The Story of Jennie Wade By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
June 15, 2012
Mary Virginia “Jennie” Wade was a twenty year old resident of Gettysburg. She was engaged to be married to Corporal Johnston H. Skelly of the 87th Pennsylvania after the war. She worked as a seamstress with her mother in their home on Breakenridge Street. They also took care of a six year old boarder named Isaac. For safety during the battle of Gettysburg Jennie and her family moved to the home of Jennie’s sister Georgia Wade McClellan. Georgia had given birth, with great difficulty, one hour before the Confederates rode into Gettysburg, and Jennie was caring for her. The house thus housed Mrs. Wade, Jennie, her brother Harry, the young boarder Isaac, her sister Georgia and the newborn baby. There was no heavy fighting directly in the area yet, but there were intermittent skirmishes between Federals and Confederates, thus protected by thick walls of brick, they were able to live in relative safety for three days in the midst of the greatest battle ever on this hemisphere. Jennie spent most of July 1 distributing bread to Union soldiers and filing their canteens with water. By late afternoon of July 2, the bread supply was diminishing, and Jennie realized more would have to be made as it would be needed the next day. Jennie and her mother put the yeast to rise, to leave it until the morning of the 3rd. At about 7 a.m. on July 3, Confederate sharpshooters began firing at the north windows of the house. The prep work for the biscuits had begun, and about 8:30 am. While Jennie stood in the kitchen kneading dough, a Confederate musket ball smashed through a door on the north side of the house, pierced into the kitchen and struck Jennie in the back, into heart, and killing her instantly. The cries of her sister and mother alerted the Federal soldiers, who carried her body to the cellar. Later she was buried in a coffin some Confederate soldiers had fashioned for an officer. Jennie Wade was the only civilian casualty of the battle of Gettysburg; however the tragedy is not complete. Jennie’s fiancé had been wounded and taken to Winchester on May 13. He was transferred to Virginia and died in a hospital on July 12, never knowing that Jennie had gone before him.
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