James Shields & His Working Relationship with Lincoln Before & During Civil War

To set up the events that later transpired between Lincoln and Shields, without turning this post into a tome, I hope you will forgive my necessary jumps in time and assumptions of knowledge below. Bear with me.

James Shields- Where’d he come from?

James Shields was born in Dungannon, Ireland. His 1840 U.S. Citizenship application shows a May 17, 1810 birthday, his tombstone in Carrollton, Missouri shows a birthdate of 5-18-1810, but scholars who have examined Irish records believe he was actually born May 6, 1806.

By about age five, James’ father died, leaving his mother Catherine to care for three sons. Luckily for them, the Shields’ family owned land—an unusual thing for a Catholic family at that time. In fact, it appears that James Shields was born into a family of relative prosperity, though those fates might have later changed during the 1847 Irish Potato famine.

James first attended a “hedge school,” which was Irish Catholic defiance against English penal education laws that were prejudiced against them. The schools were often run by itinerant teachers who taught Gaelic and secretly added Irish history to regular academics. Later, James was enrolled in a Protestant grammar school in Carrickmore, Ireland, where he was taught Greek, Latin, Irish, English. At some point, he entered divinity school but left when he decided to migrate to the U.S. as a young man—arriving between the ages of 18-24. By all indications, the 5’9″ man was intelligent and book-loving.

It is unlikely that Shields came to America with any notable amount of money. He worked as a merchant sailor for a while, though he took a three-month break from the sea to teach the children of a Scottish laird when his ship ran aground nearby. He did return to the sea, but while entering New York Harbor one day, a sudden wind caused a flailing ruckus of swinging masts and other ship parts. In the fray, Shields was injured. For three months, he recuperated in a hospital run by nuns. It was then that he de decided to give up sailing and remain in America.

Shields, Law, Politics, Lincoln

Time passed and James Shields settled in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he opened a school for adults and children until he set his sights on a law career. He worked as a law clerk during two years of intense study, then passed the bar exam in 1832.

People of Irish descent faced a great deal of prejudice in the United States at the time, but Shields was a determined and driven man and deeply loyal to his chosen country. An eager soldier, he enlisted in the Army to fight in the Mexican War and the Black Hawk War, rising in rank to Brigadier General. It would not be his last military action.

By late 1830’s, Shields (a diehard Democrat) and Abraham Lincoln (a Whig leader) were both legislators and lawyers. When the Illinois capital was moved to Springfield, both men moved with it.

Lincoln, being a progressive kind of politician, lobbied with his party and won financial concessions to improve Illinois infrastructure. In other words, Illinois increased its debt at the suggestion of Lincoln and his friends. That’s important to consider when we’re tempted to demonize Shields and other government officials later. Such debt was justified by the needs of citizens, but it came with a more profound cost. There were a number of causes for the 1837 U.S. Financial Panic and ultimate Illinois crisis, including Andrew Jackson’s 1836 Specie Circular, the closing of the Second Bank of the United States, defaulted foreign loans, and mismanagement of state finances and debt. The money of the State Bank of Illinois was suddenly worth a fraction of its face value, and some banks closed.

Shields & Lincoln Work Together On an Issue in 1837

Shields didn’t entirely agree with his Democratic party about how to address the problem. He called for a bipartisan solution to bail out the banks, calling on Whig leader Abraham Lincoln to collaborate on a plan of action.

A quick aside: When the State Bank of Illinois was first chartered in ~1816, a legislative act stated that, in the event of bank failure, the state’s governor, auditor, and treasurer were “authorized and required” to refuse the bank’s money in payment of taxes. Remember that in a moment.

The Shields-Lincoln proposal made its way into law, and it essentially prevented more banks from being shut down. It worked. For a while

In 1841, Shields became Illinois’ state auditor of public accounts. In 1842, the financial crisis spiked. There was a run on the banks—people rushed to withdraw their savings, removing monies from circulation. When a third bank went bust, Shields took drastic action. As State Auditor, he did what he was “authorized and required” to do. He, the governor, and the treasurer issued a proclamation that required all Illinois citizens to pay their taxes in gold or silver (specie) rather than with State Bank of Illinois bank notes. The proclamation incited Lincoln’s politically driven Rebecca letter—which led to Shields challenging Lincoln to a duel. Read my picture book Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words to learn more.

How did Lincoln and Shields Work Together Toward a Common Cause During the Civil War?

Though they appeared to have maintained a courteous professional relationship after the “affair of honor,” I found no evidence that Lincoln and Shields were close friends, which isn’t surprising since Shields and Stephen Douglas, one of Lincoln’s biggest political rivals, were especially chummy. When Douglas ran against Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, Sheilds stumped for Douglas, which means he campaigned for him. But, when Lincoln won the presidency and South Carolina seceded from the Union—sparking ten more states to follow—Shields vowed to help Lincoln save the Union.

On April 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter was fired upon and the Civil War began, fifty-five-year-old Shields was ready to re-enlist in the army. He was soon called on as a commander with the rank of brigadier general. He was involved in several campaigns, including a skirmish with Confederate Stonewall Jackson. Even a bullet to the shoulder didn’t sway Shields from his military devotion and acumen. You can read a bit about some of his Civil War battles here. Lincoln suggested that Shields be promoted to Major General, a two-star rank, but other military officials disagreed.

Though Shields didn’t work directly with Lincoln during the Civil War, both men fought in different ways for the same common cause.

After the war, Shields went on to become governor of the Oregon Territory, and he remains the only U.S. senator to have represented three states: Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri.

For more information about James Shields, check out Courage and Country: James Shields; More than Irish Luck, by Sean Callan (1st Books, 2004).

Lincoln—Two Duels Sparked by the Lincoln-Shields Duel

Participating in duels in any role was a risky business in Lincoln’s day. Just as the tension between two opposing sides of a boxing match, a football game, a political debate today could lead to physical brawls, for the men acting as seconds to the dueling principals, the volatile and combative atmosphere could spell trouble. Which is what happened following the Lincoln-Shields duel.

Shields’ second, John D. Whiteside published his account of the Lincoln-Shields duel in the Sangamo Journal on October 7, 1842. Lincoln’s second, Dr. Elias Merryman took offense at what he considered to be falsehoods in Whiteside’s account, so he decided to publish his own account—which was much longer, more detailed, and included the notes exchanged on the field. It appears that Whiteside was so offended by Merryman’s attack on his integrity, he wrote to Merryman in a tone that stopped just short of a threat. Merryman—considered a combative type—decided to welcome it as a challenge. After all, unlike Whiteside, Merryman did not hold a state office, so his career was not in danger.

Merryman prepared to fight against Whiteside and he asked Abraham Lincoln to serve as his second. Yes, really! Lincoln traded roles in a new challenge. Ultimately, the duel was called off.

We now turn to James Shields. He was apparently annoyed and offended by William Butler, a friend of Lincoln’s who was especially outspoken and contemptuous during the Lincoln-Shields event.  Shields challenged Butler to a duel. Butler accepted with these terms, “to fight next morning at sunrise in Bob Allen’s meadow, one hundred yards’ distance, with rifles.” It appears Shields and his second, J.D. Whiteside, refused the terms because the location of the proposed field of honor was within the jurisdiction of Illinois and arrest would jeopardize both their careers. That duel, like the others, fizzled without event.

The moral of this story is stay away from duels!




Lincoln — What Sparked Lincoln’s Duel & His Unusual Fight Terms

From Abe Lincoln’s Yarns (A. McClure, 1901)
From Abraham Lincoln’s Political Career through 1860
From Abraham Lincoln’s Political Career (Morrill, A.G., 1917)

In the mid-nineteenth century, the state of Illinois was experiencing a financial crisis, and the two political parties—the Whigs and the Democrats—were in constant conflict about how to resolve the issues. In the mix was Lincoln, a Whig lawyer, and then-former legislator and Democratic state auditor James Shields.

In 1842, James Shields, along with the Illinois governor and treasurer, signed an unpopular proclamation that required citizens to pay their taxes and school debts with gold or silver instead of the devalued Illinois bank notes. As you can imagine, the action did not sit well with citizens in possession of little gold or silver. The Whigs saw an opportunity to use the proclamation as a weapon against the Democrats. (Read other posts for more information, beginning with this one)

Between August 19 and September 9, a series of letters addressed to the editor of the Whig paper, Sangamo Journal, from a fictitious farmer’s wife named Aunt Rebecca, pointed an accusatory and defaming finger at James Shields and the Democratic party. The letters were followed by a September 16th poem (related to the Rebecca letters), signed by fictitious Cathleen. The poem and likely two of the Rebecca letters were written by Mary Todd and her friend Julia Jayne. Mary was quite a satirical writer, and she was already very opinionated about politics. Lincoln only admitted to writing the second Rebecca letter, which landed a blow directly at Shields. The letter was a doozy! You can read a transcript of it, in all its colloquial color in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln here.

James Shields, then the Illinois state auditor, was MAD, of course!  He wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 17, 1842. It was delivered by way of Shields’ friend, John D. Whiteside. The letter is written in formal style with gentlemanly niceties. Until Shields gets to the point. He writes, “I have been the object of slander, vituperation and personal abuse…” He later explains that the editor of the newspaper gave up Lincoln’s name. “I will not take the trouble of enquiring into the reason of all this, but I will take the liberty of requiring full, positive and absolute retraction of all offensive allusions used by you in these communications, in relation to my private character and standing as a man, as an apology for the insults conveyed in them. This may prevent consequences…”  That last sentence is a thinly-veiled threat.

As was custom, Lincoln returned a reply that also began with a gentlemanly tone, but he soon landed his own accusatory blow. He writes, “you say you have been informed, through the medium of the editor of the Journal, that I am the author of certain articles in that paper which you deem personally abusive of you: and without stopping to enquire whether I really am the author…

I suspect Lincoln enjoyed wielding this technicality against his political foe. He later admitted only to writing one of the letters, not all of them. He could have simply apologized for the letter he wrote, but he didn’t. Maybe because he would have had to reveal Mary Todd and Julia Jayne’s involvement. Or maybe he was just being stubborn. Whatever the case, Lincoln’s response let Shields know that he didn’t appreciate the assumption. The back-and-forth notes escalated from there until Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln, likely with the counsel of friends, chose broadswords instead of pistols. And he spelled out very unusual terms for the field of honor.

Lincoln’s “second” was Dr. Elias H. Merryman, a military man with duel experience. In fact, many sources imply that Merryman was a fan of dueling and hoped that the Lincoln-Shields fight would proceed. Other Lincoln friends also rushed to Bloody Island, hoping for a peaceful resolution. They included William Butler and Albert T. Bledsoe. James Shields’ second was John D. Whiteside, and his additional friends were Dr. Thomas M. Hope, and Gen. W.D. Ewing.

In my book, Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, only two of Lincoln’s dueling terms appear on the page. Below are all four of the terms (with corrected spellings) from Lincoln’s handwritten instructions to Merryman, his second.

1st Weapons — Cavalry broadswords of the largest size precisely equal in all respects — and such as now used by the cavalry company at Jacksonville—

2nd Position — A plank ten feet long, & from nine to twelve inches broad to be firmly fixed on edge — on the ground, as the line between us which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life— Next a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank & parallel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank; and which lines the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest— The fight in no case to last more than fifteen minutes—

3- Time — On Thursday evening at five o’clock if you can get it so; but in no case to be at a greater distance of time than Friday evening at five o’clock

4th Place — Within three miles of Alton on the opposite side of the river, the particular spot to be agreed on by you—

Any preliminary details coming within the above rules, you are at liberty to make at your discretion; but you are in no case to swerve from the above rules, or to pass beyond their limits—


incomplete image of final terms

Above is Lincoln’s letter (incomplete). See the hand-written letter, along with a transcript, at the Library of Congress page here.


For more information about the Lincoln-Shields duel, see links from the book page for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words here. 

Lincoln – Book Launch Event Planned

The launch event for my picture book biography, Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by the remarkable illustrator S.D. Schindler, is on the calendar.

Believe it or not, tax day is a surprisingly fitting time to celebrate this book.

We’ll have treats, bubbly drinks for all ages, and possibly a fencing demonstration.

If you can’t join me in Austin, perhaps you’ll find me at a signing event near you.

For expanded information about the Lincoln-Shields duel, find links here. 



Lincoln—My working Timeline for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

For all books I work on, I compile a timeline during my research—one that ultimately shows the breadth of that research, though that’s not the reason for its creation. The timeline keeps me grounded in time and context and offers the quick reference I need while experimenting with different story approaches.

As you peruse my timeline for ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS, you might be surprised by some of what is noted. Believe me, I needed every little detail to understand the story–even those factoids that are not reflected in the book itself. We are who we are because of the people who came before us. The same is true of governments, societies, traditions, etc.  Writing about a historical subject requires the reverse-engineering of cause-and-effect events.

For expanded information about the Lincoln-Shields duel, see my categorized blog post links from the book page here. 

Please note that this timeline was created for my personal and professional use, and I have not prettied it up to impress. I offer it merely as a peek into my process.
1700’s – Democratic party is oldest in country. Originally sparked by Jefferson followers.

1809, February 12—Abraham Lincoln is born in Hodgenville, Kentucky

1809-1819—Kaskaskia becomes Illinois’ first capital

1810, May 5—James Shields is born in Dungannon County Tyrone County, Ireland

1818, Dec. 3—Illinois is admitted as 21st state to the union.

1818—Illinois State bank temporarily closes during a financial scare.

1819-1839—Illinois state capital moves to Vendalia for these years.

1822 James Shields (age 16?) sails to America

1829—Andrew Jackson takes office as 7th U.S. president
The Democratic-Republican party of Jackson dropped “Republican” from their name. Became the Democrats

1830—The political party headed by Jackson calls themselves the Democratic Party.

1831—The sandbar in the Mississippi between Illinois & MO is named Bloody Island because of the number of deadly duels that take place there.

1832—Jackson opponents, Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, call themselves National Republicans.

1832 – James Shields is admitted to the bar. Begins law practice.

1832 — National Republican political party changes their name, adopting the British Liberal party name—the Whigs. They favored reform.

1834—Group opposed to Jackson’s politics form new political party, the Whigs. (They remain Democrats’ primary opposition for 20 years)

1834—Lincoln is elected to Illinois State legislature

1835—Shields is elected representative in State Legislature.
(In 1836-37, he was representative from Randolph County, Kaskaskia)

1836—Andrew Jackson issues the Circular Executive Order, requiring purchasers to pay for government lands with specie (silver or gold) after August 15, 1836. The order is meant to curb land speculation by investors and to limit the amount of paper money in circulation. Non-investor settlers are allowed to use cash until Dec. 15, 1836 on lots up to 320 acres. The circular is partly responsible for the panic of 1837. It is repealed in May 1838.

1837—Financial Panic of 1837. Jackson’s previoius policy of moving national monies into select state banks ultimately results in corruption, failed banks, and loss of citizen monies and lands. The Illinois government teeters on the brink of collapse. TheWhigs and Democrats fight over what to do. Lincoln & Shields work together to negotiate a compromise that saves the banks.

1837—Army engineer Robert E. Lee is sent to Bloody Island to solve the problem of the narrowing shipping channel.

1837—Martin Van Buren—elected President as a Democrat

1838 —Also note: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln mentions earliest ‘Lost Townships” letters in the Journal on Feb. 10, May 5, May 26, and Sept. 15, 1838. The first of these ‘Lost Townships’ letters has parallel style to the first and third Rebecca letters, published four years later. This appears to be further evidence that the journal editor, Simeon Francis, was involved in the Rebecca letters.

1839—Illinois state capital moves to Springfield.

1839—Sheilds is elected State Auditor.

1841—Shields becomes Illinois State Auditor of Public Accounts.

1841—Lincoln and Shields work together on the Shields-Lincoln proposal which makes its way through the legislature and into law. Permits the bank to continue to suspend specie payment without being forced to shutter its doors. (Callan, Sean)

1842, February—State Bank of Illinois fails (per Roy P. Basler—“Authorship of Rebecca…”)

1842, early summer— (per William Butler quote in MARY TODD ONCE AGAIN, pg. 200), at a party at the Edwards’ home, Shields “squeezes Miss [Julia Jayne’s] hand”, presumably meaning that he is too forward with his intentions. Julia takes her revenge by co-writing the last Rebecca letter with Mary Todd’s.

1842, summer—Both Illinois State Bank and Shawneetown Bank finally collapse with a circulation of $4,500,000.

1842—State bank of Illinois defaults. Camaraderie between Lincoln & Shields ends. Shields aligns with the state governor and treasurer to adopt a policy to refuse the devalued state bank notes.

August 1842—Lincoln & Mary Todd might have re-ignited their courtship in secret. They were regularly welcomed together in the home of Simeon Francis, the Sangamo Journal editor.

August 15, 1842—(published Aug. 22) Governor Thomas Carlin, Auditor James Shields and Treasurer Milton Carpenter sign a proclamation. The state office will no longer accept payment of taxes in any notes issued by Illinois’ state bank for college, school, or seminary debts. (Burlingame)

August 10, 1842—First Rebecca letter (not counting others published in the 1830s) published August 19th (see Basler, Roy P. “The Authorship of the ‘Rebecca’ Letters.” Abraham Lincoln Quarterly. Vol. 2, No. 2. June, 1942.)
The letter mostly complains about the sad predicament in which Illinois citizens find themselves following the failure of the State Bank in February, 1842. It condemns the Democrats for the proclamation. Shields is not mentioned in this letter. Basler is convinced the editor wrote this letter (similar style and tone as 1838 letters).

August 20, 1842 (dated), Shields publishes a second proclamation or clarification of procl., related to the original, under his sole signature—it ruffled feathers. (published August 26th?)

September 2, 1842 (dated August 27, 1842)Second Rebecca letter (written by Lincoln) The letter makes Shields, the state auditor, the butt of the joke and condemns Democrats for the banking crisis, but also implies Shields’ vanity and veers into suggestive allusions about girls chasing him. Excerpt: “Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all. Too well I know how much you suffer; but do, do remember, it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.” The letter is full of colloquialisms and dialect. References the hand-squeezing and pinning of Julia Jayne. Begins: “Dear Mr. Printer, I see you printed…”

Sometime before Sept. 8 (per reference in the 9/9 Rebecca letter about a clerk that “Wash,” said to have embezzled funds)—Shields sends his friend John D. Whiteside to the editor to demand the name of the writer of the Rebecca letter(s). The editor refuses to answer for at least 24 hours to allow him time to seek Lincoln’s advice. Lincoln tells editor to give his name only.

Date? Shields, knowing that it would take time to settle the issue about the Rebecca letters, leaves for Quincy, IL to first take care of state business – 110 miles from Springfield, IL.

Sept. 9, 1842—Shields is out of town (per Wilson, pg. 274).

Sept. 9, 1842 (dated August 29, 1842) —Third and shortest Rebecca letter appears in the Sangamo Journal. It is with a companion letter (below), purportedly from Rebecca’s sister. Once again, James Shields is ridiculed. And the letter acknowledges that Shields has sent Whiteside to the editor to find the writer of the Sept. 2nd Rebecca letter, which offers a hint about a possible challenge to fight (this later points to the authorship). Excerpt: “I know he’s a fighting man and would rather fight than eat…”  And “Now I want to tell Mr. S—that, rather than fight, I’ll make any apology; and if he wants personal satisfaction, let him only come here, and he may squeeze my hand as hard as I squeezed the butter…”
     “Wouldn’t he—may be sorter let the old grudge drap if I was to consent to be – be-his wife? I know he’s a fightin’ man, and would rather fight than eat; but isn’t marryin’ better than fightin’, though it does sometimes run in to it?”
  It is likely that Shields would not have had time to ask the editor about who wrote these two companion letters. Shields likely assumed they, too, were written by Lincoln.

Sept. 9, 1842 (dated Sept. 8, 1842) Fourth Rebecca letter. —Silly spoof that has “Becca” (now widowed) offers her hand in marriage to Shields. Likely written by Mary Todd and Julia Jayne. (Wilson is sure Julia is involved in this one.)

Sept. 15, 1842— Lincoln leaves for Tremont, IL, expecting to be on the court circuit for several weeks.—50miles away

Sept. 16, 1842 (date published)—Cathleen Poem appears in Journal. Said to have been delivered to editor by Julia Jayne’s brother George (Wilson, 272). Likely the work of Mary Todd and Julia Jayne. Excerpt: “Ye jews-harps awake! The Auditor’s won-

   Rebecca, the widow, has gained Erin’s son,

   The pride of the north from the emerald isle

   Has been woo’d and won by a woman’s sweet smile.”

Sept. 16—Shields returns home to Springfield from court business, learns Lincoln is at Tremont. Shields and his friend John D. Whiteside ride toward Tremont to confront Lincoln personally. (Wilson, 274)

Same day: Lincoln’s friend, Dr. Elias H. Merryman hears that Shields and Whiteside left in pursuit of Lincoln in Tremont. Merryman and mutual friend William Butler race all night to warn Lincoln first. They pass Shields and Whiteside in the night and arrive Saturday morning, Sept. 17. Lincoln tells Butler & Merryman that he doesn’t want to fight Shields but will if pushed.

Sept. 17 afternoon—Shields and Whiteside arrive in Tremont, IL in the afternoon.

Sept. 17—Shields sends Lincoln a note—via Whiteside—that begins, “I regret that my absence on public business compelled me to postpone…” And “In two or three of the last numbers of the Sangamo Journal, articles of the most personal nature and calculated to degrade me, have made their appearance. I was informed by the editor of that paper that you are the author of those articles….I will not take the trouble of enquiring into the reason…, but I will take the liberty of requiring a full, positive, and absolute retraction of all offensive allusions…in relation to my private character and standing as a man, as an apology for the insults conveyed in them. This may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself.”  Your ob’t serv’t, Jas. Shields
(Presumably delivered by Whiteside, based on Merryman’s later letter to the editor that includes, “About sunset General Whiteside called again, and receives from Mr. Lincoln the following answer to Mr. Shields note…”)

Sept 17—Lincoln replies via note delivered by Whiteside to Shields that begins, “Your note of today was handed me by Gen. Whiteside. In that note you say you have been informed, through the medium of the editor of the Journal, that I am the author of certain articles in that paper which you deem personally abusive of you; and without stopping to enquire whether I really am the author, or to point out what is offensive in them, you demand an unqualified retraction of all that is offensive; and then proceed to hint at consequences.
Now, sir, there is in this so much assumption of facts, and so much of menace as to consequences, that I cannot submit to answer that note any further than I have, and to add, that the consequences to which I suppose you allude, would be matter of as great regret to me as it possibly could be to you. Respectfully, A. Lincoln

 Sept. 17—Shields replies to Lincoln via note delivered by Whiteside (possibly two days later).  Excerpt: ” you intimate that I assume facts and menace consequences and that you cannot submit to answer it further…I will be a little more particular. The editor…gave me to understand that you are the author of an article which appeared I think in that paper of 2d Sept. inst, headed the Lost Townships, and signed Rebecca or Becca. I would therefore take the liberty of asking, whether you are the author of said article or any other over the same signature, which as appeared in any of the late numbers of that page. If so, I repeat my request of an absolute retraction…” (per Whiteside letter)

Sept. 17—Lincoln returns Shields’ letter with verbal statement that there will be no negotiations until Shields’ accusatory note is withdrawn. (per Whiteside letter. Merryman claimed this was by note)

Sept. 17—Whiteside hands Lincoln a note from Shields, designating Whiteside as his friend [aka second aka duel manager].  NOTE: Whiteside’s letter to the editor states that the notes about seconds/friends were exchanged on Sept. 19th.

Sept. 17—(either by note or verbal instruction through Whiteside) Lincoln designates Merryman as his second.

Merryman and Whiteside return to Springfield together in a buggy and agree to try to “settle the matter amicably” w/o a fight. Merryman makes clear that “the only conditions on which it could be so settled; viz, the withdrawal of Mr. Shields’ first note”.  Merryman later said that Whiteside made him promise not to tell Shields about this plan to avoid a fight for fear that “He would challenge me next, and as soon cut my throat as not.”

Monday, Sept. 19, 1842—Merryman and Whiteside ride in a buggy together on the way back to Springfield, and they vow to work toward a peaceful resolution. Lincoln rides separately. The three men arrive in Springfield late at night. Word of the impending fight spreads throughout town. An arrest is probable. Merryman & Lincoln agree that Lincoln needs to leave town—bound for Alton, the dueling ground— early the next morning to avoid arrest.
Shields is delayed because his horse becomes lame during his return to Springfield.

Sept. 19, 1842—Lincoln writes a two-part letter to be handed to Whiteside by Merryman. IF Shields withdraws his accusation, part one of the letter—an explanation and apology—is to be delivered to Shields. Part One begins: “In case Whiteside shall signify a wish to adjust this affair without further difficulty, let him know, that if the present papers be withdrawn, and a note from Mr. Shields asking to know if I am the author of the articles of which he complains, and asking that I shall make him gentlemanly satisfaction, if I am the author, and this without menace or dictation as to what that satisfaction shall be, a pledge is made that the following answer shallb e given: I did write the “Lost Township” letter which appeared in the Journal of the 2d inst….”
IF Shields refuses to withdraw his accusation, Part Two of the letter spell out the four terms of the duel.
1st–Weapons— “Cavalry broadswords fo the largest size.” (commonly referred to as “wristbreakers” because they were 44″ long total, with a 35.5″ blade, and they weighed ~6 lbs.)
2nd–Position— “A plank ten feet long, & from nine to twelve inches broad to be firmly fied on edge, on the ground, as the line between us which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life. Next a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank & parallel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank; and the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest.”
           3rd–Time- Thursday at 5:00 pm
          4th–PlaceWithin three miles of Alton on the opposite of the river. 

Sept. 20, 1842 morning—Merryman and Whiteside met about Lincoln’s instructions. Whiteside says there is no point trying to settle the affair, adding that he would as soon think of asking Shields to “butt his brains out against a brick wall as to withdraw that paper.”

            Lincoln doesn’t wait for Whiteside or Shields to approve his terms.

Sept. 20, 1842 afternoon—Whiteside claims that affidavits are being sworn for their arrest. He and Shields leave Springfield immediately.

Merryman refuses to delay the time to wait for Shields  (maybe referring to date & time of duel?)

Merryman presses Whiteside for acceptance of Lincoln’s terms. All are concerned about oaths of political office and threat of arrest.

Sept. 20 Tuesday—11:00pm Merryman and two friends meet Lincoln in Jacksonville to secure swords.

Sept. 20 late night—Shields finally arrives in Springfield with lame horse (per Whiteside’s later letter to the editor)

Sept. 20 11:00 pm – Whiteside and Shields leave Springfield and travel all night toward Alton.

Wed. Sept. 21—Whiteside and Shields arrive in Hillsborough and meet General Ewing. Later, they meet with Dr. Hope. The three become Shields’ “friends”. (Whiteside states that the proposition requires 3 friends for each Lincoln and Shields)

Sept. 21 Wednesday—Merryman’s later letter to the editor states that “we” procured broadswords and left for Alton.

Sept. 22 Thursday—11am Merryman and Lincoln (and likely other friends) arrive in Alton, IL. Shields and party are already in town.

Lincoln, Merryman and friends (William Butler and Albert T. Bledsoe) cross Mississippi River to Bloody Island. (according to McPike, quoting a witness, this was 10:30 am)

Shields and party (Whiteside, Dr. Thomas Hope, Ewing) follow.

Sept. 22— John H. Hardin (relative of Mary Todd) & Dr. English paddle a canoe in a rush to reach the island in time. (A.L. A History. Volume One)

Sept. 22 On Bloody Island—Gen. Hardin and Dr. English hand a letter to Merryman and Whiteside: “As the mutual personal friends of Messrs. Shields and Lincoln, but without authority from either, we earnestly desire to see a reconciliation of the misunderstanding which exists between them. Such difficulties should always be arranged amicably, if it is possible to do so with honor to both parties.
            Believing ourselves, that such an arrangement can possibly be effected, we respectfully, but earnestly, submit the following proposition for your consideration.
            Let the whole difficulty be submitted to four or more gentlemen, to be selected by yourselves, who shall consider the affair, and report thereupon for your consideration.   —John J. Hardin, R.W. English”

Whiteside agrees.

Merryman consults Lincoln who says Shields must withdraw his accusation.

Note exchanged from Shields’ side to Lincoln’s side: Missouri, Sept. 22, 1842—Gentlemen- All papers in relation to the matter in controversy between Mr. Shields and Mr. Lincoln having been withdrawn by the friends of the parties concerned, the friends of Mr. Shields ask the friends of Mr. Lincoln to explain all offensive matters in the articles which appeared in ‘The Sangamon Journal’ of the 2d, 9th, and 16th of September, under the signature of ‘Rebecca,’ and headed ‘Lost Townships.’
            It is due to Gen. Hardin and Mr. English to state that their interference was of the most courteous and gentlemanly character. –John D. Whiteside, Wm. Lee D. Ewing, T.M. Hope
(note that Whiteside’s letter to the editor later stated that this was all done without the knowledge or consent of Mr. Shields, and he refused to accede to it, until Dr. Hope, General Ewing, and myself declared the apology sufficient, and that we could not sustain him in going further.”)

Note exchanged from Lincoln’s side to Shields’ side: Missouri, Sept. 22, 1842   Gentleman- All papers in relation to the matter in controversy between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Shields having been withdrawn by the friends of the parties concerned, we, the undersigned, friends of Mr. Lincoln, in accordance with your request that explanation of Mr. Lincoln’s publication in relation to Mr. Shields in ‘The Sangamon Journal’ of the 2d, 9th, 16th of September be made, take pleasure in saying, that, although Mr. Lincoln was the writer of the article signed ‘Rebecca’ in the ‘Journal’ of the 2d, and that only, yet he had no intention of injuring the personal or private character or standing of Mr. Shields as a gentleman or a man, and that Mr. Lincoln did not think, nor does he now think, that said article could produce such an effect; and, had Mr. Lincoln anticipated such an effect, he would have forborne to write it.
We will further state, that said article was written solely for political effect, and not to gratify any personal pique against Mr. Shields, for he had none, and knew of no cause for any. It is due to Gen. Hardin and Mr. English to say that their interference was of the most courteous and gentlemanly character. –E.H. Merryman, A.T. Bledsoe, Wm. Butler.

1842, Oct. 3—Shields challenges Butler to a duel. It never happens.

1842, Oct. 5—Lincoln writes to his friend Joshua Speed about his duel with Shields and the other two that were sparked.

1842, Oct. 7 (published)—Whiteside letter to the editor of Sangamo Journal, written Oct. 3, 1842.

1842, Oct. 14 (published)—Merryman letter to editor of Sangamo Journal, written Oct. 8, 1842.

1843—Whigs reject Lincoln’s bid for Congressional nomination, presumably, in part, because of the duel

Bonus:  See a concise timeline of political parties here.