150 years ago, the veteran soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, at home on furlough in Schuylkill County, were preparing to return once more to the front, with their thirty-day furlough set to expire on March 3, 1864. As the soldiers prepared to bid farewell to their families and their friends, they were shocked to learn that one of their own had been murdered.
James Shields, a laborer from Silver Creek, was just nineteen-years-old when he was mustered into service as a private in Captain William Winlack's Company E, 48th Pennsylvania, in December 1861. He had served with the regiment since then, surviving the Battles of 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Campbell's Station, and Knoxville. Yet, on the night of February 26, 1864, young Private Shields was stabbed through the heart and killed while at the home of his sister-in-law in Silver Creek.
I am sorry to say that I do not have much more on this rather bizarre, tragic incident, except what was printed in Joseph Gould's regimental history The Story of the Forty-Eighth and taken, verbatim it seems, from the March 5, 1864, edition of the Miners' Journal. There is some speculation that the murder of Shields and of another man named John Stinson were somehow related to the Molly Maguires but, as of yet, I have found nothing to verify this.
From Gould/Miners' Journal:
"On Saturday night last a tragic affair at the house of Mrs. Hannah Shields in Silver Creek, this County, involving the death of a soldier of the 48th Regiment and also a resident, named John Stinson. The murders were committed about ten o'clock last night and information received here at about eleven o'clock, Constable Chrisman obtained a warrant for the arrest of the men charged with the crime.
"With a squad of the 1st N.Y. Artillery he went up and arrested four men, named Patrick Godley, Hugh or Peter Curren, Charles Ryan and Peter Hagans. The accused were brought to Pottsville, and had a hearing before Justice Rees at three o'clock Sunday afternoon. The men murdered were James Shields, a member of Captain Winlack's company, 48th P.V., and John Stinson. The principal witnesses examined at the hearing were Mrs. Shields, a sister-in-law of James, and David McAllister, of Co. E, of the same regiment. Shields was stabbed in the heart, and received several gashes in his abdomen.
"At the trial of the murderers, Curran got five years, and the rest were allowed their liberty."
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find anything else in the records regarding a motive but will keep on digging. . . .