Irish in the American Civil War

History is filled with ‘what if’ moments, those occasions where a slightly different result or outcome may have radically altered history as we know it. One such moment occurred on 22nd September 1842, when Co. Tyrone native James Shields prepared to face a fellow Illinois politician in a duel. Shields’ opponent had selected swords as the weapon of choice, confident that his longer reach would be an advantage in the contest to come. He was indeed a man with a distinct height advantage over other men, and his long reach would be felt down through the pages of history; Shields’ opponent was none other than future United States President Abraham Lincoln.


The sequence of events that led to the duel began with decisions that Shields, a democrat, took as Illinois State Auditor. A financial crisis termed the ‘Panic of 1837’ had swept across the country, with banks responding by accepting…

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