You Probably Haven't Heard the Story of the Only Civilian Killed During the Battle of Gettysburg

You Probably Haven’t Heard the Story of the Only Civilian Killed During the Battle of Gettysburg

By Trista

When the battle of Gettysburg started on July 1, 1863, over 150 bullets hit the house where Jennie Wade was staying. However, it was not until the third and last day of the battle where tragedy would strike. Jennie Wade was born Mary Virginia Wade in May of 1843 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Most people called Mary “Jennie” which was short for Virginia. At birth, she joined her parents, Mary Ann and James, and her older sister, Georgia Anna, in their home on Breckenridge Street. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father worked for a man named Johnston Hastings Skelly.

While she was a child, Jennie’s father had a mental breakdown and was committed to an asylum. Therefore, it was just Jennie’s mother who was in charge of making sure the family could survive, which included not only Georgia and Jennie but also their three younger brothers, John James, Samuel, and Harry. The only job Jennie’s mother could pick up during the mid-1800s was working as a seamstress. So, Jennie’s mother started to take on all the tasks she could as a sewer. Eventually, both Georgia and Jennie were old enough to work and learned their mother’s trade.

Jennie Wade. Gettysburg Museum.

While Jennie was a child, she became friends with her father’s employer’s son who shared the same name as him, Johnston Skelly, but everyone called him Jack. As Jack and Jennie grew, they started to see each other differently. Soon, Skelly asked Jennie’s mother if he could court her. At the same time, Georgia was getting married and about to move out. However, Georgia would not be going far from home. As soon as Georgia Wade became Georgia McClellan, she moved to a different house on Gettysburg, located at 528 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

A bronze statue of Jennie Wade in front of the Jennie Wade House and Museum. Yelp.

The Civil War

The Civil War started on April 12, 1861, and raged on until May 9th, 1865. By its end, the Civil War would claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Skelly, whom many believed was Jennie’s fiancé by the start of the Civil War, decided to join the Union Army at the end of April in 1861. Skelly, along with one of Jennie’s other childhood friends, Wesley Culp, went on to join the ranks of the Union Army. Skelly became a part of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.

For the first part of the Civil War, the Wade and McClellan families had very little to worry about, other than their friends and loved ones who were battling in the war. Jack Skelly, under the work of General Robert E. Lee, was fighting in the Second Battle of Winchester in Virginia. The battle started on June 13th, and Skelly was doing well until he became injured on June 15th. At the Winchester hospital, where Skelly was trying to recover, he saw his childhood friend, Culp.