If you had a chance to visit the Martin Mitchell Mansion during Civil War Days or at any time during the year, you will be impressed by the stunning, massive hand-carved staircase that leads to the second floor. The craftsmanship of the home, which was built in 1883, is spectacular and reflects the painstaking care of the carpenters and contractors who worked on it, including Levi Shafer, a respected builder in Naperville at the time.
When President Abraham Lincoln issued the call for troops in 1861, Shafer was one of the 328 Naperville men, who enlisted in the military. According to the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2” by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, Shafer enlisted in Company E of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry and served in the Army of the Potomac through all of its campaigns.
The Naperville carpenter made an indelible mark on Civil War history when, on July 1, 1863, he was in the field as sergeant of the picket post, located on the Chambersburg Pike. When it became known to him that the Confederates were in the immediate vicinity, he carried the news to his commander Capt. Marcellus Jones and returned with him to the spot. Capt. Jones then fired the first shot of the battle with a gun that he took from the hands of Sgt. Shafer. The spot from which this shot was fired is now marked by a monument commemorating the initial event in one of the world's most famous engagements. Shafer received an honorable discharge from active service on Oct. 9, 1864, and returned to his home in Naperville.
Shafer became an active member of the G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic, which was composed of Union Civil War veterans. In 1886, Shafer, Jones, who lived in nearby Wheaton, and Alex Riddler, who was stationed with Shafer at Gettysburg, had a five-foot-tall limestone shaft hewn in a Naperville quarry and brought it the 600 miles to Gettysburg, installing it on land purchased from the owner of a house. The house and the monument are still standing today.
Although Naperville’s population was only 2,200 at the time the Civil War started, one Naperville soldier made a big impact on national history when his commanding officer borrowed his gun to fire the first shot of a major battle that turned the tide of the war in the Union’s favor.
During my visit to Gettysburg a few years ago, I made it a point to see the First Shot at Gettysburg monument on the Chambersburg Pike. I scurried across a busy road and trespassed on private property to get a photograph of this important footnote to history that has a Naperville connection.
- Donna DeFalco, Naper Settlement