James Shields, reportedly the only man to represent three different states in the U. S. Senate, was born May 10, 1810, in County Tyrone, Ireland. He reached America in 1826, and. settled first in Kaskaskia, Illinois. Shields had received an excellent classical education and spoke English and three other languages fluently. He soon was immersed in Democratic politics and the practice of law; he became a member of the Illinois legislature in 1836, served as state auditor thereafter, became a justice of the state supreme court, and was commissioner of the land office in Washington in 1845. In the course of his political career, he almost fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln. During the Mexican War he was a brigadier general of Illinois volunteers, was brevetted major general, and received the commendation of Winfield Scott. He was elected to the Senate from Illinois 1849-55, but failed of reelection. Shields now settled on a Minnesota land grant and was elected Senator upon the admission of the state to the Union in 1858, but was not reelected the following year. After a short residence on the West Coast, Shields was commissioned a brigadier general of U. S. Volunteers on August 19, 1861, by his old antagonist (and later close friend) Lincoln. Despite efforts on the part of Irish and other foreign societies and journals to magnify Shields's military reputation, his career in the Civil War could hardly be considered successful. Opposed to Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, where he was expected to act in concert with John C. Fremont, Shields was defeated along with Fremont. Although a division commander at this time, Shields fades from the Official Records after the retreat across the Potomac and it is difficult to determine what duties he discharged until his resignation from the service was accepted on March 28, 1863. He went back to San Francisco for a time, but by 1866 was living in Carrollton, Missouri, where he reentered the political arena. Losing an election to the U. S. House of Representatives by a very small margin in 1872, he was chosen to fill an unexpired term in the Senate in 1879. Poor health compelled him to forsake reelection. Shields had been a formidable speaker for a variety of causes for nearly fifty years, and it was while on a lecture tour that he died in Ottumwa, Iowa, on June 1, 1879. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Carrollton, Missouri.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.