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ON THE MORNING OF DECEMBER 26, 1875, JAMES H. COSGROVE AND Edward L. Pierson, two white men in their early thirties, both of them natives of Louisiana and Confederate veterans, encountered each other on a street in the town of Natchitoches. Over the course of the previous year, Cosgrove, editor of the fiercely Democratic Natchitoches People's Vindicator, had described Pierson, a Republican member of the state legislature and editor of the Natchitoches Republican, as a thief, a liar, a coward, and, when a Confederate soldier, a serial deserter. Pierson demanded satisfaction by posting a card in the People's Vindicator. Cosgrove contemptuously rejected the challenge and published another scurrilous attack; Pierson thereupon vowed to shoot Cosgrove on sight. On the morning in question the two men exchanged curses; Cosgrove slapped Pierson's face with his hat; Pierson shot at Cosgrove and missed. Cosgrove then went into a saloon and borrowed a gun, and the two men exchanged shots. Cosgrove proved the better marksman. Pierson, mortally wounded, died within the hour. (1) Given the propensity of southern white men to settle quarrels by means of knives and guns, it could be argued that the Cosgrove-Pierson affair was less a reflection of Reconstruction politics than an expression of a long-established cultural tradition. Thanks to scholars such as Edward L. Ayers, Kenneth S. Greenberg, and, in particular, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, we have a good understanding of how honor functioned in southern society and why a kind of ritualized personal violence between white males, including "gentlemen," occurred so often. In the antebellum years, dueling and affrays over questions of personal honor--frequently involving politicians and newspaper editors--had been common. (2) Moreover, this behavior did not simply disappear after Appomattox: honor continued to function as what Dan T. Carter has described as "a strong unwritten code of behavior" that "governed the nature and limits of" personal violence. In postwar Louisiana, Gilles Vandal has found, "leading members of both rural and urban communities regularly resorted to duels and deadly fights to settle quarrels." (3)

1 novembre
Southern Historical Association

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