Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gettysburg's First Shot Marker

First Shot Marker, Gettysburg
Front side
As with all of the previous times I had traveled west on Route 30 from Gettysburg, I missed the marker. Even as I zipped past it, the GPS began screaming for me to find a place to turn around and head back east.

"Did you see a monument?" I asked Zech who confirmed that he too had missed the marker.

I quickly found a place to turn around I slowly drove back towards the location where the GPS claimed the monument was located. Thankfully there were no vehicles behind us as I approached the location.

“There it is,” Zech observed as I slowed down. The monument I was seeking was located at the junction of Chambersburg Pike (Route 30) and Knoxlyn Road. After making a quick assessment of the area I decided to turn around once again and return to the location, I hesitantly pulled off on the northern edge of the road parking slightly on the grass of the house next to the monument. Putting the four way flashers on, I grabbed my camera and got out.

"You coming?" I asked Zech whose look told me I was on my own so I walked westward along the very busy Route 30. The monument is located roughly three miles west of Gettysburg on top of a small hill on the north side of Route 30. It stands only a couple yards away from a nearby house and in all of my trips through the area I assumed that the marker was part of the homestead. Unsure if the house next to the monument had somebody living in it or not (and already feeling bad that I was temporarily parked in their yard), I remained along the edge of the road until I arrived at the marker. Making my way up the hillside on a well-worn path, I found myself standing at the marker known as "The First Shot Monument."

First Ahot Marker, Gettysburg
Eastern side
A note about the land that the Marker is on: In researching the monument and its history, I came across a number of articles that revealed that I did not have to worry about crossing the yard because it was now a part of the Gettysburg National Battlefield.

I made my way around the granite marker reading the words chiseled into it. On the front side of the monument (the southern side and the side facing Route 30) is written: First shot Gettysburg July 1st 1863 7:30 am. Making my way around the monument, I took in the writing on the other sides of it. The eastern side states: Fired by Cap. Jones with Sergt. Shafer's carbine. Co. E 8th Ills. The northern face reads: Erected 1886. And the west side of the monument reads: By Capt. Jones, Lieut Riddler, Sergt. Shafer.

While many people have claimed to have fired the first shot that started the Battle of Gettysburg,  one of the strongest claims is held by Lieutenant Marcellus E. Jones (he would later be promoted to the rank of Captain as it is marked on the stone). Jones was a member of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry and had been assigned picket duty along the Chambersburg Pike.

The soldiers of the Eighth Indiana, along with those from the Twelfth Indiana and the Third Indiana, were sent out to watch for any signs of the Confederate army. The unit took command of a small hill west of Gettysburg that gave them a view of the Chambersburg Pike. This advantage point happened to be in the yard of local blacksmith and gunsmith Ephraim Wisler. Please see note below for more information about Ephraim Wisler.

First Shot Marker
Northern side
Around 7:30 on the morning of the July 1, 1863, dust was spotted coming from the direction of Cashtown. Those on picket duty watched as the cloud of dust grew and soon the Confederate troops came in sight. This division of the Confederate Army was under the command of Major General Henry Heth. The pickets waited and watched as the Confederate troops started crossing Marsh Creek, about a half mile west of the Union troops. It was then that Lieutenant Jones decided to take action.

Borrowing a carbine from Sergeant Levi Shaffer, Jones rested the rifle on the rail fence and took aim at a mounted officer and squeezed the trigger. It is not recorded if he hit his target or not, but it would seem he indeed missed. But the shot was enough to draw the attention of the advancing Confederate forces. The Confederate artillery under the direction of Major William R.J. Pegram returned fire. The first round of cannon fire destroyed the trees above the Union soldiers.

The Union forces would retreat and the Confederates would take control of the farm.

Returning back to the monument where I stood, it was placed in 1883 by Jones, Shaffer and Alec Riddler (an associate of theirs) in 1883. They brought the shaft of Illinois granite to the Wisler farm (owned by James Mickler at this point) and purchased a small plot of land to erect the monument. Over half of the shaft is buried in the ground providing stability to the monument. At the time of the placement, the Chambersburg Pike was level with the marker - due to time and resurfacing the road over the years, the Chambersburg Pike had been lowered, placing the monument on top of a hill along the road.

In the years of exploring Gettysburg, I had never realized that the monument or the fact that the first shots happened miles away from the main battle. I guess that I am as guilty as countless other people who tour the battlefield thinking that all of the action occurred at the main battlefield.

After paying my respects to the brave men of the 8th Illinois who served and to Marcellus Jones whose shot touched off the battle that would rage over the next couple of days, I returned to the vehicle ready to explore more corners of the battlefield.

Please be careful when visiting the monument, there is very little parking and traffic on Route 30 can be heavy at times.

First Shot Marker
Western side
About Ephraim Wheeler: In researching the history of the First Shot Marker, I found an interesting story about Mr. Wisler and a mystery that surrounds his death.

According to some early sources, after the firing began, Mr. Wisler stepped out of his house to see what was going on. As he emerged from the building, a Confederate shot hit the ground immediately in front of him, covering him with dirt. This was enough to send him back into his house. Wisler was said to have taken to bed, never to rise again and died less than a month later - the shock of the near death experience with the cannon ball supposedly paralyzed him.
I’m not sure if he died of shock like these sources state because he did file a claim after the battle for loss and destruction of property.

If he didn’t die of shock, then what killed him? If the story of the cannonball exploding in front of him is true, then it may be possible that Ephraim died of wounds from the skirmish. When the cannonball exploded in front of him, it may have fragmented and injured Wisler, causing the paralysis and his eventual death. If this is the case, then Jennie Wade was not the only civilian who died during the Battle of Gettysburg.

There is another possibility about the cause of Ephraim’s death. His house was used by the Confederate Army during the battle as a hospital. Mr. Wisler most likely contracted a disease of some sort from the soldiers treated there and, left unchecked, caused his death a little over a month after the battle.

What is known to be fact is Ephraim Wisler died August 11, 1863 and was buried in the Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Cemetery along Knoxlyn Road.