Dr. Marshall Was A Polished Scholar Who Deplored His Early “Affairs Of Honor;” A Look At Tragic Experiences Of Gen. Classius M. Clay
Author Unknown 1890
A few months ago, when the bloody and tragic encounter in Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, between Colonel William Cassius Goodloe and Colonel Armstead M. Swope, thrilled and shocked the country from one end to the other. M. Halstead, writing editorially in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, stated that there appeared to be something in the very climate and atmosphere, as well as in the traditions of Kentucky, which called for the adjustment of difficulties and misunderstanding between the men of that state by the wager of battle.
Unfortunately, this is true and the fact extends far back beyond the time when the first white man visited Kentucky. For many years it had been a common hunting ground for various tribes of Indians, and, as their common hunting ground, it had also become their common battleground. The soil of old “Kentuckee” (as they called it) had been so plentifully covered with the blood of their braves for untold years that even the rude Indians, with a correct though untutored poetic imagery, had christened this land, baptized with rivers of their blood, “the dark and bloody ground” long before a white man had ever seen it.
To the extent of such lore the early history of Kentucky, much of which is written, is especially interesting. It is generally tragic, but is far from being without its humorous and comical side. Humphrey Marshall, whose duel with Henry Clay has been described, once broke up a hostile meeting in quite an unexpected manner. In 1793 his cousin, Maj. Markham Marshall (a brother of Chief Justice Marshall) had a discussion in the public prints with Mr. James Brown, which grew out of some charges made by Mr. Marshall that Mr. James Brown’s brother, Hon. John Brown, was, or had been, deeply implicated with Wilkinson, Sebastian, and others in the Spanish Conspiracy.
A duel grew out of this, one of the terms of which was that no person except the principals and their seconds should be present at the meeting. Humphrey Marshall, however, dashing to witness the affair, allowed his curiosity to get the better of his discretion, and he posted off to the dueling ground, near which he concealed himself behind a large log, from which he might have a good view of the proceedings.
He always carried a long staff or stick, and this he placed across the top of the log. The duelists reached the ground, and the preliminaries had been arranged, when Humphrey Marshall was discovered in his retreat. Mr. Brown then refused to fight, on the plea that “Old Humphrey Marshall” was in ambush to assassinate him in case he should kill his opponent. The affair ended thus, without an exchange of shots.
About this time, generally speaking, there grew out of this same fruitful source of contention the Spanish Conspiracy, an affair which was probably the most peculiar thing in the way of a duel that ever occurred anywhere. It was between Dr. Louis Marshall, the younger brother of Chief Justice Marshall, and a gentleman whom we shall call Bradley, because that was not his name. Dr. Marshall, like all his name, was a man of great courage and, in addition, was equally as expert with the sword as with the pistol.
He was an old practitioner upon the field of honor, having had many duels both in this country and in Europe, always leaving his opponent dead or disabled upon the field. Mr. Bradley was also a man of courage, but of an excitable and nervous temperament, and his affair with Dr. Marshall was his first experience under the code. The weapons chosen for this affair were pistols, and after the word either man could fire at discretion. On the ground Mr. Bradley showed himself nervous and excited, and, when the word was given, he blazed away at once, and, of course missed his antagonist. Dr. Marshall had fixed his eye on Bradley in the beginning, and, as soon as they had taken their positions, marked his extreme agitation. After receiving Bradley’s missed shot Dr. Marshall calmly raised his pistol, deliberately shut one eye, and squinted along the barrel with the other. He took slow and full aim and held Bradley covered for half a minute. Then he lowered his pistol to his side and asked his second for a plug of tobacco, saying that he wanted a chew before killing the fool.
At this Bradley became transported with rage. Tearing open his coat he shouted to Dr. Marshall to fire. The doctor, having refreshed himself with a chew of tobacco, again went through the same deliberate performance of taking aim, then lowered his pistol, took out his handkerchief and, remarking that he had forgotten to blow his nose, blew it. By this time Bradley was beside himself with rage and uncertainty, and fairly yelled to his antagonist to fire. Dr. Marshall for the third time took deliberate aim at him, then lowered his pistol and said that he would not fire at the fool unless he would have his pistol reloaded and take another shot. The seconds then interposed and the duel, if such it could be called, ended.
Dr. Louis Marshall had been a student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and afterward went to Paris and attended the university there. He was one of those who led the attack upon the Bastile, and was afterward arrested by order of Robespierre and was saved from the guillotine only by the strenuous efforts of powerful friends. During his stay in Scotland and France he fought many duels, always without serious injury to himself and with damage to his opponent.
One other affair that Dr. Marshall had in Kentucky was with a man named Sites. Mr. Sites took offense at some publication Dr. Marshall had made. Arming himself with a pistol and rawhide, he came upon the Doctor while the latter was smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper, and had his feet cocked up higher than his head against a tree box in front of a hotel in Versailles, Woodford County, Kentucky. With his pistol drawn in one hand, he commenced to cowhide Dr. Marshall with the other.
Dr. Marshall never took his cigar from his mouth, nor ceased puffing nor lifted his eyes from his paper until Sites ceased his blows. Then, looking at Sites over his shoulder, and brushing the ashes from the cigar with one finger, he asked, “Are you quite through?” Mr. Sites answered that he was, and Dr. Marshall replied, “Very well you will hear from me before long” and kept on reading and smoking. When he had finished his cigar and newspaper, he got up and sent a runner to Frankfort for Colonel Joseph Hamilton Davies, and sent Sites a peremptory challenge that night. Dr. Marshall shot Sites through the body in a duel the next morning before breakfast. Mr. Sites shortly afterwards died.
Dr. Louis Marshall who was a polished scholar of profound learning, was an infidel during his young manhood, but afterwards became converted and would never referto any of his various affairs of honor, and to anyone else to do so in his presence gave him deep offense. He was at one time President of the Transylvania University, at Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, and at the time of his death, about 1865, he was President of Washington College at Lexington, Virginia, now known as Washington and Lee University.
Hon. Thomas Marshall, who at one time represented the Ashland District of Kentucky in Congress, and who was undoubtedly the most finished and gifted orator of his day, was the son of Dr. Louis Marshall. “Tom” Marshall, as Kentuckians loved to call him, was a variable and eccentric genius, and he too saw the manner of the times and state practiced under the code, and his “affairs” were numerous. He had a duel with Hon. John Rowan, at Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky. Rowan was a Kentucky statesman of national reputation and a dead shot as well. Mr. Rowan calling his shot, as they say in billiards, hit Marshall in the leg within half an inch of the spot which he had indicated as the place he had intended to hit. Mr. Marshall’s next duel was with Colonel James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, in 1812. Mr. Tom Marshall was engaged by the notorious rascal Monroe Edwards to defend him in his trial in New York. Webb severely criticized the conduct of Marshall in so doing, as he was then a mentor of Congress.
Marshall, in his speech before the jury, retorted upon Webb that bitter style of incentive of which he was the master. This led to a duel, and Marshall shot Webb in the knee laming him for a while. He also met General James S. Jackson, at Lexington, Kentucky, on the field of honor in Mexico during the Mexican War, both gentlemen being officers in the same regiment of Kentucky volunteers. This event, however, was a bloodless one. General Jackson was killed at the Battle of Perryville, during the late war.
Hon. Thomas Marshall had other “unpleasantness” during the Mexican War with still another officer of his own regiment, General Cassius M. Clay, who is still living, full of years and full of honors. Trouble had been brewing between the two men for some time. Mr. Clay, as he says himself in his autobiography, spent nearly all his leisure time while in camp sharpening and polishing his sword. This fact led Marshall to refer to Clay’s sword as “the sharpened blade of an assassin.”
One day, while the regiment was encamped on the banks of the river, Mr. Clay and Mr. Marshall met and had some words, which gradually grew more and more heated, until finally Mr. Clay, becoming exasperated, lugged out his sharpened blade and made a terrific onslaught on Mr. Marshall. The latter, “taken all of a heap” as it were, turned and fled for dear life, Clay following at his heels and brandishing his formidable blade. The bank of the river was soon reached, and Mr. Marshall, making choice of two evils, incontinently plunged into the water and came near drowning, but was rescued by some of the soldiers. As he stood dripping upon the bank, he suddenly said, with inimitable wit, “At any rule, old Cash can’t say that I called out “Help me, Cassius, or I sink.”
The life of Cassius M. Clay is almost equal to a romance, checkered, as it has been, by the shifting light and shades of fortune. Born in a slave state, the scion of a long line of slave-holding ancestors, he early became convinced of the evil and wrong of slavery, and he at once set to work to bring about the emancipation of the slaves. Of course, it meant something to be an abolitionist in a slave-holding community, and Mr. Clay virtually carried his life in his hands. Brave as a lion, he never shrank before any obstacle, however formidable, which might oppose him. He more than once made appointments to speak in favor of emancipation, and fearlessly went to fill them, although fully apprised that plots and conspiracies had been laid to assassinate him if he should do so. He was an utter stranger to fear. Once, while making a speech from a table set in the streets of the little village of Taxtown, near his home, a man named Turner, who was standing by the table in front of him, pretended to take offense at some statements made by Mr. Clay, and cried out “Now, Cash that is a lie and you know it.” Instantly, Mr. Clay threw his hand over his shoulder, and, drawing a large Bowie knife from beneath the back of his coat, jumped from the table, slashing Turner with a tremendous cut as he descended. Turner fell weltering in his gore, and some unknown man in the thick crowd stabbed Mr. Clay in the back, inflicting a wound from which he recovered only after a long confinement, and from which he still occasionally suffers. Wounded as he was, he fought his way through the crowd to a house nearby, where he was cared for. Mr. Turner was carried to another room in the same house, where he died, after the lapse of some hours. Before dying he elected a reconciliation with Mr. Clay and asked to be forgiven for what he had done. He made an antemortem statement to the effect that a plot had been laid to aggravate Mr. Clay to make an assault and then to assassinate him, and that he, in accordance with the plot, had attempted to provoke Mr. Clay. He asked that the law should hold Mr. Clay guiltless in the matter, and guiltless he was held accordingly.
Upon another occasion, while Mr. Clay was speaking at Russell’s Cave, near Lexington, he was set upon by a gang of men, who were headed by a brave and desperate man named Brown. Mr. Clay boldly engaged them, cutting right and left with his trusty Bowie knife with a hearty good will and perfectly undismayed by the overwhelming numbers.
Brown’s allies soon became dismayed and retreated, leaving him to engage Mr. Clay by himself. Brown himself, however, was good game, and fought desperately as long as he could stand. Finally, when slashed almost into shoe strings, he fell, and the fight ended. Brown died some time afterwards, but before he died, disgusted without the pusillanimity of his comrades, he, too, made a clean breast of it and revealed the facts of the plot which had been laid for Mr. Clay’s death.
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