Anatomy of a Duel: Secession, Civil War, and the Evolution of Kentucky Violence | Hybrid


The Filson Historical Society Tue, May 14 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM


When the popular musical Hamilton showcased the celebrated duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, it reminded twenty-first-century Americans that some honor-bound citizens once used negotiated, formal fights as a way to settle differences. During the Civil War, two prominent Kentuckians—one a Union colonel and the other a pro-Confederate civilian—continued this legacy by dueling. At a time when thousands of soldiers were slaughtering one another on battlefields, Colonel Leonidas Metcalfe and William T. Casto transformed the bank of the Ohio River into their own personal battleground. On May 8, 1862, these two men, both of whom were steeped in Southern honor culture, fought a formal duel with rifles at sixty yards. And, as in the fight between Hamilton and Burr, only one man walked away.

Anatomy of a Duel: Secession, Civil War, and the Evolution of Kentucky Violence examines why white male Kentuckians engaged in the "honor culture" of duels and provides fascinating narratives that trace the lives of duelists. Stuart W. Sanders explores why, during a time when Americans were killing one another in open, brutal warfare, Casto and Metcalfe engaged in the process of negotiating and fighting a duel. In deconstructing the event, Sanders details why these distinguished Kentuckians found themselves on the dueling ground during the nation's bloodiest conflict, how society and the Civil War pushed them to fight, why duels continued to be fought in Kentucky even after this violent confrontation, and how Kentuckians applied violence after the Civil War. Anatomy of a Duel is a comprehensive and compelling look at how the secession crisis sparked the Casto-Metcalfe duel—a confrontation that impacted the evolution of violence in Kentucky.

Stuart W. Sanders is the Director of Research and Publications for the Kentucky Historical Society and is the former executive director of the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association. He is the author of five books, including Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle, The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, Maney's Confederate Brigade at the Battle of Perryville, Murder on the Ohio Belle, and Anatomy of a Duel: Secession, Civil War, and the Evolution of Kentucky Violence.