On this Day in History: Jennie Wade—only civilian to be killed during the Battle of Gettysburg—dies

With the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg approaching, I took a trip on a drizzly Thursday to tour the historic battlefield. My itinerary included a stop at the “Jennie Wade House,” where the only civilian killed during the three-day confrontation occurred on July 3, 1863.

History Brief

The Battle of Gettysburg marked the turning point of the Civil War. With more than 50,000 estimated casualties, the three-day engagement beginning on July 1, 1863, was the bloodiest single battle of the conflict. With the Union’s victory, Gettysburg ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s ambitious second quest to invade the North and bring the Civil War to a swift end. This loss dashed the hopes of the Confederate States of America to become an independent nation.

Jennie Wade

Born on May 21, 1843, Mary Virginia “Jennie” Wade was a 20-year-old seamstress living in the town of Gettysburg, which in 1863 had a population of about 2,400. Her family most likely referred to her as “Ginnie” or “Gin,” but printing errors after the war resulted in a variant spelling of her nickname being widely distributed. 

Jennie Wade

One of six children, she helped earn money for the family by becoming a seamstress with her mother, Mary Anne Filby Wade, in their house on Breckenridge Street. Her father, Captain James Wade, Sr., was often absent from home and spent more time in jail than with the family. According to Wikipedia, her father also spent time in a mental asylum.

Jennie may have become engaged to her childhood friend Johnston “Jack” Skelly before the war since she had a photo of him in her pocket when she died. However, there were no official engagement announcements or a wedding before he enlisted in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, where he served as a corporal. 

When the fighting began, Wade, her mother, and two younger brothers left their Breckenridge Street home. They traveled to the 548 Baltimore Street house of her sister, Georgia Anna Wade McClellan (about a quarter of a mile away), to assist her and her newborn child.

Early 1900s photograph of Jennie Wade’s house.

While the Union Army was in Gettysburg, bullets pelted the side of their house. One shot flew through the house window and hit a bedpost of the bed Georgia was lying in with her day’s old son. An artillery shell also crashed through the roof and remained in the house for fifteen years, fortunately never detonating. In total, more than 150 bullets hit the McClellan house.

Regardless, the family continued caring for the soldiers. On the morning of July 3, Jennie awoke early to fetch water and knead dough to make bread and biscuits. The dough she was kneading was destined to become bread for the soldiers. At about 8:00 am, as Wade was kneading dough for bread, a .58 caliber Minié ball traveled through the kitchen and parlor doors of her sister’s house and hit her.

Parlor door with front door visible through .58 caliber bullet hole

It pierced her left shoulder blade, went through her heart, and ended up in her corset. She was killed instantly. While it is uncertain which side fired the fatal shot, some authors have attributed it to an unknown Confederate sharpshooter.

Wade’s mother heard her fall to the floor and went to tell her sister Georgia in the other room that her sister had been shot dead; two Union soldiers came from upstairs when they heard the screams of the women. The men helped wrap her body in a quilt and took her body to the basement, where she and the rest of the family waited out the remainder of the day’s battle.

Jennie Wade’s body in the basement.

They temporarily buried Wade’s body in the backyard of the McClellan house, in a coffin originally intended for Confederate General William Barksdale.

In January 1864, her body was relocated to the cemetery of the German Reformed Church on Stratton Street. Her final resting place is located in the Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg.

Wade monument in Evergreen Cemetery.

In 1882, the United States Senate voted to grant Wade’s mother a pension, citing that her daughter had been killed serving the Union cause—baking bread for the soldiers.

Planning Your Trip

Jennie Wade House Museum is located at 548 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325. For more information and their hours (they vary depending on the season), visit their website.

Adventure Awaits!

Never miss a new article by signing up for email updates below. Be sure to follow Uncharted Lancaster on Facebook or Instagram for exclusive content.

Learn More

On this Day in History: The Christiana Resistance – first battle of the Civil War

On September 11, 1851, a deputy U.S. marshal led a raid in Christiana to recover four enslaved people in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Free Blacks and freedom seekers in the surrounding area met this raid with a successful but deadly armed resistance. Some historians have called the Christiana Resistance (also known as the Christiana Riot) the first battle of the Civil War. Click the link to learn more.

John Jarvis’ Lancaster and the Civil War’ themed lithographs rediscovered in archives

John Jarvis is, without a doubt, one of Lancaster County’s favorite local artists. In addition to serving as headmaster of Lancaster Country Day School from 1965-1990, Jarvis was the president of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County from 1995 through 1998. Here’s an exciting opportunity to add TWO of his probably never-before-seen works to your collection, recently rediscovered in the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County’s archives. Click the link to read more.

Union forces burn Wrightsville Bridge to prevent invasion of Lancaster County

On June 28, 1863, Union forces burned the Wrightsville Bridge to stop the advancing Confederate Army. This action saved Lancaster County and set the stage for the three-day Battle of Gettysburg that would soon begin on July 1. Click the link to read more.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: