I have been through a plethora of historic tours. I love them! It seems that there is something to be learned and appreciated at everyone. However, when in Gettysburg, PA in May of 2017, I toured the Jennie Wade House… it was by far one of the best tours I have ever been on!
You may be asking, “Just who is Jennie Wade?”
Well, I’m glad you asked! Jennie Wade was a 20 year old civilian living in the city of Gettysburg, PA in the summer of 1863.
When war broke out in 1861, her brother and her longtime boyfriend/fiance, Jack Skelly, left to go fight for the Union Army. Her older sister had already married and her father was in an asylum. So, in July 1863, it was just Jennie, her mother, her two brothers and a young boarder, 6 year old Isaac, that she and her mother took care that were living in the family home on Breckenridge Street. Jennie & her mother made their living as seamstresses.
When the war came to Gettysburg, Jennie & her family left their home on Breckenridge Street to go her sister, Georgia McClellen’s, home on Baltimore Street. Georgia’s husband was also away fighting with the Union Army and Georgia had just delivered her first child five days prior. So, wanting to help Georgia and believing they would be safer at Baltimore Street, they made the move to Georgia’s house.
On the afternoon of July 1st, 1861, the Union troops retreated into the hills directly south of the town. This meant that Jennie & her family at Baltimore Street were now directly in the line of fire between Union and Confederate troops.
Jennie, remaining calm, reportedly made multiple trips out of the house to take food and water to Union soldiers. Bullets continued flying all day long and into the next day, shattering the facade and piercing windows of the duplex they were in. At one point, an artillery shell crashed through the roof, knocked a hole in the wall and came to rest in the eaves where it would remain for 15 years.
Throughout the day of July 2nd, Jennie continued her missions of mercy for the Union soldiers. She also helped to take care of her sister and nephew and found the time to start yeast for more bread.
The next morning, the fateful morning of July 3rd, Jennie went out with her younger brother early in the morning to gather firewood for the day. Jennie ate breakfast and read from the Bible. Suddenly, a bullet then flew through a window and lodged in the bedpost next to where Georgia was lying with her son. The family was in grave danger, it would seem.
Jennie would not be deterred however. At 8:30 am, she was finishing kneading dough for more biscuits for the Union soldiers when another bullet penetrated two wooden doors, went through Jennie’s back and into her heart killing her instantly!
Georgia’s scream brought Union soldiers rushing into the home. They cautiously escorted the rest of the family through the hole created by the un-exploded artillery shell into the safety of the home’s cellar. The Union soldier carefully wrapped Jennie’s body in a blanket and took her to the safety of the cellar as well.
For approximately 29 hours, Jennie’s family and the McClain Family, who lived in the other half of the duplex home, stayed in the cellar with Jennie’s body away from the bullets of the Confederates and the Yankees.
Late in the afternoon of July 4th, the Union soldiers carried Jennie’s body out of the cellar and placed in a wooden coffin once meant for a Confederate officer. After a small funeral of Jennie’s family and 6-8 Union soldiers, Jennie was buried in the back yard of her sisters home. It would be the first of three resting places for Jennie. Her body was moved in January 1864 to the cemetery of a German Reformed Lutheran Church and then finally, she was reburied in Evergreen Cemetery where she remains to this day.
Jennie Wade holds the distinction of being the only civilian causality of the Battle of Gettysburg. And, truly, with all they fighting that went on within the town limits of Gettysburg that is amazing. But, more than that Jennie became to many, a hero. Because she refused to back down even in the face of enemy fire!