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The Turn of the Tide of Rebellion

Following Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, Gen. Alexander Hays famously dragged Confederate battle flags in front of his troops. Aide-de-camp Lt. David Shields, left, commissioned this painting c. 1910. After his death in 1944, his sister gave away the painting, and it has not been seen since. This image is from Betty G. Y. Shields, daughter-in-law of David's brother, Thomas Shields. Another brother, William, was killed in the Battle of the Chancellorsville.

Below is a picture of David Shields, known as Captain Dave, from the Sewickley Valley Bicentennial Collection. The picture is described by B. G. Shields as follows:

The scene is Gettysburg, the third day immediately after Pickett's Charge. The tide of rebellions has been repelled and twelve regiments of Hays' Division have captured 2,600 prisoners and 21 stands of colors. "General Hays took a Rebel flag captured by a captain of the 126th N. Y. Volunteers and two of his staff, Corts and Shields, each with a captured flag, rode down in front of his command, and in the rear, trailing the Rebel colors in the dust, and amid the deafening shouts and cheers of the men who for a moment forgot the terrible battle scene and thought of the glory of their victory."

This is a newspaper description of the Flag Incident at Gettysburg immediately after Pickett's Charge in which the 19-year-old David Shields took part. It was an episode that would remain forever afterwards in the memory of a youth whose going to war was strongly opposed by his parents. Their opposition was not political or conscientious, but Dave was only 17, with an older brother already in the conflict.

Following his beloved general friend, Capt. Dave reminisced on the flag incident many years later. In the book Life and Letters of General Alexander Hays: "These men (the Rebels), enemies at that, could but admire so intrepid a commander as General Hays, though at the time feeling most keenly the insult of their colors. At the time of this most exhilarating ride the bullets of the sullen and defiant enemy came sputtering about us and overhead. These were the only moments in the action I never felt fear. My horse seemed to be off the ground traveling through the air. I felt though a shot as large as a barrel should hit me in the back it would be with no more effect than shooting into a fog bank."

Shields followed his General on and on after Gettysburg and eventually was wounded, quite severely, at Morton's Ford, Virginia, in early February, 1864. The General's wife personally nursed Dave at the field hospital. As soon as health would permit, he returned home to spend the rest of his life in the Valley. At 20, he had seen more battles than he had years.

His military bearing and his expert horsemanship were remarkable and he became a familiar figure upon his steeds, always a Morgan horse, all named Chief, as he rode the roads and fields of the Valley. As the years passed by, one shoulder sagged a little, the hair whitened, but his blue eyes remained keen. He devoted much of his time to the affairs of the G. A. R. correspondence with the U. S. government in an attempt to set the record straight on the important part his old General had played in the Battle of Gettysburg.

David Shields

Frank and outspoken Dave, who remained a bachelor, was a popular figure in Sewickley, dependable but not always predictable. Meaning to honor him on his 80th birthday, the local Legion post invited him to say a few words on the occasion. The Captain explained in no uncertain terms that they had little right to call themselves soldiers. "What could you know of war when you fought the enemy from trenches 20 miles away. Where was your hand-to-hand combat?" Instead of resentment, the remarks evoked a round of applause. The vets showed their regard for the old soldier by accompanying his body to Gettysburg National Cemetery, where he was buried at the age of 93. Nearby, a marker with Theodore O'Hara's well-know words serve as the epitaph of all the Boys in Blue:

On Fame's eternal camping-ground Their silent tents are spread, And Glory guards, with solemn round, The bivouac of the Dead.

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