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First Name: James

Last Name: Shields

Birthplace: Altmore, IRL

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 10 May 1810

Date of Death: 01 June 1879

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
James Shields

•  Mexican-American Wars (1846 - 1848)
•  American Civil War (1861 - 1865)


James Shields
Brigadier General, U.S. Army

James Shields was born on 10 May 1810 in Altmore, Ireland. A descendant of the Ó Siadhail clan, Shields was the nephew of another James Shields, also born in Ireland, who was a Congressman from Ohio. The younger Shields immigrated to the U.S. around 1826 and settled in Kaskaskia, Randolph County, IL, where he studied and later practiced law.

Shields served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, beginning to serve in 1836, and then as an Illinois Supreme Court Justice and in 1839 as the State Auditor. (He was elected when not yet a citizen; Illinois then required only that a legislator have been a resident in the state for six months.)

Shields nearly fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln on 22 September 1842. Lincoln had published an inflammatory letter in a Springfield, IL, newspaper, the Sagamon Journal that poked fun at Shields, the State Auditor. Lincoln's future wife and her close friend continued writing letters about Shields without his knowledge. Taking offense to the articles, Shields demanded "satisfaction" and the incident escalated to the two parties meeting on a Missouri Island called Sunflower Island, near Alton, IL, to participate in a duel. Lincoln took responsibility for the articles and accepted the duel. Just prior to engaging in combat, Lincoln made it a point to demonstrate his advantage by easily cutting a branch just above Shields' head, the two participants' seconds intervened and were able to convince the two men to cease hostilities, on the grounds that Lincoln had not written the letters.

In 1846, Shields was selected as a Brigadier General of volunteers to fight in the Mexican-American War. He served under Zachary Taylor along the Rio Grande River. He commanded the 3rd Brigade, Volunteer Division, at the battles of Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo, where he was wounded. He returned to fight at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, his Brigade now part of the 4th Division. He was again wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec.

Following the war, on 14 August 1848, he was nominated by President Polk and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as governor of Oregon Territory that was created that same day. However, he declined the position and Joseph Lane was nominated and became the first governor of the new territory. He resigned to run for the Senate from Illinois. His election was voided by the Senate on the grounds that he had not been a U.S. citizen for the nine years required by the U.S. Constitution; having been naturalized 21 October 1840. He returned to Illinois and campaigned for re-election, and won the special election to replace himself, and was then seated.

In 1855, he was defeated for re-election, so he moved to Minnesota. He was elected as one of the two first Senators from that state, but his term was only from 1858-59, and he was again not re-elected.

He was the editor of the 1854 book, A History of Illinois, from its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847.

Civil War and Later Career

Shields then moved to California and served as a Brigadier General of volunteers from that state during the American Civil War. He commanded the 2nd Division of the V Corps, Army of the Potomac (subsequently part of the Army of the Shenandoah), during the Valley Campaign of 1862. He was wounded at the Battle of Kernstown on 22 March 1862, but his troops inflicted the only tactical defeat of General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the campaign (or the war). The day after Kernstown, he was promoted to Major General, but the promotion was withdrawn, reconsidered, and then finally rejected. His overall performance in the rest of the Valley Campaign was poor enough that he resigned his commission, and his departure was not resisted by the War Department.

In 1863, he moved to Mexico and operated mines, and then to Wisconsin; but in 1866 moved to Missouri, where he served as member of the Missouri State House of Representatives, and as railroad commissioner. In 1879, he was elected to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Senator Lewis V. Bogy. He served only three months and declined to run for re-election.

Shields, a Democrat, is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a U.S. Senator for three different states: Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri.

He represents Illinois in the National Statuary Hall.

Death and Burial

James Shields died on 1 June 1879 in Ottumwa, IA. He is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Carrollton, MO.

Honoree ID: 3076   Created by: MHOH




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