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NEWS | July 12, 2023

Ceremony Marks 160th Anniversary of Illinois Militiaman Firing First Shot at Gettysburg

It was the shot which ignited the Battle of Gettysburg, a key turning point for Union forces during the Civil War.

On July 1, the Illinois National Guard, the City of Wheaton, and the DuPage County Historical Museum, commemorated the actions of 1st Lt. Marcellus Jones and the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, 160 years after Jones borrowed a carbine from Cpl. Levi Shafer, of Naperville, Illinois, aimed it with the assistance of a fence rail and fired a shot at a Confederate officer, igniting the three-day battle in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“History lives in Wheaton and today is a perfect example of that,” said Nancy Flannery, City of Wheaton Historic Commission. “We are proud to promote awareness of our city’s heritage through events such as this.”

Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, operations officer for the Illinois National Guard Joint Staff talked about the shared history of the Illinois National Guard and the City of Wheaton and DuPage County.

“Today we are here to commemorate an important event in our shared history with the communities of Wheaton and DuPage County,” said Garrison during the awards ceremony. “Both your community and our organization share the history of the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and the actions of Lieutenant Marcellus Jones, who was part of that unit.”

Marcellus Jones came to DuPage County in 1858 as a widower with a young son. He enlisted in Company E, 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry as a private, but rose to captain by the end of the Civil War. After the war, Jones returned to DuPage County, settling in Wheaton, where he built a home at what is now the corner of Naperville and Indiana Streets. After a succession of owners, the house served as the Wheaton School District administrative offices from 1947 to 1977. The law firm of Peregrine, Stime, & Newman saved the home from planned demolition, moved it to Reber and Illinois Streets and rehabilitated it for offices. It was established as a Wheaton Historic site in 1985.

The home is now owned by David and Jennifer Penfield and the couple opened it up for a tour on July 1.

After the war, Jones served as township tax collector, DuPage County Sheriff, a city councilman and postmaster in Wheaton.

“He knew about community service, and knew about military service to his nation,” Garrison said. “He lived it.”

As the Illinois National Guard commemorates its 300th anniversary throughout 2023, Garrison said the organization is still developing leaders among the sons and daughters of Illinois.

“Our Soldiers and Airmen learn to be part of something larger than themselves,” said Garrison. “They learn to be part of a team. They learn about selfless service, commitment, discipline, and integrity.”

In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln spoke of the living being “dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

“It was an Illinois National Guard Soldier, Lt. Marcellus Jones, who fired the first shot at Gettysburg and another who wrote its famous epitaph,” Garrison said. “While Lincoln, who served in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War, spoke of that epic battle and the Civil War, in many ways the work of the Illinois National Guard will forever be unfinished.”

Garrison said the Illinois National Guard history tells stories of commitment, courage, dedication, hard work, and overcoming adversity.

“Our Soldiers and Airmen are weaving the thread of our history each day,” he said. “Future Soldiers and Airmen, Illinoisans who believe in democracy and the values and rights espoused in our Constitution, will continue our history for perpetuity.”

Don McArthur-Self, a reenactor with the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, presented a brief history of the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.

“The 8th Illinois was a state unit raised after the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861,” he said. “Unlike other units, Soldiers serving in the 8th Illinois enlisted for three years. They were the only Illinois Civil War unit to serve their entire enlistment in the eastern United States area of operation.”

The 8th Illinois was mustered into service on Sept. 17, 1861, in St. Charles, Illinois, and in November, the unit was shipped to Washington, D.C.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the 8th Illinois was called out to purse John Wilkes Booth and missed capturing him by several hours.

“We are thankful to be a close partner with the Illinois State Military Museum and their loan of both the 36th Illinois Infantry national colors and the 8th Illinois Cavalry guidon,” said Michelle Podkowa, the manager of the DuPage County Historical Museum. “We appreciate to be able to host these two flags for the past decade. Through this loan, we are able to bring the flags home to where most of the people who served in the 8th Illinois Cavalry lived.”

Jones died on Oct. 9, 1900, in Wheaton. He is buried in the Wheaton Cemetery.