Abraham Lincoln Fought In A Duel Using Broadswords (Almost)

Yeah. Google it. Here is the short version of the story.

Not A Broadsword

This guy by the name of James Shields was the auditor of the State of Illinois. When the state bank went bankrupt, Shields sided with those who closed the bank.
Lincoln writes to a paper under a woman’s name and mocks Shields about the closing (as well as other things) in several op-ed articles. Shields goes to the paper and demands to know the identity of the author and the paper obliges. Shields challenges Abe to a duel. Under most codes for dueling the one challenged gets to name the weapon so Lincoln chose broadswords.

The duel was supposed to happen on Bloody Island in the Mississippi River (part of Missouri). The thing got far enough that broadswords were supposedly found and furnished to both would-be combatants. However, cooler heads prevailed.
The boat that was supposed to bring the victor back had a red shirt on the bow. This caused some people to think it was a bloodied (dead) body. People saw the two men exit the boat while chatting with each other and realized it was a prank. Later, James Shields went on to serve under Lincoln as Union general in The Civil War.
I don’t know about you but the idea of Abe Lincoln killing anyone or anything with a broadsword is so full of steampunky goodness that I smile whenever I think of it. Maybe Honest Abe really did kill vampires and zombies?

From CivilWar.org:

The day of the duel, September 22, arrived and the combatants met at Bloody Island, Missouri to face death or victory.  As the two men faced each other, with a plank between them that neither was allowed to cross, Lincoln swung his sword high above Shields to cut through a nearby tree branch.  This act demonstrated the immensity of Lincoln’s reach and strength and was enough to show Shields that he was at a fatal disadvantage.  With the encouragement of bystanders, the two men called a truce.

Bloody Island

Bloody Island, adjacent to St. Louis in the Mississippi River, was a popular dueling ground.  (Wikimedia Commons)

Two decades later, the Civil War brought the two men together once more.  Shields was now a Brigadier General in the Army of the Potomac and Lincoln was President, with the ability to promote and demote military officers.  Fighting in the Shenandoah Valley in March 1862, Shields delivered Stonewall Jackson’s only defeat at the Battle of Kernstown and was gravely wounded in the process.  Lincoln nominated him for promotion to Major General, symbolically burying all ill-feelings between the two men.


  1. Sam L. says:

    Ah, Presidents Day.

  2. Hannibal says:

    Not only did Lincoln have longer arms, the fact that he was a poor shot reportedly figured into his choice.

  3. Shirley says:

    Lincoln apologized and that stopped The duel. The Shields family was a tough bunch. If Abe had not apologized he would have gotten his whimpy self killed.

  4. Herman Sahdi says:

    Abraham Lincoln is a wise man. Inspirational President…

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Abraham Lincoln Fought In A Duel Using Broadswords (Almost)

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