Listening to the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays game a few weeks ago, I kept hearing the name James Shields. Not all that
odd, since Shields is a righter hander for the Rays. Odd though, is that there is
a connection between James Shields and Abraham Lincoln.
Of course, the connection involves
a different James Shields. This one served as state auditor of Illinois
from 1841–1843 and was a bit touchy. He took exception to a letter published in
the Sangamo Journal, the local Springfield, Illinois,
newspaper. The editor informed Shields that the letter poking fun at the
auditor and signed “Rebecca” was written by Abraham Lincoln. Now Lincoln
was a smart man and would not wittingly write a letter to raise the ire of
anyone, lest his authorship became known. But this particular letter was
written by Mary Todd (not yet Mrs. Lincoln) and her friend Julia Jayne. Mary
had a good laugh writing the letter but unfortunately had none of Lincoln’s
pragmatism. Lincoln was quick to
defend Mary’s honor by accepting authorship at once, although he did hint at
the truth when later writing to Shields, “and without stopping to inquire
whether I really am the author….”
was required to write an answer to Shields because Shields challenged Lincoln
to a duel. Lincoln accepted the
challenge as it was the honorable thing to do, but took steps to ensure that
all would be well in the end. Lincoln
interestingly chose as weapons “cavalry broadswords of the largest size.” The duel
was to take place on September 22, 1842, on Sunflower Island, Missouri, three
miles across the river from Alton, Ill. (Dueling was illegal in Illinois.) The
dueling party had to travel a good 100 miles from Springfield
to Alton, quite the excursion in 1842.
All was in place by on the appointed day, as Lincoln
warmed up his broadsword a little by hacking at tree branches well above
Shields’ head. Lincoln’s seemingly
ingenuous behavior was enough for Shields to realize quickly that Lincoln’s
superior height and strength reduced Shields’ chance of victory to nil. The
seconds agreed to call off the duel.
Rowing back to Alton,
Lincoln draped a red shirt over a
log in the bottom of the boat to create the illusion of a bloody corpse. It was
said that women fainted at the sight, but Lincoln,
Shields, and the seconds burst into laughter. Lincoln
was known for his strategy and humor, balanced well on that September day.
Shields would go on to serve as
brigadier general in the Mexican and Civil Wars as well as U.S.
senator from Illinois, Minnesota,
and Missouri. He is the only
person to have served as senator from three states.