Published By Berkley/Penguin

War of Two:
Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation

by John Sedgwick


"[Sedgwick] can take on
any subject he chooses."
—The New York Times

War of Two

Memoir  |  Novels  |  Literary Nonfiction  |  Collaborations  |  Journalism

From his new co-biography, WAR OF TWO:

The sun was just dawning when the men reached the bluff at Weehawken, and the seconds set about to clear away some brush that had gathered on the dueling ground.  They were the ones to pace off the distance and to throw the lot to determine whose second would shout “present,” the signal to fire.  That fell to Hamilton’s man.  With no other preliminaries, the two men took their positions across from each other.  In the rosy light, at that distance, each could get a good look at the other, to check for a tightening of the eyes or a flickering of the cheek that might betray the obvious tension of the moment. By the code, calmness in the face of annihilation was essential, even as they stood across from each other, in a classic fencer’s pose, right foot forward, body sideways, right shoulder up high over the chin.  The better, that way, to narrow the profile and protect the vitals from a one-ounce ball of lead that would strike like a tiny cannon ball when fired at this distance.  Both men wore heavy topcoats to obscure the contours of their bodies.  Standing so close, with an index finger curled around the trigger of his pistol, each could scrutinize the other’s face—one by now nearly as familiar as his own—for gratifying hints of distress.   

It had to have been a singularly terrifying moment, but neither man is said to have betrayed any emotion as he stared the other one down.  Finally, Hamilton’s second cried out, “Present!” 

Each leveled his pistol at the other, and two blasts sounded, with puffs of smoke, in close succession.