A Civil War battle was briefly paused so that soldiers could watch a fistfight.

  • Civil War cavalry duel
Civil War cavalry duel
Credit: North Wind Picture Archives/ Alamy Stock Photo

In one of the more peculiar moments of the Civil War, an entire battle came to a screeching halt so that everybody — Union and Confederate soldiers alike — could watch a fistfight. A Confederate soldier named John H. Worsham recounted the incident, which took place on May 5, 1864, on Saunders Field in Virginia during the Battle of the Wilderness, in his 1912 memoir One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry. Worsham wrote that a small ditch ran down the center of the battlefield that was first used by Union soldiers to shelter them from enemy fire. When the soldiers vacated the ditch, one of them stayed behind. Soon after, a single Confederate soldier jumped into the ditch to find shelter — and it wasn’t long before the two soldiers noticed each other. 

After the men exchanged some words, they decided to have what Worshom called a “regular fist and skull fight,” in which the winner would take the loser prisoner. The soldiers took their duel to a road midway through the battle lines, and both sides stopped fighting and rushed closer to get a better view. Ultimately, at least according to Worsham, the Union soldier lost and let himself be taken prisoner — but bear in mind that the tale comes from a book of Confederate, not Union, war stories.

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