Jackson-Benton Duel 1813

Thomas Hart Benton

On September 4, Thomas and Jesse went to Nashville on business, and put up at Clayton Talbot's tavern, an inn they knew Jackson did not frequent. The town gossips rushed to the Hermitage to tell the news. Soon, Jackson and his oak-tall friend Colonel John Coffee arrived and took rooms at the Nasville Inn. They walked to the post office, and then went out of their way to pass the hotel where the Bentons were, where they saw Jesse step from the pavement into the hotel. Promptly Jackson and Coffee followed Jesse inside, and there in the hall near the back portico of Talbot's the General came fact to face with Thomas Benton.

"Now defend yourself, you damned rascal!" Jackson cried.

The words were a fuse which set off a paroxysm of gunfire, pushing, pulling, wrestling, fist-fighting, shoving, gouging, stabbing, and jabbing. The General drew a pistol from under his coat, and strode toward Thomas. Promptly, Jesse aimed and fired on Jackson from a sort of ambush in the barroom next to the passage, while Jackson shot at Thomas, and Thomas drew his gun and fired twice at the General in return. In the crash of pistols, Jackson toppled to the floor, blood spurting from his left arm, while the muzzle blast of his weapon seared a hole in Thomas's coat-sleeve. The towering Colonel Coffee now charged through the smoke. He blazed away at Thomas, but his ball slashed harmlessly past the young man's head into the wall.

By this time, three other men were in the battle. The struggling, weaving figures lunged through the hall and into the barroom. Disarmed, Thomas found John Coffee and Alexander Donelson rushing him with drawn daggers, while Jesse was attacked by Charles Hammond with a dagger and by the gigantic Stockley Hays with a sword cane. Retreating backwards down the hall, Thomas received five slight knife-wounds. In the barroom, Hammond and Hays got Jesse on his back and stabbed at him while he tried to parry the blades with his bare hands. He was saved only when another warrior, James Sumner, rushed in and helped drive off his attackers. In the struggle, Jesse clapped a pistol to the body of Stockley Hays to blow him through, but the gun missed fire. The melee now came to a farcical peak. Fending off the daggers and clubbed pistols of Coffee and Donelson, the bulky, dignified Thomas managed to fall backwards down a flight of stairs at the rear of the hotel.

This bit of slapstick ended the engagement, and now Jackson was discovered lying, bleeding, in the back doorway. The man who had advised his junior officer against brawling like the fishwoman had precipitated a fray in which he had nearly lost his own life. He was carried from Talbot's to the Nashville Inn, where he soaked two mattresses through with his blood, while the Nashville physicians took turns trying to save him. Meanwhile, Thomas and Jesse strutted in front of Talbot's, denouncing Jackson as an assassin and a defeated assassin at that, defying him to come out and renew the battle. Finally, Thomas took to the public square a sword of Jackson's he had found, and ceremoniously broke it in two in front of the watching crowd - a symbolic conclusion of the affray.


Old Bullion Benton by William Nisbet Chambers, pages 51-52
Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1956