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During the fierce battle of Gettysburg there were thousands of soldiers killed both Union and Confederate. But there was only one civilian killed and that civilian was a young woman. Her name was Virginia "Jennie" Wade. Jennie was born in Gettysburg in 1843. On July 1, 1863, Jennie and her family fled their family house and went to her sister's to distance themselves from the fighting. But as fate would have it the Union retreat to Cemetery Hill placed them in the line of fire. In spite of the danger, Jennie baked biscuits and provided water to the soldiers on the nearby Union picket line. On July 3, 1863 one of the many stray bullets that strafed the house struck Jennie while she was in the kitchen preparing biscuit dough. Her mother saw her fall and sadly informed the family "Your sister is dead". Jennie was the fiance of Johnston Skelly who was also from Gettysburg. Skelly who was in the 87th Penna Infantry was killed in Winchester, Va a few weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg. Interestingly enough, Wesley Culp who was from Gettysburg but fought for a Va unit saw Skelly, mortally wounded at the time, and promised to get the news to Jennie. I doubt if she ever got the news before her death.

The following is a story of that fateful day.

JENNIE WADE by Rebecca Wine

Many of you have heard of, and some of you have memorized, the Gettysburg Address. This is a very famous speech given by President Lincoln on the field where the Battle of Gettysburg took place. There, President Lincoln dedicated a cemetery to the memory of the many men who had died in the battle. Hundreds of men had died there...hundreds of men, and one woman -- my friend, Jennie Wade. My name is Corrie, and although I am a writer, at times during the Civil War there was a more desperate need for a nurse than for a journalist. So, during the Battle of Gettysburg, I found myself tending injuries and comforting dying soldiers in the makeshift hospital that had been set up in St. Xavier's Catholic Church in Gettysburg.

On one of the first days I was there I met Jennie. She was a determined, young woman much like myself. I quickly learned that there was very little she was afraid of. When there was a job to do or someone needing help, she was the first one with her sleeves rolled up. We had a great deal in common, which is probably why we hit it off so well. Her sister had just given birth, so she was in Gettysburg caring for her sister and the new baby while still finding the time to bake bread all day for the soldiers and nurses. The third day that we were there, July 3, 1863, was one I'll never forget, nor do I want to relive it. The day began very quietly, with nothing but silence coming from the battlefield. As the day wore on, however, we began to hear more gunshots once again. Most of the local citizens stayed in their cellars. We, of course, were kept busy tending to the ever-increasing stream of injured and dying soldiers. Jennie kept baking bread. In the afternoon, the noise started becoming frighteningly loud and intense.

As I was walking through the church to deliver some fresh supplies and medicine to the head nurse, a volley of gunshots suddenly erupted nearby. It sounded like the bullets had bombarded the wooden boards on the south side of the church! The bishop ordered everyone to get down on the ground. The sounds faded, then suddenly exploded again -- only this time the sound was like bullets hitting brick nearby...BRICK!?!?!...Jennie's house! I looked up in time to see the head nurse who was a friend of Jennie's pushing her way to the door and running across the field to the Wade home. Having seen the fear in her eyes, I ran after her, only thinking of Jennie. I didn't hear the voices behind me, yelling at me to stay, or even the sound of gunshots from the battlefield.

I did hear the scream though. It came from Jennie's house, and stopping me dead in my tracks. Just as I found the strength to continue running toward the house, the head nurse, Janette, came out with her arms out, pushing me away. "Don't go, Corrie. Come back with me," she pleaded. I resisted, trying to get around her. "Is Jennie all right? I want to see Jennie!" I insisted. She tried again: "Please don't look. It's Jennie -- she's dead." Jennie was only 20 when she died; she was the only citizen of Gettysburg to die from the battle. When she was shot, she was baking bread. The bullet went through two doors before hitting and killing her instantly. The rest of the people in the house that day escaped without injury. The Wade house, still intact today, shows the marks of several hundred bullets. The story of Wesley Culp is another interesting story that I would like to relate at a different time.

See http://www.cedarville.edu/academics/education/resource/stories/history/original/cwrebecc.htm for more information.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux