Duel of the Century

Major John Newman Edwards,  C.S.A. VS Major Emory S. Foster, The Duel of the Century!

Animosities caused by the Civil War continued for decades afterward developing bad blood that persisted for years. As a case in point ten years after the war two prominent personalities from opposite sides of the conflict met in what was described as the duel of the century.

The person that sparked the controversy for the duel was Major Emory S. Foster. Foster was born in Greene County, Missouri on November 5, 1839. He was a staunch Unionist whose brother Marshall was murdered by secessionists in early 1861 on his way to vote. When the war started Foster formed a Unionist Home Guard company called "Foster's Mounted Rangers" in which he served as captain, enlisting on August 28, 1861. He later enlisted in the Missouri State Enrolled Militia, being elected a major of the 7th Missouri Cavalry. Foster and his men engaged in skirmishes around his home in Warrensburg, Missouri where Foster gained a reputation as an aggressive commander. On August 15, 1862 after a two-day march from Warrensburg, Missouri to Lexington, Missouri, he was ordered to take 800 men on a 20-mile forced march to Lone Jack, Missouri to engage Confederate troops that had just won an outstanding victory at the First Battle of Independence. The Confederates were attempting to recruit and consolidate their forces around the tiny hamlet of Lone Jack. On arrival, Foster's force encountered  800 Confederates under Colonel John T. Coffee, and Leiutenant Colonel John Charles Tracy and routed them. However, the firing of Foster's artillery alerted other Confederate recruiting commands in the area of his presence. Confederates under Colonels Vardeman  Cockkrell, Upton Hays, and DeWiit C. Hunter were joined by Lt. Col. Tracy and a fierce five hour battle ensued the next morning. The Federals retreated after a force of William Clarke Quantrill's guerrillas led by Captain William Haller joined Coffee's men and forced the Federals from the field. Foster and his brother were severely wounded, unable to retreat, and were taken prisoner. Foster was about to be executed when Cole Younger intervened sparing Foster and his brothers life. They gave $1,000 and their handguns to Younger who then delivered them to their mother in Warrensburg. In 1876, when Cole Younger was captured after the Northfield Minnesota bank robbery Foster forcefully argue for a parole for Younger. After the war Foster became an editor at the St. Louis Journal.  Below and right is an image of Major Foster.                                                                                         

 The second individual that serves as an illustration of bad blood that continued after the war was Major John Newman Edwards. Edwards was born in Warren County, Virginia. As a child, he learned type-setting in Front Royal, Virginia before moving to Missouri in 1855. Settling in  Lexington, Missouri, Edwards became a printer for the Missouri Expositor. When the war started in Missouri Edwards joined Confederate General Joseph O Shelby when he raised a cavalry regiment near Waverly Missouri in Lafayette County. Edwards was appointed brigade adjutant, with the rank of major. When Shelby was promoted to command a division, Edwards became the division's adjutant. He held the position until the war ended in May 1865, when Shelby's command disbanded. Edwards acquired notoriety for having more horses shot out from under him than any other man in Shelby's command. After Appomattox Edwards followed Shelby to Mexico rather than surrender. He spent the next two years in a Confederate colony in Mexico taking up once again his skills as a newspaperman where he printed the colony's newspaper, the Mexican Times. Edwards wrote his first book while in Mexico, "An Unwritten Leaf of the War." Returning to Missouri in 1867, Edwards joined the Missouri Republican newspaper as a reporter. The following year, he began the Kansas City Times, a staunch Democratic paper in a state now ruled by Radical Republicans. He was sympathetic in reporting the James gang's robberies, claiming they were a response to the excesses of Republican rule in Missouri. A few years later Edwards wrote the widely popular book "Noted Guerrillas" glamorizing Colonel William Clarke Quantrill and his followers.

Edwards remained at the Kansas City Times until 1873 when he moved to St. Louis to edit the St. Louis Dispatch and the St. Louis Times. The origin of his trouble started on August 25, 1875 from an article in the St. Louis Times by Edwards talking about the mistreatment that former Confederate President Jefferson Davis suffered at the Winnebago County, Illinois Fair Fair and the intolerant spirit manifested by former Union soldiers who were present. Across town at the St. Louis Journal Major Emory Foster replied in an article that "the writer of the Times article had lied, and knew he lied, when he wrote it." Edwards demanded a retraction but Foster only issued an evasive reply. On August 30, sensing that Foster's impertinence had wronged him in a matter of personal honor Edwards challenged Foster to a duel. Edwards letter to Foster states: "Sir: In reply to your letter of this date I have to state that your reply to the reasonable request I made of you, to-wit, to withdraw and to disavow all language in your editorial of the 25th inst., personally offensive to myself, is evasive and not responsive to my request. In my letter to you I referred solely to what was directly personal to myself, without inquiring whether my editorial, or yours in answer to it, exceeded the usages of the press in discussing a subject generally or referring to bodies of persons. I cannot admit your right to introduce these questions into this controversy which refer solely to your allusion to the writer of the Times editorial. The disclaimer in the first four paragraphs of your letter would be satisfactory had you followed it up by a withdrawal of the offensive terms of your editorial, so far as they referred to me personally. But as you decline to do so I must, therefore, construe your letter of this date, and its spirit, as a refusal on your part to do me an act of common justice, and so regarding it, I deem it my duty to ask of you that satisfaction which one gentleman has a right to ask of another."

On September 4, 1875 Col. H. B. Branch acting as the second to Major Edwards, and Col. W. D. W. Barnard as the second of Major Foster made arrangements for the opponents to meet at 5 p.m. in a field six miles north of Rockford, Illinois in Winnebago County, Illinois. The weapons chosen were .38 cal. (converted)  Colt Navy revolvers, the distance twenty paces. Each party was entitled to one shot, unless both demanded a second. The firing was to be at the words, thus: "Are you ready; one, two, three"—the firing to occur after the word "two" and not after the word "three." The seconds were to be similarly armed, and any violation of the rules agreed upon entitled the second of the one to shoot down the offending second of the other. Upon arriving at Rockford both parties drove to the Holland House and partook of dinner. About 3 o'clock the seconds completed their arrangements. It was decided to drive five miles north on the Beloit road, and have the meeting in some secluded spot. Both principals agreed, and Col. Edwards' party started off in a hack at half-past three, the understanding being for them to await the other party for half an hour after arriving as far out as designated. If the challenged party did not arrive on time it was to be regarded as an evidence of cowardice. The Foster party caught up with the other party just as they were halting at an estimated distance from the city of five miles.

The spot where the halt was called was a shaded valley, with a winding stream called Turtle Creek, running through it. The seconds held another consultation, and, the site suiting them, they went in search of a place sufficiently far from the Beloit road to be safe from intrusion. After an absence of five minutes they were successful in their search, and on their return the whole party left the carriages. The coach drivers wondered what was in the wind, but had not the enterprise to gratify their curiosity. 

The surgeons took their cases of instruments to the hill-side, where they sat watching the preparations for the encounter. Some time was occupied in the examination and loading of the pistols, and while the necessary part of the work was in progress, the principals each divested himself of his watch and other articles which might turn off a bullet. The next procedure was to measure the ground, a matter which was gone through with business-like dispatch and coolness. Twenty paces was the distance. The positions were north and south, and were marked by a short stake driven into the ground. Branches of trees were cleared out of the way to prevent injury from falls, and other details attended to which might render things comfortable for the parties immediately interested. The next important step was to toss up for position and the call. Branch, Edward's second, won the choice of position, and Barnard the call. This fact was communicated to the principals, who expressed themselves satisfied with the result. The principals and seconds then walked up the ground. Edwards asked Foster's opinion as to position, but the latter said he had no choice. They both received their weapons from the seconds and Edwards chose the south end of the ground. Before the final arrangements were completed, the friends were requested to relieve themselves of their pistols, a precaution against a general skirmish should either party feel aggrieved. Dr. Munford was the only one who had a pistol on his person, and he at once placed it in his valise. The conditions of the fight were then read. Edwards requested Barnard to articulate the words, "Are you ready? one, two, three," in a distinct manner, so as to prevent unpleasant haste. Both men at this point displayed marvelous nerve, Foster smoking his cigar in an unconcerned way. Positions were then taken up, the seconds shaking hands with their principals, and receiving instructions in case they should fall. At length all was ready. The seconds had pistols in their hands ready to revenge any infringements of the code. There was an ominous pause. At exactly 5 o'clock the men faced each other and took mental aim; then came the words, "Are you ready?" in clear, distinct tones: "one, two." Before the word three the duelists fired almost simultaneously. The surgeons anxiously looked each to his man, expecting him to fall, but neither was wounded. "A little high!" exclaimed Foster, as soon as he had fired. Edwards demanded another fire, in an excited tone. His second asked if he would adhere to that resolution. "Yes," he replied, "it is just as I told you before we came on the field. I will go on if it takes a thousand fires;" and with this remark he sat down on the grass. Foster visibly shaken declined another fire. He was the challenged party, and felt no bitterness against his antagonist. Therefore he was not anxious for blood. His honor had been sustained as the challenged party. Shots had been exchanged, and that was all that was necessary. Barnard went to talk with Edwards, who was heard to say: "I have admitted as much as I can do—have received no satisfaction to take with me." After the interchange of a few words, Edwards concluded to make up. He approached Foster and shook hands. There was mutual congratulation all round, and it was interesting to see the brotherly love displayed by the men, who two minutes before, had faced each other with death in their eyes. The genial Bourbon was produced, and the agreeable termination to the affair toasted. A short time was spent on the grass in mutual explanation, and everything was forgotten and forgiven. The parties then returned to their carriages, one heading toward Beloit and the other to Rockford, which place they left in the evening. The image to right and down is of J. N. Edwards.                                                            

Following this encounter in 1881, Major Foster was appointed secretary of the Board of Public Improvements in St. Louis. He held that office for twenty consecutive years, until 1901, when his health failed and he was compelled to resign. With the hope of regaining his health, which was then much impaired, Major Foster went to California in 1902. He died in Oakland, California, in December of that year. He is buried in the lot owned by the Grand Army of the Republic in Oakland, California.

Paul R. Petersen © Quantrillsguerrillas.com. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay."



                                          MEMBERS ONLY SECTION

Text Size