Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jennie Wade

During a trip to Gettysburg a few years ago, we made a stop at the Jennie Wade House for a tour. We knew very little about Jennie's story going in, but what I learned about her and her family while we were there has stuck with me.

While I am sure Jennie's story has been romanticized and elaborated over the years, there are many elements of truth that provide an interesting look into the experience of civilians during the Civil War.

Jennie, whose full name was Mary Virginia "Jennie" Wade, was born on May 21, 1843 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

At age twenty, she found herself in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ginnie and her mother traveled to sister Georgia's home to help with her newborn baby. Like many women of the time, they tried to help the Union soldiers by baking bread. On July 3, 1863, as Ginnie stood kneading dough, a single bullet passed through the door, fatally wounding her. She died instantly and her body was taken to the cellar where it remained until she was buried in her sister’s garden. In 1865, her body was interred at her final resting place in Evergreen Cemetery, where a large monument now stands. To this day, people still leave flowers on her grave.

Sadly, her fianc√©, Jack Skelly, died of his wounds from a battle two weeks earlier without knowing Ginnie’s fate. He is buried near her in the cemetery.

This story and the Jennie Wade house are rich with symbols of the horrors of war.

This photo is of the hole supposedly made by the minié ball that killed Jennie Wade. There seems to be a lot of doubt about its authenticity since a man who once owned it admitted to enlarging it for effect. In addition, almost inexplicably, this hole has become a symbol of love. According to legend, a woman who pokes her finger through the whole will be betrothed soon. I'm not sure how this began, but it seems rather morbid considering the circumstances.

This is the statue of Georgia, Jennie's sister, who had the grim task of digging her sister's grave. I can't imaging just have given birth and then having to do this. She was burying her sister when many women would still be recovering from childbirth.

Jennie Wade's monument. A monument of this size seems to have been rare for a young woman; it is a testament to her symbolic acts and status as a hero and martyr for the Union cause. The elaborateness of her memorial and the flowers left on her grave today show the romanticism with which she is now regarded.