Copse of Trees
Little Round Top
East Calvary Field
Big Round Top
The Peach Orchard
The "Bloody" Wheatfield
The National Tower
Eternal Light Peace Memorial
National Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery
Battle in the Town
Homes on the Battlefield
Off the Beaten Path
Official 61st Pa Site
Ghost's of Gettysburg
Other Battles of The Civil War
July 1st, 1863 was a momentous day for the Illinois volunteer regiments raised during the Civil War. Fully 32 of these regiments, more than those of any other state, were with Ulysses S. Grant as he tightened the noose around the strategic river town of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Colonel Benjamin Grierson of Jacksonville, Illinois, and his Illinois cavalry brigade had just completed the most famous Union cavalry raid of the Civil War. Griersonís force sliced through the heart of Mississippi during April and May, with Confederate forces hard on its heels. His diversionary raid opened the back door to Vicksburg for Grantís hard marching infantry. As a result, the beleaguered Confederate garrison surrendered three days later, on the Nationís birthday.
One thousand miles to the east, 1st Lt. Marcellus E. Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry was leading a small reconnaissance patrol just west of the small crossroads town of Gettysburg, nestled in the rolling hills of south central Pennsylvania. The 8th Illinois Cavalry had been organized at St. Charles, Illinois two years prior. These were citizen soldiers of the truest sense; farm hands, shop keepers, and adventurous spirits from all across north central Illinois who had answered the call to arms. By 1863, they were seasoned veterans, fresh from their victory over the dashing Confederate cavalry officer, J.E.B. Stuart, at Brandy Station, Virginia.
On June 26th, a Confederate force commanded by General Jubal Early passed through Gettysburg in search of food, shoes, and other supplies before moving on to Wrightville, 20 miles further east. The Confederate foray raised the ire of the local inhabitants, but no Union regulars were anywhere near the town. However, by June 30th, Brigadier General John Bufordís Union cavalry descended on Gettysburg in force. Bufordís horsemen beat a Confederate infantry brigade into Gettysburg by minutes. The Confederates, looking only for supplies and not a fight, withdrew quickly. Bufordís keen eye analyzed the terrain, then he settled his troopers into position and threw out a cavalry screen, to include First Lieutenant Jones and a small party of vedettes (mounted sentinels). Fully expecting a fight, Jones posted his patrol adjacent to the Chambersburg Pike approximately three miles west of Gettysburg, with orders to watch for any enemy movement. With the Union army in position, the stage was now set for a battle.
First light on July 1st found Lt. Jones straining to see through a light morning drizzle, while fog clung stubbornly in the low ground to his front. Suddenly, one of Jonesí troopers spotted movement on the Chambersburg Pike. Confederate foragers appeared first, then mounted soldiers emerged out of the early morning mist. Behind them, a Confederate infantry column was marching toward a nearby stone bridge.
These foragers, mounted soldiers and infantry were the lead elements of Confederate Major General Henry Hethís 2nd Division, part of A. P. Hillís III Corps. They were merely the first element of the entire Army of Northern Virginia, more than 70,000 strong, that would descend on Gettysburg over the next two days. As much by chance as by design, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had chosen Gettysburg for his armyís next test of arms.
When the Confederates were within 700 feet, Jones borrowed his sergeantís carbine, took aim at the horsemen, and pulled the trigger. No Confederate blood was drawn, but the shot caused the column to stop and deploy skirmishers. Their duty performed, Lt. Jones and his small patrol withdrew, eventually to fall in with the main body of the 8th Cavalry, part of a thin line formed by Bufordís cavalry. Their mission now was to fight dismounted and block the Confederateís entry into Gettysburg.
Prior to July 1st, 1863, Gettysburg had been just a small farm community like thousands of others in the United States. Three days later, the battle was over, the bloodiest of the American Civil War. The first shot of the battle was fired by one of Illinoisí own, Lt. Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry.
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