmaduke, Major General, Missouri Governor and murderer

Note: This is part two in a series of three articles appearing this week.

Marmaduke was enraged by Walker's absence and took this as a "last straw" by the Tennessean. He then formally asked Major Sneed, Adjutant General for District of Arkansas, that his unit be transferred as he refused to serve under Walker. Marmaduke threatened to resign if his request was not acted upon. Gen. Sterling Price, the Confederate Army commander being most interested in defending Little Rock, agreed to Marmaduke's request.

For his part, Walker was at first amused by he and his unit's censure, but the situation deteriorated quickly from battlefield to schoolyard when he was informed that Marmaduke made statements as to his lack of courage at the battle of Reed's Bridge. The man selected to be Walker's Second (in command) was a Texan, Colonel R. H. Crockett, grandson of the famous frontiersman Davy Crockett. Crockett lost no time in getting Walker's note, "seeking an explanation" to Marmaduke's camp. He delivered Walker's demand to Captain John C. Moore, an artillery officer from St. Louis now serving on Marmaduke's staff. As Marmaduke's Second, Moore returned Marmaduke's response to Crockett. According to the dueling codes, Moore and Crockett, as chosen Seconds, were now in control of the encounter from this point on, Marmaduke and Walker's roles were to concur with the Code Duello.

Marmaduke denied calling Walker a "coward" but went on to declare him an incompetent cavalry commander. Walker shot back a note via Crockett demanding a specific explanation of Marmaduke's charges against him. Moore's response said Marmaduke had not specifically used the word "coward" but he added a paragraph to cite the "scrupulous care with which Gen. Walker avoided all positions of danger ... " These were indeed fighting words. The Code now called for Crockett and Moore to set the stage for the duel.

While pistol duels usually involved large caliber singe-shot flintlocks, mainly for their inaccuracy, Moore chose the popular 1851 .36 Navy Colt. This revolver, so named due to a Republic of Texas Navy sea battle scene engraved on the cylinder, was more popular with Confederate Cavalrymen than the heavier .44 Army Colt. Moore and Crockett agreed that these weapons would be fully loaded with six shots of "round ball" as opposed to the more common single shot. At 15 paces, or 60-odd feet distance, the duelists would be asked, "Are you ready?" The response required a reply of "ready" or "not ready" within 10 seconds. If both parties gave a "ready" answer the word to "open fire" would be given. Both protagonists were then free to fire at will or until all the loads of their pistols were fired or one of them fell.

The site chosen was "the old Godfrey LeFevre place, seven miles below Little Rock, on the north side of the Arkansas River at 6 o'clock A.M." Capt. Moore and Col. Crockett met in Little Rock and did not complete the details of the duel until near midnight on Sept. 5. Within minutes, Gen. Price was informed of the impending duel and sent orders to Marmaduke and Walker to remain at his headquarters for the next 24 hours. Walker didn't receive this order and Marmaduke ignored it.

Crockett had selected as Walker's "advising friend" Major John C. King, and together with a surgeon they hurried to Walker's headquarters whereupon they woke Walker from a sound sleep and showed him the agreement. Walker quickly dressed and with a guide they set out to the LeFevre plantation, arriving an hour before daylight. Marmaduke's party arrived just before dawn with an ambulance.

The advising friends, Maj. King and Capt. William M. Price, set about loading the revolvers while the Seconds scouted an appropriate place. About 200 yards from the house, in an open grove, a site was selected. Moore and Crockett set up a north to south line to ensure the adversarie's aim wouldn't be compromised by the oncoming sun. They walked off the distance and marked where each would stand. Their work done, they hurried to the house for Marmaduke and Walker as it was now light enough to shoot.

Crockett tossed a coin, said to be a silver half dollar, for choice of position and "word." Moore called it. The two generals were placed in position with pistols in hand. The two Seconds took their positions two paces on either side from the line of fire. At the word "fire" both men immediately discharged their Colts to no effect. In a normal duel, this would have ended it. The point wasn't to hurt anyone, just to prove you were a man of honor by putting your life at risk.

But, in less than 60 seconds, Marmaduke's colt cracked again and Walker fell.

Marmaduke rushed to his fallen commander and ask if he was hurt. Walker replied that he was a dead man and that his legs were dead already. The .36 lead ball stuck in his spine was already paralyzing him from his waist down. Marmaduke made his ambulance available and Walker was loaded up for the long, jarring seven-mile trip to Little Rock. Crockett held Walker's head in his lap for the entirety of the excruciating wagon ride. Walker, conscious but in great pain, pressed Crockett to tell his pregnant wife Cellie, the duel was unavoidable as his honor required it. At midmorning the ambulance reached the home of Mrs. Cates and Walker's deathbed. Strangely, Walker ignored the approaching Union Army and the fact his four children would be fatherless and pressed Crockett to tell Marmaduke that he forgave him and that his friends should neither "prosecute or persecute him."

Read the ending of this story in The Marshall Democrat-News Friday, May 13.