Off the Beaten Track – Gettysburg’s “First Shot” House

The house owned by Ephraim Wisler in 1863 was a witness to a unique moment in American history – the starting moments of the Battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of our nation’s history forever.

The Wisler House today, viewed from the east

The house still stands today at 1495 West Chambersburg Pike, a few miles west of the town of Gettysburg. Isolated from the main part of Gettysburg National Military Park, the 3.79 acre residential property was purchased by the National Park Service in January 2002 from private owners.

Built in 1857, the two-story brick house has a gable roof, and modern additions to the rear. The house lies close to what was then the Chambersburg turnpike. To the rear, on the north side, was the unfinished railroad grade.

It is described in the 2004 Gettysburg National Military Park National Register of Historic Places listing this way: “The building’s location on the crest of a ridge overlooking the Chambersburg Pike and Marsh Creek (west of Gettysburg) made it an excellent point of observation for Union pickets in the early morning hours of July 1, 1863. It was from the yard of the house that some of the opening shots of the battle were fired against advancing artillery and infantry of Heth’s Confederate Division. In 1886, Lieutenant (Marcellus) Jones and two other members of the 8th Illinois Cavalry came back to Gettysburg and placed the first shot marker in the front yard of the old Wisler house.”

Ca. 1900 view of the Wisler house from the collections of the Adams County Historical Society

Wisler, a 31-year-old blacksmith and gunsmith, was at home that fateful July morning, and – by some accounts – was nearly killed when he went out onto the roadway to view the approaching Confederate troops and an artillery shell hit the road at his feet.

Wisler’s battle damage claims filed in 1868 stated that a cow and “lot of poultry” had been lost during the battle. The claim also notes the loss of two acres of corn in the ground, a garden and potato patch, as well as many of his gunsmithing and blacksmithing tools. These losses occurred on July 1 – 4 when Confederate infantry and artillery, with some of their wagon trains, encamped along the Chambersburg turnpike here in rear of the battle lines.

The park is in the final stages of completing a Historic Structures Report for the property, which will help guide our efforts to restore the structure to its appearance at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, and identify possible future uses. At this stage in the planning process, possible “treatment alternatives” are exterior restoration and interior stabilization, or exterior restoration and partial interior restoration for park interpretive and educational programs (on a limited basis).

Once the report is finalized it will be made available in the park library, which is open to the public by appointment only.

The First Shot monument in the yard just west of the Wisler house

To visit the Ephraim Wisler house and the “First Shot” marker, please make a note that there is limited parking (for one car at a time) with a rural driveway on a heavily travelled road, so be careful! The unpaved, grassy driveway is just east of the house, and fronts Route 30 (the Chambersburg Pike). The interior of the home is not open to the public.

Special thanks to Gettysburg National Military Park’s senior historian, Kathy Georg Harrison, for her help in preparing this blog.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant

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6 Responses to Off the Beaten Track – Gettysburg’s “First Shot” House

  1. Bob M says:

    Katie,

    I recall reading that Ephraim Wisler suffered a severe concussion when Pegram fired one of his pieces from near the Marsh Creek bridge on the Chambersburg Turnpike and he never recovered, dying some months after the battle.

    Am I correct?

    Regards,
    Bob M

    • The Staff says:

      Bob,

      There is a post-war story that Wisler emerged from his house during the skirmishing between the 8th Illinois picket post and Heth’s advance, suffered a near miss by a Confederate shell or shot, that showered him with dirt and shook his nervous system so severely that he was carried to bed and never recovered. I have my doubts that this is true as, according to damage claims, the entire family was ordered to leave the home by the Confederates on July 1 and there is no mention in the claims that Wisler was left in the house when the family departed. The family returned that evening and found the house and stable in the possession of the Confederates and wounded in their house. Wisler was a gunsmith and blacksmith and the Confederate occupation cost him his tools of the trade. He died in August, 1863, aged 31. His age and date of death make me wonder whether or not Wisler succumbed to a disease transmitted by one of the soldiers on his property rather than shock. If we uncover any more about this we’ll post it here.

      Scott Hartwig

  2. Patty Brooking says:

    My relative was the last private owner. He was a cousin but I knew as Uncle Jimmy. I stopped by to look at the house back in October and was really shocked to see what terrible shape the inside of the building was in. I hope you will save the house. It was always a special place to come visit when I was growing up.

    • The Staff says:

      Patty: Yes, you’ll be happy to know that we will save the house, now known as the Ephraim Wisler house. The National Park Service did a historic structures report on the house, which is a very thorough study that will guide our future rehabiliatation of it. In the process, some interior finishes have to be removed to expose original features, like covered-over fireplaces, stuctural timbers, etc. That’s part of the reason it looks the way it does inside. Once we get project funding to rehabilitate the house it will look much better and, nore importantly, it will be preserved for all future generations. – Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant

      • Patty Brooking says:

        Thank you for the reply. It is good to know that the house will be preserved for future generations. Uncle Jimmy loved that house very much and I know it will make him very happy.

  3. kyshirl says:

    Thanks for the pics& history

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