History of the 8th Illinois Cavalry
On August 11, 1861, the United States of America commissioned the 8th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Cavalry.
Under the command of Colonel John Farnsworth, 1,164 men were mustered into service on the eastern bank of the Fox River in Saint Charles, Illinois on September 18, 1861 for three years or the end of the war.
The new troops were marched to Geneva, Illinois and then sent to Washington City (Washington, D.C.) by train on October 14.
The men of the 8th were first encamped in Washington near the site of the present day zoo, and then housed near Alexandria, Virginia where they served as guards for the town.
The first major engagement for the 8th Illinois was during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
Attached to the Army of the Potomac, they were in the advance of the army and fought their first major battle by opening the Battle of Williamsburg. Battle honors for the 8th Illinois Cavalry read like a litany of eastern theater civil war engagements: Mechanicsville, Hanover Court House, Seven Pines, Brandy Station, Middleburg, Upperville, and Gettysburg.
At 7:30 am on July 1st, 1863, Lt. Marcellus Jones of Company E, laid Corporal Levi Shaeffer's Sharps Carbine across a fence post and fired the first shot of the greatest battle ever fought on the North American continent - The Battle of Gettysburg.
The 8th Illinois Cavalry spent the latter part of the war in the Loudoun County, Virginia area, bringing an end to the guerrilla activities of Col. John S. Mosby and his 43rd Virginia Cavalry.
The 8th Illinois Cavalry also participated in the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and served as Honor Guard for President Lincoln as he laid in repose in the rotunda and for his funeral train.
It has been said that no higher honor can be bestowed on a regiment than compliments from the enemy. Some years after the war, John Stewart Bryan asked his grandfather, "Was it true that the Yankees were cowards who ran at the sight of the Confederates?" The elder Bryan, who was a member of Mosby's Rangers, replied, "Son, no one who ever fought against the 8th Illinois Cavalry could have such an imbecile idea as that." In his memoirs, Colonel Mosby called the 8th Illinois "the best cavalry regiment in the Army of the Potomac."
On July 7, 1863 in Boonsboro, Maryland, the 8th retook the ground from Confederate forces, where Brigadier General John Buford said of the 8th, "these boys beat anything in the world on a foot Skirmish."