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Gettysburg Campaign [First Shots] Historical Marker
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Name:
Gettysburg Campaign [First Shots]

Region:
Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region

County:
Adams

Marker Location:
US Route 30 at western approach to Gettysburg

Dedication Date:
December 12, 1947

Behind the Marker

Photograph of General John Buford in uniform.
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General John Buford
On June 30, 1863, two brigades of Yankee horsemen led by their division commander, Brigadier General John Buford, trotted into Gettysburg, just in time to prevent a Confederate foraging detachment from occupying the town.

Born in Kentucky, Buford was arguably the best division commander of the three that comprised the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. His troopers were responsible for covering the left flank of the advancing Union army. Buford led his 3,000 veterans into Gettysburg, and sent a detachment out the Chambersburg Pike to shadow the enemy as they withdrew.
The charge took place across open farmland, mostly wheat fields and pasture. In the lower right corner, shells have hit wisps of dry wheat and are catching fire.  The time of day was around four in the afternoon when the section rushed out to the north. Sunlight breaks through the heavy smoke to the right or west of the picture. The two artillery pieces on the far right of the picture are where the battery was posted and where the battery's monument stands today. In the background is the 'Old Dorm' of then, Pennsylvania College. Today, it is Gettysburg College, and the building still stands, basically unchanged after 126 years.
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Dilger at Gettysburg, by Mort Künstler.


Assuming that the Rebels would return on July 1, Buford deployed his two brigades in an arc to cover the roads leading to Gettysburg from the west. On June 29th, his men had skirmished with one of General Henry Heth's detachments at Fairfield, Pennsylvania, so Buford knew there were Rebels to the west, but he did not know how many, or when they would head in his direction.

He also sent scouting parties into the countryside north and east of town, searching for enemy troop movements. One of these discovered markerGeneral Early's Division marching toward Heidlersburg. This made it clear to Buford that there would be tough work on the first of July.
Photograph of Henry Heth in uniform.
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Henry Heth

In answer to Colonel Thomas Devin's bragging that his troopers would repel any and all Rebel attacks on his position, Buford reportedly said, "No, you won't. They will attack you in the morning and they will come booming-skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil to hold your own until supports arrive."

And indeed the Rebels came on July 1. Shortly after six o'clock that morning, two privates serving with the 8th Illinois Cavalry noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon, westward on the Chambersburg Pike. The two were stationed at an advance outpost on the east bank of Marsh Creek, four miles from Gettysburg.
First shot marker on the Chambersburg Pike, west of Gettysburg, Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
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First shot marker on the Chambersburg Pike

By seven o'clock, the men could plainly see advancing infantrymen coming their way, with "the old Rebel Flag" in front. They alerted the picket reserve and in turn Lieutenant Marcellus E. Jones quickly came to the front to investigate.

Jones saw the dust cloud coming closer, tore a page from his memorandum book, hastily penned a note to his regimental commander, and then ordered his men to dismount and send their horses to the rear with the horse holders. (When cavalrymen dismounted to fight on foot, one man in four was given the responsibility of moving to the rear with his own horse and three others, and keeping them safe until they were needed again).

Then, even though the enemy was yet a half-mile away, Lieutenant Jones asked to borrow Sergeant Levi Shafer's Sharps carbine. Jones rested the weapon on the top of a nearby fence and squeezed off a shot at a mounted officer riding near the head of the advancing enemy soldiers. The time? Perhaps 7:30 a.m. The first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg had been fired.
War veteran John Burns seated outside in a rocking chair with his musket propped near the door to a building.
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War veteran John Burns

Or had it? Jones usually receives the credit of firing the first shot. But others have also staked claims to the honor. Years later, troopers of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry claimed that they had opened fire on enemy scouts from Richard Ewell's corps of Lee's army, long before Jones opened fire. Troopers in the 9th New York Cavalry said they were fired on by enemy soldiers near Hunterstown. Corporal Alphonse Hodges of the 9th New York also laid claim to the title when he said his picket post on Willoughby Run fired on advancing Confederates on the Chambersburg Pike.

Regardless of what happened, Jones and his comrades honored their claim by erecting a small stone monument that you can see standing behind this state highway marker. Cut in a quarry near Napierville, Illinois, the "First Shot" monument stands five feet high and tapers from an 18-inch base to 9 inches at the top. Unveiled in 1886, it is inscribed as follows: "First shot at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, 7:30 A.M. Fired by Captain M. E. Jones with Sergeant Shafer's carbine, Co. E, Eighth Regiment Illinois Cavalry. Erected by Captain Jones, Lieutenant Riddler, and Sergeant Shafer. Erected 1886."

The men purchased the small plot of ground from the owner of a house that still stands behind the monument. Seldom visited by most visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield park, this weathered monument commemorates the opening of the war's bloodiest battle. Three days later, more than 51,000 men in blue and gray lay dead, dying, wounded, or captured.
 
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