General James Shields
James Shields was born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland, December 12, 1810. He was well educated and was fluent in four languages. Shields had numerous adventures as a sailor; he decided to settle in America after his legs were broken in a rigging accident in New York City. He emigrated to the United States in 1826, studied law and was admitted to the bar at Kaskaskia, Ill., when he was but twenty-one years old. He subsequently turned his attention to politics. Shields took part in the Black Hawk War and in 1836 was elected to the state legislature and in 1839 was made state auditor. While serving in the Illinois House, Shields met Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln was a Whig and Shields was a Democrat; the two clashed rhetorically and once even scheduled a duel. Initially in conflict with Abraham Lincoln, the two men eventually became good friends. In 1843 he was appointed judge of the Supreme Court and in 1845 was appointed commissioner of the U.S. land office.
James Shields served during the Mexican war, being severely wounded both at Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec, and for meritorious and gallant services on the former occasion was commissioned brigadier-general by President Polk, 1 July 1846, and brevet major-general He served under Gen. Taylor on the Rio Grande and under Gen. Wood at Chihuahua. After resigning from the army he was appointed governor of Oregon in 1848 which office he soon resigned to represent Illinois in the United States Senate as a democrat. After the expiration of his term he removed to Minnesota and was United States senator from that state from 1858 to 1860, when he removed to California.
Shields was in Mexico at the outbreak of the Civil war, engaged in superintending a mine, but at once went to Washington and offered his services for the cause of the Union. He was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers on August 19, 1861 assigned to the command of Gen. Lander's brigade after the latter's death, and was placed at the head of a division of Gen. N P Banks' Army of the Shenandoah, March 29, 1862. He took a leading part in the battles of Winchester, though severely wounded the preceding day in a preliminary engagement, and Port Republic, where he was decisively beaten by General Jackson and resigned his commission, 28 March, 1863.
Gen. Shields then settled in Wisconsin, whence he removed to Carrollton, Mo., where he practiced law and served as a railroad commissioner. In 1874 he was elected to the Missouri legislature and in 1879 was appointed to the U.S. senate to serve out the unexpired term of Senator Bogg, thus becoming the only senator to have represented three states. He died at Otturnwa, Ia., June 1,1879. A monument was erected to him in St. Mary's Cemetery at Carrollton, which was unveiled by Archbishop Glennon on 12 November, 1910.
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Summer 2008