Illinois' Civil War Heroes Local Men of 8th Illinois Cavalry, Formed at Camp Kane, Made History

By Pelland, Maryan | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Illinois' Civil War Heroes Local Men of 8th Illinois Cavalry, Formed at Camp Kane, Made History


Pelland, Maryan, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Maryan Pelland Daily Herald Correspondent

*****

CORRECTION/date 07-08-2003: To correct a story in the Neighbor section, there were about 50,000 casualities at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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It was the fighting men of Illinois, historians say, who first encountered the Confederate enemy, thereby setting off the famous and pivotal Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. That skirmish occurred 140 years ago Tuesday, on July 1, 1863.

That Union Army unit was the 8th Illinois Cavalry, formed at Camp Kane, St. Charles, in September 1861. Though considered a Kane County unit, like all Civil War regiments, it was made up of men from towns all over the state. However men from DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Cook counties predominated.

And, according to historic accounts, it was Marcellus Jones of Wheaton on duty on a road three miles west of the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg who, early the morning of July 1, 1863, peered into the dawn and saw what is described as a shadowy gray line of soldiers coming up the road.

Wendy Miller, collections and education director at the Wheaton History Center, says Jones' own journal has him headed to see Sgt. Levi Shafer of Aurora when he noticed the cloud of dust on the mountainside. Realizing they were rebel soldiers, Jones says he snatched a carbine from his friend, took aim at an officer on a white horse and fired.

Thus the largest, bloodiest engagement of the war was begun ... and ended 72 hours later with two-thirds of the Confederates dead and nearly every house, barn and public building filled with wounded people, Civil War historian and author Jim Weeks said.

According to information from the National Park Service visitor's center, the battle that took place at Gettysburg was unplanned and was a tragedy for Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate army, which never really recovered. But the war dragged on for another two years.

From that first accidental encounter between the Confederates and the 8th Illinois Cavalry, fighting rapidly escalated. Displays at Gettysburg National Park say Lee's army moved in from the west and north - Meade and his men swooped in from the south. A three- day battle slaughtered nearly 50,000 men.

Conditions under which soldiers lived and fought during the Civil War are also historic - historically deplorable. …

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