Washington DC

Naval officer dies after being shot in the pelvis during duel

March 22, 1820
Washington, D.C.
Stephen Decatur dies at 41 from injuries sustained during a gun duel

Decatur, a distinguished naval officer, had been challenged by Commodore James Baron after Decatur made disparaging remarks regarding Baron’s conduct during the Chesapeake-Leopold Affair of 1807. Decatur accepted, though he did not tell his wife about the duel, instead writing his father-in-law of the upcoming combat.

During the actual duel, both men turned before the count of two and fired (the rules of the duel stated they could not turn before the count of one nor after the count of three). Baron was shot in the abdomen with the bullet ricocheting into his thigh, while Decatur was shot in the pelvis and several arteries severed. Decatur, knowing he was mortally wounded, cried “Oh Lord, I am a dead man.” Baron proclaimed the duel had been carried out honorably and Decatur had been forgiven.

As a surgeon proceeded to carry the dying Decatur away, Baron called out to him saying “God bless you, Decatur” while Decatur feebly uttered “Farewell, farewell, Baron.” While at his house, under the care of a surgeon, Decatur signed his will granting his possessions to his wife, and (for reasons unclear to historians) refused to have the ball removed from his wound. While wounded and in immense pain, he is said to have cried out “I did not know that any man could suffer such pain!”

Decatur’s wife Susan was given $75,000 (just shy of $1,500,000 today), though she died in virtual poverty.

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