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Vicksburg History

The dueling Black Knight



This story comes from the book “Invocation to Death: The Final Hours of Col. Alexander Keith McClung” by Howell, H. Grady, Jr. Madison, Miss., 2014, and is used with permission. The story also appears on the Mississippi Department of History and Archives website. 

Information was also gleaned from the Southern Marksman, Clinton, Mississippi, January 1, 1839.

The story has been lightly edited for clarity.

One of early Jackson’s most colorful citizens was Col. Alexander Keith McClung (1811-1855), also known as the Black Knight.

A contemporary of Charles Henry Manship, mayor of Jackson during the Civil War, McClung was known as a Mexican War hero, orator, statesman and duelist. He arrived in Jackson in the early 1830s to establish a law practice. Originally from Kentucky, McClung was active in Whig politics, although not very successful as a lawyer, and he fought gallantly in the Mexican War with Jefferson Davis.

McClung was perhaps best known—and feared—as a duelist. Dueling in the early 1800s was a formal, ritualized method of settling matters of honor. McClung was reputed to have fought in as many as 14 duels and to have killed 10 men. He committed suicide with his own dueling pistol in the Eagle Hotel in 1855.

One of McClung’s most famous duels took place on Dec. 29, 1838, across the river from Vicksburg. The Southern Marksman in Clinton, Miss., reported the event on Jan. 1, 1839, as follows:

“The following are the particulars of the duel between McClung and Menifee, given us by a person who was present at the fight.

THE DUEL AT VICKSBURG. – The duel between McClung and Menifee came off on Saturday the 29th ist., they were to have fought at 11 o’clock A. M. the time specified, and many started across the river as early as day break, thinking that the time reported was to evade the multitude that would be assembled, and that the fight would take place at sun rise, and boats were continually crossing from that time until the parties met on the ground for combat.

There were as many as 35 skiffs and yawls crossing and recrossing at one time, until a quarter past twelve o’clock M. at which time there were assembled from six to seven hundred persons to witness the scene.

Menifee and his party were on the ground before eleven o’clock – McClung and his party arriving about 12. Both parties appeared to be very collected, and in fact, in high spirits.

The prevailing opinion was that McClung would be killed, as he had practiced but a few days with a rifle; whereas, Menifee is considered a proficient in the use of that weapon. McClung took his station 2 or 3 minutes previous to the arrival of Menifee on the ground laid out. On perceiving his opponent (Menifee) dressed in light summer coat buttoned close, he threw off his green blanket coat, and taking a bowie knife and a large pistol from his belt, deposited them on the ground, and went through the preliminaries of the duel in his shirt sleeves, when his coat was replaced by his second.

At the signal, both fired, Menifee’s party having won the word, McClung fired first, Menifee in a second afterwards; McClung’s ball passing over Menifee’s head, and Menifee’s ball passing within an inch of McClung’s body, in the range of the abdomen as was discovered by examination, as Menifee’s ball lodged in the fence in the rear of McClung, and directly in a range of the line where he stood.

McClung appeared to be very much vexed after the first fire, and threw his gun (which was a United States Yauger) four or five feet from him, exclaiming that he had fired in the air, as it went off before he had taken aim-but for myself I thought he had brought the gun to a dead level; and Menifee and some of his party heard the ball as it whizzed by them, and it passed as they supposed within 2 or 3 inches of Menifee’s head.

After this, both parties retired to their respective cabins, and were on the grounds in fifteen minutes after, all prepared, the word given, McClung fired and Menifee fell-and for one minute, all supposed him dead; the wound being directly above the right eye, was supposed by many to have passed through the head; but it was different, as it was only a scale of the ball, the ball having struck the extra guard that protects the tube of Menifee’s rifle, broke it off, knocked off the cap, and broke the hollow part of the hammer that presses on the tube, thereby glancing and striking him as above stated, the ball being split.

It was the opinion of many, that had not the ball struck the guard it would have passed over Menifee’s right shoulder, and would not have injured him. In about ten minutes after Menifee fell he was on his feet and expressed a wish to walk to the boat, which his Physician and friend Jackson would not permit.”

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