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 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.”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.
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