Longstreet, Lee, Pickett…those are just a few names prominent this week in newspaper articles about the 150th anniversary of the three-day, July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.
This week, it’s being reenacted on the East Coast—in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and, likely there are some re-enactors from Historic Ft. Steilacoom among them. After all, it’s a big deal.
Although thousands of men were killed in that three-day fight, one name that’s not been mentioned, is “Wade”—as in “Jennie Wade”
She was the sole civilian killed during that tide-turning battle.
I learned Jennie’s history while living in G-burg about half a century ago. Although as native Pittsburgher (who’d been steeped in local history during my formative years) it wasn’t until I’d settled in this charming college town in central Pennsylvania that I began taking more of an interest in these good old days.
The college—much like PLU—with a charming, wooded campus, located northeast of the town, became a favorite weekend destination for about three years since I often traveled from the Steel City to this Civil War site via Greyhound—causing one driver to ask me once why didn’t I just move there—well, I did in 1963—a century after the battle.
While living in G-burg, probably even by-passing Thaddeus Steven’s law office on my downtown forays, I spent many weekends biking around the battlefield—countless monuments for the North and South, particularly the Pennsylvania Monument, to those down at Spangler’s Spring, up on Little Round Top, down in Devil’s Den—Seminary Ridge, Cemetery Ridge and so on. I immersed myself in things historic: from the College, to the Town; from the JP office next door to where Lincoln is said to have written his brief address, from the Library to the Hospital on the edge of Pickett’s Charge.
Not far from the Cyclorama—an impressive, 360-degree painting depicting the battle scene—was Jenny’s home. According to the drama retold at the Interpretive Center—the 20-year-old woman had been standing near the kitchen window, kneading bread, when a Minie ball from some soldier’s musket drilled her in the forehead.
Federal soldiers carried her body down to the basement-placed her on a table, and once the battle was concluded, she was buried
The website. www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com, tells the story: The Wades and McClellans did their patriotic duty by serving bread and water to the local Union forces. In the early morning of July 3rd, Jennie began to knead a fresh batch of dough so they could continue to provide for the soldiers. The Wade House is located a 548 Baltimore St.
The morning of the 3rd, Confederate soldiers began firing on the North side of the house, which was hit by over 150 bullets. One such bullet, a Minie ball, had tragedy written on it. It passed through two doors and struck Jennie in the shoulder, penetrating her heart and finally coming to rest in her corset.
Federal soldiers carried Jennie’s body to the cellar—later they would bury her. Jennie’s work was not in vain—on July 4th, the very next day, her mother used the dough to bake 15 loaves of bread for the hungry Union soldiers.
Corporal Skelly, Jennie’s fiance, never learned of her death. He died in captivity just one week later, on July 12th, before the news could have reached him.
Today, Jennie is buried near Jack in the Evergreen Cemetery. A monument marks her resting place, as well as a perpetual American flag that flies day and night. The only other woman to claim that honor is Betsy Ross.
One of my Gettysburg souvenirs is a Jennie Wade doll that I gifted my daughter—Jenny.