The Zollicoffer-Marling Duel (1852)

by Allen Forkum and E. Thomas Wood.

In August 1852, a war of words between John L. Marling (1825–1856), editor of the Nashville Union, and Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer (1812–1862), editor of the Republican Banner, culminated in bullets and bloodshed. Marling’s paper supported New Englander Franklin Pierce (1804–1869) in the upcoming presidential election, judging (correctly) that he would side with Southern slaveholders despite his northern origins. Zollicoffer, meanwhile, bashed Pierce at every turn.

President Franklin Pierce, 1852 (Portrait by Southworth & Hawes, National Portrait Gallery)

On August 20, 1852, things got personal. Marling accused the Banner of behaving dishonorably toward Pierce: “It has tried to identify him with the abolitionism of New Hampshire, with which he had no sympathy and against which he constantly struggled,” Marling wrote. “It has even cast slurs upon his personal courage. Now, we say this is belying General Pierce. We use the word in all its length and breadth.” Zollicoffer found the editorial “personally insulting,” and he sent word that he would publicly “denounce” Marling.

That morning, the two journalists met, standing across Cherry Street (today’s 4th Avenue North) in front of the Union office. Upon being denounced, Marling fired his pistol. Zollicoffer returned fire, and the bullet struck Marling’s cheekbone, lodging behind his ear. Marling got off another shot, grazing Zollicoffer’s hand. Both editors survived the “unfortunate affray,” as the Union characterized it, while defiantly reprinting the offending article the next day. Marling went on to serve as U.S. Minister to Guatemala under the Pierce administration. Zollicoffer would die in battle as a Confederate general. Both are buried in Nashville City Cemetery.

Brigadier General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer, 1812-1862
(courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives, ID #31585, created by Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries)


Nashville Union, August 20, 1852, “The Banner…”

Republican Banner, August 24, 1852, “On Friday morning last…”

“Felix Kirk Zollicoffer,” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Version 2.0,

“John L. Marling,” U.S. State Department website,  

Zollicoffer, Felix K., birth and death dates,