Dying Young on July 3rd 1863: Accidental Death of Jennie Wade on Last Day of Battle of Gettysburg

by DerdriuMarriner

Jennie Wade died from a sharpshooter's bullet on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Her body was buried in her sister's garden on July 4th, which was her sister's birthday.

Mary Virginia Wade holds the tragic distinction of being the only civilian whose death was directly caused by the American Civil War's bloodiest battle, the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 - 3, 1863).

A Confederate sharpshooter's bullet penetrated through two doors to pierce Ginnie's heart, killing her instantly, on July 3, 1863, the third and last day of the pivotal battle.

Union soldiers kept guard over Ginnie's body until burial in her sister's garden could be effected the next day, July the 4th, which was also her sister's birthday.

Through a misprint in newspapers, history knows the twenty-year-old Gettysburg native as Jennie instead of Ginnie.

Jennie exemplifies the poignancy of war's ravages and the unforeseen toll on civilians.

The house in which Jennie was killed has been preserved as the Jennie Wade House Museum.
Address: 548 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Phone: (717) 334-4100
Website: http://www.jennie-wade-house.com

Jennie Wade's birthplace: built ca. 1814 - 1820

Jennie's parents rented the northern half of this building from the owner, John Pfoutz (February 14, 1802 - August 5, 1880), whose tailor shop occupied the southern half.
242 - 246 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
242 - 246 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

A family's prelude to the Battle of Gettysburg


Mary Virginia Wade was born on Sunday, May 21, 1843, at 242 Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, a borough and also the county seat of Adams County in south central Pennsylvania.

Her father, James Wade (August 9, 1814 - July 10, 1872), born in James City on southeastern Virginia's Southern Peninsula, also known as the Virginia Peninsula, was of English descent. 

Jennie's mother, Mary Ann Filby Wade (1820 - December 1892), originally hailing from York, the largest city and county seat of south central Pennsylvania's York County, was of German descent.

Jennie was preceded in the birth order by her sister, Georgia, who had been born two years earlier on July the 4th in 1841 and who enjoyed almost four score and seven years of life, passing away at the age of 86 years 2 months on September 5, 1927.

Jennie was followed by four more siblings, of whom the only girl died in childhood aged only 4+ months:

  • John James (March 13, 1846 - September 2, 1925);
  • Martha Margaret (May 9, 1849 - September 16, 1849);
  • Samuel Swan (August 6, 1851 - c. 1927);
  • Harry Marion Wade (February 4, 1855 - September 26, 1906.


left to right: Georgia Wade, Mary Comfort, Mary Virginia Wade: 1861 daguerrotype by Speaits, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Jennie, age 18, with her older sister Georgia, aged 20; Mary Comfort, age 48, lived with her husband Henry and their son Charles on Baltimore Street, 200 yards from Wade family's home on Breckenridge Street.
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 4
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 4


James engaged in the trade of tailor until the onset of health problems, which debilitated him around 1850. Thereafter James was committed to the Adams County Almshouse complex, which was located off Harrisburg Pike on the northeastern outskirts of Gettysburg. The complex comprised an almshouse, an infirmary, and an insane asylum. James spent the remainder of his life there.

In 1863, Jennie was living with her mother and her three brothers at 49 - 51 Breckenridge Street. Georgia and Jennie helped as assistants in their mother Mary's seamstress trade. The trio had been repairing uniforms for the Union Army, beginning with the 10th New York Cavalry's winter stationing from Wednesday, December 25, 1861 to Friday, March 7, 1862.

  • On Friday, June 26, 1863, Jennie's oldest brother, 17-year-old John James, rode out of his birthplace as a bugler with 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry's B. Company.
  • Samuel was employed as a delivery boy for James Pierce (ca. 1807 - February 5, 1896), a wealthy butcher whose home, now known as the James Pierce House or the Tillie Pierce House, at 301-303 Baltimore Street, was constructed in 1829.
  • On weekdays Jennie and her mother cared for Isaac Brinkerhoff (1857 - ?), a six-year-old who was unable to walk.


Surviving his younger daughter by nine years, James Wade passed away in the Adams County Almshouse complex, which comprised three buildings: almshouse, infirmary, and insane asylum.

As with many churches and public buildings in Gettysburg, the infirmary served as a temporary hospital for soldiers wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Adams County Almshouse Complex: Infirmary
Adams County Almshouse Complex: Infirmary

Setting the scene for the bloodiest battle of the War Between the States


On Friday, June 26, 1863, Confederate troops in the corps of Lieutenant-General Richard Stoddert Ewell (February 8, 1817 – January 25, 1872), commanded by General Jubal Anderson Early (November 3, 1816 – March 2, 1894), reached Gettysburg's northeastern outskirts.

Less than a week later, on Tuesday evening, June 30, 1863, Union troops in the 1st Division, Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, under the command of General John Buford, Jr. (March 4, 1826 – December 16, 1863), attained Gettysburg's southern outskirts by way of the southwesterly Emmitsburg Road.


The Battle of Gettysburg: Oval-shaped map depicting troop and artillery positions, relief by hachures, drainage, roads, railroads, and houses with names of residents

Drawn by Theodore Ditterline ~ 1863 lithograph: P.S. Duval & Son, Philadelphia
Drawn by Theodore Ditterline ~ 1863 lithograph: P.S. Duval & Son, Philadelphia

Gettysburg: The fierce battle and its calamitous impact on combatants and civilians alike


On Wednesday, July 1st, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was raging on the borough's northern outskirts, where the Confederate States Army was based.

  • Jennie deemed that the location of the Wade home  was unsafe.
  • Carrying Isaac, she sought to join her mother, who was at Georgia's home at 528 Baltimore Street near the borough's sparsely populated southeastern outskirts, proximitous to East Cemetery Hill, the strategic location where General Buford settled his troops.
  • On a second trip back to the family home, Jennie retrieved her youngest brother, Harry, and locked the door behind her.


Statue of Jennie Wade in front of the house where she was fatally shot during the battle.

west side of duplex: Jennie's sister occupied northern half
west side of duplex: Jennie's sister occupied northern half


Georgia had given birth to her first child, Lewis Kenneth McClellan (June 26, 1863 – February 12, 1941), less than a week earlier, on the same day as General Early's arrival in the Wade sisters' hometown.

  • Georgia's husband, John Lewis McClellan (April 7, 1838 – March 4, 1913), was away from home, serving as a private in 165th Pennsylvania Infantry's E Company.
  • Married to Georgia on Tuesday, April 15, 1862, John was mustered into service seven months later on Saturday, November 15, 1862. (He was mustered out with the Company on Tuesday, July 28, 1863.)


By battle's end, Georgia's house was pockmarked from over 100 Confederate bullets:

bullet holes gouge door, door frame, and brick facade; hole on right side of door's middle panel marks fatal entry of bullet which killed Jennie.
bullet holes from skirmishes between the Blue and the Grey
bullet holes from skirmishes between the Blue and the Grey


Nevertheless, the safety of the new location quickly was compromised, as the battle shifted southward in the first day. Union troops retreated toward Cemetery Hill as the Confederates advanced through the war-torn borough.

The family found themselves in a hot spot of skirmishes between Confederate sharpshooters, tucked away in nearby buildings, such as the steam tannery operated by John Rupp (March 5, 1825 - November 8, 1871), to the northwest, and Union soldiers, seeking shelter on the southern side of the duplex, which was occupied by a widow and her young children.

Soon the northern facade of Georgia's half of the brick duplex was pockmarked by bullets from Confederate sharpshooters. 


Map showing location of residences on Baltimore Street at the time of the Battle.

J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 14
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 14


Beginning around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a steady flow of weary Union soldiers, retreating to Cemetery Hill or settling on the house's southern exposure, slaked their thirst from water which Jennie drew from a well on the east side and assuaged their hunger with bread which Jennie baked.

Although remuneration was offered for nourishment, Jennie and her mother refused to accept payment for generously sharing their supplies with the famished soldiers.


statue of Jennie holding loaf of bread and pitcher for water

Ginnie 'Jennie' Wade Statue -- Baltimore Street
Ginnie 'Jennie' Wade Statue -- Baltimore Street


Whereas other families in Gettysburg sought refuge below ground, the occupants of Georgia's duplex were precluded from sheltering in the cellar due to its access via separate outdoor entry on the dangerous northern side.

Earlier in the spring, Georgia's bed had been moved from the second floor downstairs to the parlor.

  • During the fray, Georgia and her mother rested, with baby Lewis between them, on the bed while Isaac and Harry settled on trundle beds.
  • Jennie reclined on a lounge under the parlor's north window.

Before retiring for the evening on Thursday, July 2nd, Jennie and her mother, for the second night in a row, set out a large quantity of sponge ferment for overnight rising in order to allow for sharing bread with the soldiers in the morning.


Plan of the Down Stairs Rooms of the McClellan House: trajectory of bullet through side door, parlor door, and into Jennie's heart.

"The dotted lines through the parlor mark the route of the sharpshooter's bullet which struck the bed post and fell with splinters on the pillow endangering the mother and the baby."
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 20
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 20

Jennie: "If there is anyone in this house that is to be killed today, I hope it is me, as George [Georgia's nickname] has that little baby."


By four o'clock on the morning of Friday, July 3rd, the occupants of the McClellan home were awake.

Before partaking of a frugal breakfast of bread and butter, applesauce, and coffee, Jennie kneaded the dough, which she then left to rise.

Afterward, Jennie settled on the lounge to begin matutinal devotions, which she cherished as an expression of her religious commitment. Jennie had been confirmed recently, on Sunday, April 20, 1862, into St. James Lutheran Church at their new building, constructed in 1847, at York and Stratton streets, about half a mile from the Wade home on Breckenridge Street.

While reading Psalms 27 through 30, Jennie commented aloud on some of the verses.

Georgia, however, was unsettled by the passages and asked her mother to discourage Jennie from intensifying the tense situation.

Complying, Jennie announced: "If there is anyone in this house that is to be killed today, I hope it is me, as George [Georgia's nickname] has that little baby."


Hole gouged by the bullet which ended Jennie's young life

closeup of outside door to kitchen
closeup of outside door to kitchen

Jennie's mother: "Georgia, your sister is dead."


Later, at around 7 o'clock, the duplex's northern exposure was peppered with sprays of Confederate bullets, which proceeded to break every pane of glass in the parlor window.

Then, a bullet shot through the parlor, striking the southwest bed post and ricocheting to the fireplace before landing on a pillow at the foot of the bed on which Georgia, baby Kenneth, and Mrs. Wade were lying.


Despite the close call, Jennie was concerned about honoring her commitment to making biscuits and bread for the soldiers. Thus, at 8 o'clock she ventured into the kitchen to prepare the dough for baking.

Half an hour later, Jennie, having almost finished kneading, asked her mother to ready the kitchen fire for baking.

No sooner had Jennie uttered her request than a Confederate bullet burst through two doors -- the outside kitchen door and the parlor door -- to strike Jennie in the back below her left shoulder blade. True to its straight-path design, the Minié ball pierced through Jennie's heart, lodged in her corset, and killed her instantly.

Hearing Jennie fall, Mrs. Wade hastened into the kitchen. Discovering Jennie's lifeless body, Mrs. Wade returned to the parlor, announcing, "Georgia, your sister is dead."


Cross Section of the McClellan House: "This plan illustrates the course of the 10 lb. Parrott shrapnel shell through the 2nd story rooms. The division of the house is as if through the kitchens at the east end."

The dotted lines up and down the stairways indicate the path taken from the northern duplex to the southern cellar by way of breached 2nd floor partition between the 2 households.
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 18
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 18


Georgia's screams at the tragic news attracted the attention of Union soldiers, who, in their concern, rapidly entered, despite the danger, by the outside door through which the fatal bullet had first penetrated the dwelling.

Determining that the occupants' lives were seriously threatened, the soldiers devised a strategy for escorting the household to safety in the cellar on the less precarious, southern side.

  • On the afternoon of the previous day, July 2nd, the duplex suffered a terrifyingly violent strike by a 10-pound shrapnel shell. Fired by a Parrott rifle, a muzzle loading rifled artillery weapon, on the Confederate stronghold on Oak Ridge, in northwestern Gettysburg, the shell was intended for the Union's southeastern positions on Culp's Hill or East Cemetery Hill.
  • Crashing through the wooden roof from the northeast, the shell burst through the second floor plaster wall partitioning the double dwelling, and settled in the roof's southern overhang, where it stayed for at least 15 years before removal.
  • Fortunately, the unexploded shell had carved a hole in the partition, which the soldiers enlarged with their rifle butts.

The brave party ascended the stairway to the second floor, slipped through the hole, and, descending the stairway on the other side, exited the kitchen and safely entered the southern cellar.

  • Jennie's body, wrapped in a quilt which Georgia had made at age 5, was conveyed by the soldiers.

In the cellar they joined their neighbor, Catharine McClain, a widow with five children, who had decamped to the cellar after the Parrott shell's embedment in the McClain roof.


Accompanied by soldiers, Jennie's mother returned to the kitchen long enough to bake 15 loaves from the dough which Jennie had targeted for biscuits as well. The biscuits were never finished.


J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 32
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 32



In the cellar, Jennie's body was reverently laid atop a bench usually serving as a shelf for milk pails. Her body remained, under the caring vigil of the cellar's occupants, until 1 o'clock on the afternoon of the next day, July 4th, when the soldiers ascertained that the occupants could safely return to rooms upstairs.

In Jennie's pocket, her family discovered:

  • the key to the Breckenridge home and
  • a photo of Johnston "Jack" Hastings Skelly Jr. (August 4, 1841 – July 12, 1863).

Jack had left his trade as a granite cutter to enlist in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, where he served as a Corporal in Company F.

  • Unbeknownst to Jennie, Jack had been wounded on Monday, June 15, 1863, in the Second Battle of Winchester (June 13 - June 15, 1863) at Carter's Woods in northern Virginia.
  • Lingering from his wounds for almost a month, Jack died nine days after Jennie.
  • Initially Jack was buried in Winchester's Lutheran Cemetery.
  • In November 1864 Jack's brother, Daniel Alexander Skelly Sr. (December 16, 1844 - November 9, 1932), arranged for Jack's coffin to be returned to their hometown for interment in Evergreen Cemetery.


Johnston Hastings Skelly (August 4, 1841 - July 12, 1863): c. 1860 ambrotype

J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 6
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 6

In the midst of life we are in death


After Jennie's body was removed from the McClain's cellar, Union soldiers appropriated a partially constructed coffin, left behind by the retreating Confederates, and arranged for its completion by Charles Comfort, son of Georgia's friend, Mary Comfort.

Jennie's body, still wrapped in her sister's quilt and with dough still caking her hands and arms in mute affirmation of her altruistic, patriotic concerns in the last moments of her life, was entombed in the coffin. 

Union soldiers dug a grave in Georgia's garden, and, at 5 o'clock that afternoon, Jennie was buried in a quiet farewell -- no spoken prayers, no music -- attended by family -- Jennie's maternal grandmother, mother, sister, and brother Harry -- and about half a dozen soldiers.


In addition to being honored as the birthdate of a nation, the United States of America, July the Fourth had a personal connotation for the Wade family, for it was Georgia's birthday.

  • On July 4, 1863, the fledgeling American nation celebrated four score and seven years (87) of existence.
  • On July 4, 1863, Georgia Wade McClellan's age flipped from 21 to 22.


And thus it was that on one day early in July 1863, the Wade family epitomized the antiphon -- popularly attributed to Swiss Benedictine monk Notker I of Saint Gall (c. 840 – 6 April 912), though actually believed to have originated a century earlier in France  -- which comprises an eloquent, memorable verse in the burial service provided in The Book of Common Prayer for Anglican and Episcopal churches:

Media vita in morte sumus ("In the midst of life we are in death").


Poignant testament of Jennie's last moments of life: Jennie's body was buried with dough caking her hands and arms. Perhaps her family's thoughts were echoed 100 years later, on November 22, 1963, by Jackie Kennedy: "Let them see what they have done."

Wooden mixing tray: "This mixing tray is the one over which Miss Wade was working at the time of her death. It may be seen at the Jennie Wade House Museum."
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 24
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 24

A nation remembers a brave young woman


In January 1864, Jennie's coffin was removed from the initial resting spot in Georgia's garden and interred in the cemetery adjacent to Gettysburg's German Reformed Church.


The next year, in November 1865, Jennie's coffin was removed for a second time, this time to its present, final resting place in Evergreen Cemetery, about 75 paces from Jack's grave.


A statue crafted in Italy was erected on Jennie's gravesite on Friday, August 17, 1900.


A steel flagstaff, placed alongside the statue in 1910, flies the United States flag unceasingly, day and night.

  • In fact, Jennie's gravesite and the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, comprise the only two female-honoring sites accorded the high honor of 24-hour round-the-clock flying of the American flag.


A flag is allowed to fly 24 hours round-the-clock at Jennie's gravesite: this honor is accorded to only one other female-honoring site, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

statue commemorating Mary Virginia "Jennie" Wade, Evergreen Cemetery
statue commemorating Mary Virginia "Jennie" Wade, Evergreen Cemetery



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Mary Virginia "Jennie" Wade

Uploaded to YouTube on June 28, 2010 by blueeyes52988 ~ URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sie90Tjfrg8

Jennie Wade House, Gettysburg:

image taken about four decades after Jennie's death
c. 1903 dry plate glass negative by Detroit Publishing Company
c. 1903 dry plate glass negative by Detroit Publishing Company

Sources Consulted


"165th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers Company E." PA Roots > Pennsylvania in the Civil War > Infantry. Alice J. Gayley. Web. www.pa-roots.com

  • Available at: http://www.pa-roots.com/pacw/infantry/165th/165thcoe.html

D'Alessandro, Enrica. "My Country Needs Me": The Story of Corporal Johnston Hastings Skelly Jr. of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, A Son of Gettysburg and Confidant of Jennie Wade. Lynchburg VA: Schroeder Publications. 2012.

Eastman, Mary H. Jenny Wade of Gettysburg. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1864.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/jennywadeofgetty00east 

Gherrity, Michaelshane. “Jennie Wade: A Tragic Story.” July 1863 The Battle of Gettysburg July 1, 2 & 3 1863 > Day Three: Friday July 3, 1863. Homestead™. Web. july1863.homestead.com

  • Available at: http://july1863.homestead.com/jenniewade.html

Grassl, Wolfgang. "In the Midst of Life We Are in Death." Crisis Magazine. November 1, 2010. Crisis Magazine. Web. www.crisismagazine.com

  • Available at: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2010/in-the-midst-of-life-we-are-in-death

irmawoolfpaterson. “Chidley Wade.” Message Boards > Surnames > Wade. Last edited September 11, 2002. Ancestry.com. Web. boards.ancestry.com

  • Available at: http://boards.ancestry.com/surnames.wade/85.89/mb.ashx

"Jennie Wade House." Gettysburg Tour Center > Gettysburg Tours. Gettysburg Battlefield. Web. www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com

  • Available at: http://www.gettysburgbattlefieldtours.com/gettysburg-tours/jennie-wade-house/

Johnston, J.W. (John White). The True Story of "Jennie" Wade A Gettysburg Maid. Rochester NY: J.W. Johnston, 1917.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/truestoryofjenn00john

“McClellan House (Jennie Wade House) Battle Damage.” Gettysburg Daily, March 6, 2009. Gettysburg Daily. Web. www.gettysburgdaily.com

  • Available at: http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/?p=2139

Mumper, J.I. Historic views of Gettysburg: Illustrations in Half-Tone of All the Important Views and Historical Places on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Gettysburg PA: Jennie Wade Museum, 1922.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/historicviewsofg00mump

Preston, Col. Noble D. "Historical Sketch of the 10th Cavalry." New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs > New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center > Unit History Project: Civil War Units > New York Civil War Cavalry Regiments > 10th Cavalry Regiment Civil War. Last modified March 15, 2006. New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. Web. dmna.ny.gov

  • Available at: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/cavalry/10thCav/10thCavHistSketch.htm


The Jennie Wade House five+ months after Jennie's death: view from west side, Baltimore Street, on Thursday, November 19, 1863

J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 12
J.W. Johnston, The True Story of "Jennie" Wade (1917), page 12
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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