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Augusta's last duel over a woman's honor

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Believe it not, Augusta's gentlemen used to challenge each other, meet at the local dueling grounds out by Sand Bar Ferry and settle their differences. State law prohibited dueling, but it didn't stop until Dec. 16, 1875.

It was an overcast day that found Charles D. Tilly (sometimes spelled Tilley), an Irishman who had come to Augusta from New York, standing several paces from George E. Ratcliffe.

Both men had Navy Colt pistols. Both men fired. One went down, fatally wounded.

Why?

Family interviews, local legend and even newspaper accounts (The Chronicle covered the duel as it would a sporting event) laid it out this way.

Mary Clark DeLaigle was a 34-year-old widow and Tilly was her friend. George Ratcliffe began to tell people he was more than that.

Tilly defended the widow's honor. He demanded Ratcliffe reveal who told him about her love life. When Ratcliffe refused, Tilly challenged him to a duel.

They did this in a series of formal letters, which The Chronicle published. As the one being challenged, Ratcliffe got to choose the weapons and selected pistols.

Both men chose their seconds, J.W. Harris for Tilly; W.H. Chew for Ratcliffe. They met at the dueling grounds at 3 p.m.

Both seemed remarkably calm, The Chronicle reported. Tilly rolled and smoked a cigarette.

There was even a coin toss to decide particulars. Tilly won and got to choose the words to be said to start the duel. He said Harris would shout, "Fire, one, two, three, stop."

Both men would be allowed to get off as many shots as possible during that brief time.

Ratcliffe then got to choose his position. He decided to face east.

The words were called. The guns fired. The smoke cleared. Both men were still standing. Then Tilly slumped with a bullet in his right side.

He requested a second go-round, but everyone else said no; the duel was over. Honor was preserved, and they had better get Tilly to the doctor.

The doctor reached him enroute and said the wound looked serious. Tilly was taken to the DeLaigle rooming house on Greene Street where he died the next day. On his death bed, he told the doctor he'd do it all again for the widow DeLaigle.

Augusta's dueling tradition apparently died with him. The newspapers praised Tilly as a gentleman and mourned his loss.

"His untimely death in the flush of vigorous manhood is deeply deplored in the community," the newspaper said.

The DeLaigles repaid his sacrifice by burying him in the family plot in Magnolia Cemetery.

Ratcliffe won the duel, but appears to have lost any community support or sympathy. Six months later, The Chronicle reported him in a bankruptcy action.

His name then vanishes from the archives.


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