Fight to the death with pistols at Pensacola, Florida!

by Dale Cox

The white sand of Santa Rosa Island was stained red with blood on August 12, 1837. Two men faced each other on the bay beach across from Pensacola per the terms of the code duello.

The “affair of honor” involved Lt. Munn of the U.S. Navy, an officer then on duty at the Pensacola Navy Yard (today’s Naval Air Station – Pensacola), and Richard F. Hannon, an attorney from Mobile, Alabama. The nature of their disagreement is not known, but it was intense enough to escalate into a demand for a duel.

A duel as drawn by E.W. Kemble in 1887.
Library of Congress

Hannon, according to newspapers, demanded the duel. It cost him his life:

It is a mournful task to record the untimely death of young men, cut down in the vigor and springtime of life, and we never undertook its discharge with more pain than in the instance of Richard F. Hannon, Esq., of this city, who fell in a duel on Santa Rosa Island, opposite Pensacola, on Saturday evening, at 6 o’clock, from the shot of Lieut. Munn, of the U.S. Navy. We understand both parties behaved very well on the occasion, and that the survivor was painfully affected at the melancholy issue of the meeting. Lieut. Munn was the challenged party. – Efforts were made to produce a reconciliation, but time and other circumstances prevented their mutual friends effecting their laudable purpose. Mr. Hannon was interred in this city, amid the deep regrets of his numerous circle of friends and acquaintances. He was a native of Petersburg, Va., had studied law, and located in this city. [I]

Each of the men fired one shot after pacing off the agreed distance. Munn’s bullet passed through Hannon’s body, killing him. Hannon’s shot missed. [II]

The site of the Pensacola Navy Yard is visible across Pensacola Bay in this photo taken from Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. The 1837 duel took place nearby.

Duelling was illegal in Florida just five year’s before the Santa Rosa Island affair, but the Florida Territorial repealed its law prohibiting duels on February 8, 1832. A significant number of duels took place in the territory over the next decade, including the one at Pensacola between Munn and Hannon.

Duels were formal affairs with set rules. Each of the men had the option to fire up to three shots and one party often waited 2 minutes or more after the first shot before taking his turn. Andrew Jackson, who engaged in several duels, recommended clenching your teeth before an opponent fired.

The Lt. Munn involved in the duel appears to have been Lt. Samuel E. Munn, who served aboard USS Paulding in 1839. The vessel was assigned to cruise off the coast of Florida during the Second Seminole War. Munn died in Baltimore on November 23, 1854, after a long career in the U.S. Navy.

Richard F. Hannon is buried at Church Street Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama.

The exact site of the duel is unknown, but it was somewhere on the shore of Santa Rosa Island opposite Pensacola, likely between Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens. 

[I] Mobile Chronicle, August 15, 1837.

[II] Mobile Times, August 14, 1837.