According to the National Park Service, there are approximately 3,218 monuments and tablets on the Gettysburg Battlefield, including about 400 cannons. The tubes or barrels of the vast majority of these pieces were made during the Civil War and among these are many 3-inch ordnance rifles or Griffen Guns that were made in Phoenixville by the Phoenix Iron Co.

They are easily identified by the information on the gun’s muzzle, which includes the weight of the tube, the date it was finished, serial number and the initials of the foundry where it was made. If the initials are “P.I.C.” the gun was a product of the Phoenix Iron Co.

From those 400-odd artillery tubes there are probably less than a half-dozen that were actually in the battle. Three of these are at the base of a monument to Brig. Gen. John Buford, located on the north side of U.S. Route 30 on West McPherson’s Ridge, just west of the town.

Buford commanded the 2nd division of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry and that morning he had only 2,700 troopers and six pieces of artillery with which to delay the advance from the west to Gettysburg of a Confederate force consisting of two entire divisions of infantry and about 40 pieces of artillery.

Despite these long odds, Buford succeeded in slowing down the Confederate advance until Union infantry and more artillery arrived to stop the Rebs.

Buford’s only cannon consisted of a six-gun battery of horse artillery commanded by 2nd Lt. John H. Haskell, 22-year-old graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Haskell placed his guns on West McPherson’s Ridge, two to the right of what is now Route 30, two to on the left and two about 300 yards farther to the left.

Just after his battery went into position, the guns on the right side of the road opened fire on a battle line of Confederate infantry advancing toward them. It was this gun that fired the first Union artillery shot of the Battle of Gettysburg. It, along with the five other guns in John Calef’s battery, was a 3-inch ordnance rifle made by the Phoenix Iron Co. of Phoenixville.

In 1894, survivors of the Union cavalry who fought at Gettysburg planned to erect a monument to Buford who was well loved and respected by his soldiers but who had the misfortune of dying of typhoid fever five months after Gettysburg.

Calef, who made the Army his career and was on the monument committee, suggested, as he wrote later, “that the very guns that opened the battle might appropriately be incorporated in the memorial.” Everyone liked that idea. But how could those guns be found after 32 years had passed? Calef had the solution to that problem.

In June 1864 his battery had been reduced from six to four guns and four of the ordnance rifles had been replaced by two 12-pound Napoleons. Before the four guns were taken away Calef noted “the identifying marks of these pieces…not dreaming that thirty-one years later” that slip of paper would become important.

The problem was to find that slip of paper, which Calef did. He sent a copy to the Army’s chief or ordnance who found the four guns, two of them thousands of miles away on the West Coast. They were shipped to Gettysburg and placed on the base of Buford’s monument.

The gun that fired the first Union artillery shot of the Battle of Gettysburg is identified by a small bronze plate on the top of its barrel. Thus, in addition to all of its citizens who fought there, does the town of Phoenixville have a very unique connection to the Battle of Gettysburg.

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