Here’s a profile of Alpheus Hodges, claimant to having fired the “first shot” of the Battle of Gettysburg early on the morning of July 1, 1863. He went to his grave insisting on his place in history, and among locals at home was hailed as a hero. My thanks to Kathy Sloan for providing the photo and much of the biographical information.
Corporal Alpheus Hodges, Company F of the 9th New York Cavalry, was one who laid claim to having fired the first shot in the Battle of Gettysburg. In his hometown community of East Rochester, NY later in his life, he was hailed as the soldier who fired the shot that opened the battle.
Hodges was born May 4, 1843 in Cambridge, Crawford County, PA to James Marshall and Lucinda Marie (Nichols) Hodges. His mother died when he was 11 months old and Alpheus spent his first 10 years with his grandparents in Waterford, afterward moving back with his father, who had remarried in 1845 to Keziah Nichols Hubbard. Hubbard was a widow and Lucinda’s sister. The family lived on a farm near Ashville in Chautauqua County, NY.
At the age of 18, he enlisted in the 9th New York Cavalry, Company F, at the regiment’s formation on September 20, 1861 at Ashville. He was appointed corporal in his company on September 26, 1862.
In charge of an advanced picket post the morning of July 1, 1863 along with three other troopers of his company, Hodges claimed to have been fired upon by advancing Confederates. According to the regiment’s history, “At daylight on the morning of July 1, men were seen approaching on the road beyond Willoughby Run, and nearly a mile away. Acting on his orders, Hodges sent his men to notify the line and the reserve while he advanced across the stream stopping to water his horse, then rode to the higher ground beyond far enough to see that the men approaching were Confederates. He then turned back and as he did so they fired at him. Hodges retired to the bridge where, from behind its stone abutments he fired several shots at the advancing enemy. This occurred at about 5:20 A.M., and this exchange of shots is believed to be the first shots fired at the battle of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, 1863. When Hodges rode back from the bridge to the line of videttes on the higher ground east of Willoughby Run he found Col. Sackett [in command of the regiment] had formed a skirmish line of his whole picket force. A detachment of the 8th Ill. [cavalry] afterward rode out the Chambersburg road and had a skirmish about half a mile beyond Willoughby Run losing one man killed.”
There are some questions about Hodges’ and the 9th New York’s claims, however. No picket post of the 9th New York was posted on the Chambersburg Pike – that was the post of the 8th Illinois that morning. Even the 9th New York’s monument at Gettysburg is inscribed with the words “Discovering the Enemy” and “Picket on Chambersburg Road fired on at 5 am.” In addition, Confederate General Henry Heth’s division didn’t begin their march from their camp at Cashtown, some 5 miles from that point, until 5 am. However, shots did appear to be exchanged north of town, where the 9th New York did have pickets posted, and it may have been with Confederate stragglers or advance elements of Confederate General Ewell’s corps. Mounted Confederates had been spotted and skirmished with in Hunterstown the previous evening, so if Hodges did indeed exchange lead with the enemy, it could have been with any number of possible southern detachments. There are, unfortunately, no southern accounts of such an exchange.
When John Buford’s cavalry division was ordered off the Gettysburg battlefield on July 2nd by Cavalry Corps commander Alfred Pleasonton, Hodges remained behind with a detachment of the 9th New York that was detailed to the headquarters of 3rd Corps commander Major General Daniel Sickles. There, Hodges is reported to have done “distinguished service.” Hodges remained with Sickles’ headquarters until July 4, when he returned to his regiment and participated in the cavalry actions during the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia through Maryland.
On August 1, 1863, during the fighting near Brandy Station, Hodges’ horse was shot out from under him. Hodges’ ankle was broken during his fall, and he was taken prisoner. Since his ankle was never properly set, it caused him to limp the rest of his life. He was first slated to be taken to Andersonville prison camp, but was sent to Belle Isle near Richmond instead. Hodges was released in a general exchange of prisoners in March 1864, and returned to the regiment until mustered out on October 29, 1864 at Middletown VA.
After he was mustered out, Hodges returned to his family farm near Ashville but soon became restless. Shortly after the war, Hodges moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he worked on several ranches as a ranch hand. On March 6, 1873, he married Lucy Althea Steen (who was born January 14, 1853), daughter of Robert and Mary (Bunting) Steen. They had six children, two of whom died in infancy.
A few years later, the Hodges moved to Westfield NY, where the 9th New York Cavalry had been raised, and in 1907 they moved to East Rochester, living at 137 East Chestnut Street. Hodges worked for the Merchants Despatch Transportation Company for about 10 years, retiring in July 1921. Besides being well known in the community for his war exploits, he was popular for his involvement in political and social affairs in East Rochester.
At the age of 80, after enjoying generally good health except for the limp caused by his fall at Brandy Station, Hodges developed heart problems and died at his home shortly before 2 pm on August 1, 1922. He was a member of his local GAR (Myron Adams Post) and was active in veterans gatherings and reunions. He is buried in Lot 633 in Pittsford Cemetery, Pittsford NY. His wife Lucy died on November 18, 1934 at East Rochester.