The Jennie Wade House Museum in Gettysburg PA is a must-visit destination, even for those who have little interest in the Civil War.
As a lifelong Gettysburg resident, this is one of the museums that I always recommend to visitors.
Guided tours at the Jennie Wade House tell the tragic story of a 20-year-old girl who was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg in a house that is almost unchanged from the way it looked in 1863.
If you’re planning a visit to Gettysburg, then read on and discover everything you need to know about the Jennie Wade House Museum, including historical background, tour information, and the intriguing love story connected to Jennie Wade.
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The Battle Of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the best-known battles in American history, yet many don’t realize that it took place over three long days and resulted in more than 50,000 casualties.
Civilians in the small town of Gettysburg were caught in the crossfire on numerous occasions when fighting spread from the fields and farms onto the very streets.
Soldiers, therefore, weren’t the only ones to pay the price. Many of the residents lost their crops, their houses and their livelihoods.
One young lady even lost her life—shot in the back while performing the innocent task of kneading bread.
Who Was Jennie Wade?
Before the Civil War, the town of Gettysburg was a small, rural community, known primarily for its thriving agriculture industry.
It was also notable for being the home of the Lutheran Seminary and Pennsylvania College.
There were several churches, schools, and shops in the town of 2,400, as well as a few hotels and taverns for travelers passing through.
Mary Virginia “Jennie” (or Ginnie) Wade was born May 21, 1843, the second of six children to James and Mary Filby Wade. She spent her childhood attending local schools and helping with her father’s tailor shop.
Her father was often absent from home and spent more time in jail than with the family.
In 1854, the family moved to a new house on Breckenridge Street, and at the time of the Civil War, Jennie worked as a seamstress to help provide money for the family.
When Jennie’s sister Georgia McClellan gave birth to her first child on June 26, Jennie and her mother and younger brothers walked to the brick double-house at 548 Baltimore Street to lend a hand to the new mother.
In addition to helping Georgia, whose husband was away at war, the mother and daughter thought the brick house just outside of town might be safer.
The town at this time was full of wild rumors about military troops heading their way.
What Happened At The Jennie Wade House?
The Wade family soon discovered that no place was safe. On July 1, as fighting erupted north and west of Gettysburg, a bullet flew through the window and hit the bedpost where Georgia was lying with her infant.
Bullet holes are still visible in the mantle of that room, which can be seen when touring the Jennie Wade House Museum.
That same day, an artillery shell crashed through the roof, tearing a hole in the second-story brick wall.
This shell left a ragged hole between Georgia’s house and the McClains, who lived on the other side of the small duplex.
It’s unclear how much the family knew about the two armies that had arrived and were clashing north of town. By that afternoon, the Confederates occupied the town to the north and Union troops were setting up defenses to the south.
Georgia’s house sat in between.
Despite the harrowing sounds of the battle, the clatter of musketry and the booming of cannons, Jennie continued baking bread and furnishing water to the Union troops who were manning a nearby picket post.
The Jennie Wade House Museum
Keep in mind, that the Jennie Wade House Museum is not Jennie Wade’s home. It was the home of her sister, Georgia.
Jennie Wade’s birthplace home is located on Baltimore Street (246) and is marked with wayside marker. Additionally, the home where she lived during the Civil War is located on Breckenridge Street and is also marked.
Today, guided tours take you through Georgia’s house from the basement to the second floor and describe what happens on that fateful day in 1863.
Before you go inside, you will be able see some of the 150 bullet holes that can be found in the bricks and the door on the north side of the house and the original well that was dug in the 1800s.
How Did Jennie Wade Die?
On the morning of July 3, 1863, Jennie followed her usual routine of reading her devotions aloud from the kitchen. The message that day was from Psalms 27 and Psalms 30:
“The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”
Georgia, who was lying in the next room with her baby, became uncomfortable hearing the words and asked Jennie to stop reading.
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Jennie reportedly replied, “If there is anyone in this house that is to be killed today, I hope it is me, as George has that little baby.”
Jennie then began kneading dough for the day’s supply of bread. Despite the added precaution of standing behind the open parlor door to help protect her, a stray bullet passed through both the heavy outer door as well as the inner door.
The Death Of Jennie Wade
It was 8:30 a.m. on July 3, 1863, and Jennie Wade was dead.
The bullet struck Jennie in the back, passed through her heart and became stuck in her corset.
With flour still on her hands, she fell to the floor, the white powder getting strewn across the room and mixing with the blood of her wound.
Her mother, who was facing the fireplace, turned and saw her falling. She yelled to Georgia, “Your sister is dead!”
Georgia’s screams brought Union troops running.
The Jennie Wade House Bullet Holes
Wanting to get the family to safety, but unable to exit the dangerous North side of the house in order to go down in the cellar, the soldiers wrapped Jennie’s body in a blanket and carried her up to the second floor.
The hole from the artillery shell that had hit the house on July 1 now helped the family. The soldiers knocked out more bricks to enlarge the hole so the family could crawl through.
Now on the safer South side of the house, the Wade family made their way back down to the ground floor. They exited the house and went down to the cellar.
In the small dirt-floored cellar, the family was forced to sit and stare at the body from approximately 9 a.m. July 3 until 1 p.m. July 4.
Jennie Wade House Basement
The Jennie Wade House Museum basement is perhaps the most captivating of the rooms on the guided house tour because of its small size.
The fact that the family, along with a couple of soldiers had to huddle in the room for more than a day, not knowing what was happening above, makes it all the more scary.
That feeling is brought to life by the figure that is lying under a blanket in the dim light of the cellar.
The Battle of Gettysburg resulted in more than 50,000 casualties, but this one civilian death captured the attention of the nation and shines a light on the human cost of war.
The Aftermath Of The Battle Of Gettysburg
With the heat of July and the perils that surrounded them, the family finally buried Jennie in Georgia’s garden on July 4. Even then, the people of the town didn’t know if the battle was over or who had won.
One resident said they did not know Union forces had been victorious until July 5, though they “suspected it because of the lack of jubilation by the rebels.”
Tillie Pierce, another resident said, “We were glad that the storm had passed and that victory was perched on our banners, but oh, the horror and desolation that remained.”
According to journals written by local residents, the ground was covered with dead horses, broken wagons, pieces of shells, battered muskets and swords.
Many farmers fared worse than the townspeople because the artillery made roads over their grain fields, destroyed fences, and damaged barns.
In 1886 a local historian wrote that so completely were the farm fences destroyed that you could ride out of Gettysburg in any direction and never run into a fence.
A Place Of Great Suffering
By far the most distressing aftermath of the battle were the thousands of dead, dying and wounded men left behind by the departing armies. Of the approximately 170,000 troops at Gettysburg, one of every four was a casualty—killed, wounded, or reported missing.
A medical officer described the scene as “an occasion of the greatest amount of suffering known to the Nation since its birth.”
Gettysburg resident Fannie Buehler found the sights and sounds of the hospital established in the courthouse across the street from her home “too horrible to be described.”
In addition to caring for the wounded and burying the dead, the town had to deal with a wave of between 10 and 12,000 visitors who descended upon Gettysburg looking for loved ones—or merely wishing to see the famous battlefield where history had been made.
Burying Jennie Wade (Three Times)
When at last things began to settle down—some six months later—Jennie’s body was moved from the yard where she was buried, to the cemetery of the German Reformed Church where the family attended services.
Then, about a year later, she was reinterred once again to Evergreen Cemetery.
Money for a monument was raised in 1900 and still marks the site where Jennie is buried.
Jennie Wade’s gravesite is the most visited grave in Gettysburg.
Additionally, she is one of only two women in the United States to have a perpetual flag fly over her grave 24 hours a day. The other is Betsy Ross.
Where Is Jennie Wade Buried In Evergreen Cemetery?
If you want to visit Jennie Wade’s burial site in Evergreen Cemetery, enter through the iconic gatehouse entrance along at 799 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg.
You will turn slightly right when you see the Elizabeth Thorne statue on your left.
Jennie Wade’s burial site is a large white monument with the figure of a woman on top on your right, near the road.
It is marked with an American flag flying 24 hours a day.
The engravings on the monument read:
Whatsoever God willeth must be
Though a nation mourns.
With a courage born of loyalty
“She hath done what she could.”
Who Was Jack Skelly?
Jennie Wade grew up in Gettysburg and had two dear friends. One was Wesley Culp, whose uncle owned, what is now known as Culp’s Hill.
As an apprentice to a harness maker that moved to Virginia before the war, Wesley ended up living in the Old Dominion and fighting in Stonewall’s Brigade for the Confederacy during the war.
The other friend was Jack Skelly, who fought on the Union side. Some say he was engaged to Jennie at the time of her death.
When Jack Skelly was wounded in the Battle of Carter’s Woods near Winchester and captured, he had the opportunity to talk to his friend Wesley Culp whose regiment was nearby.
Skelly requested that Wesley deliver a note to Jennie Wade the next time he made it back to Gettysburg.
As fate would have it, Wesley found himself back in the town he knew so well quite soon.
Unfortunately, it was a town in which he was considered a traitor—even by his own relatives.
Several family members had threatened to shoot him on sight. He did, however, visit his sisters on the night of July 1, and told them about the letter.
Wesley then ended up fighting on the very ground where he had spent so much time exploring, hunting and hiking as a youth.
It is the same ground he died on.
The letter was never delivered, so Jennie never knew that Jack Skelly was wounded.
In fact, the letter was never found.
Wesley Culp was reportedly killed on July 3 on Culp’s Hill, but since his body was never recovered, it is unknown exactly when or where.
Jack Skelly succumbed to his injuries on July 12, nine days after his friends died, but he likewise did not know of their demise.
Because his picture was found in Jennie Wade’s pocket the day she died, it became rumored that the two were engaged.
Jack is buried near Jennie at Evergreen Cemetery.
His tombstone says: “My country needs me, mother. May I go?
The Jennie Wade House Tour
In addition learning about the life and death of Jennie Wade, the Jennie Wade House Tour guides also tell interesting stories about life during the Civil War era.
For instance, the guide shows visitors the lumpy mattress made of hay, that would have also been home to unwanted bugs.
She then grabs a part of the headboard that detaches and looks like a rolling pin, and beats the bed to get the bugs out and even up the mattress. This was called “hitting the hay.”
Another common saying originated from a practical joke that was often played on newlyweds. Friends and family of the future couple would go to their house without them knowing and untie all the ropes on the rope beds.
As soon as the newlyweds went to bed on their wedding night, they would fall onto the floor, and would then spend the night “tying the knot.”
The guide also explained that emptying the “chamber pot” every morning was usually a chore given to the youngest child.
Jennie Wade House Facts
- 548 Baltimore St., Gettysburg, Pa.
- Open Sunday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Tours 30 minutes
FAQ’s About The Jennie Wade House Museum
How Much Is The Jennie Wade House Tour?
The Jennie Wade House Tour is $12 for adults self-guided and $15 for a guided tour. Children 6-12 are $9 and $12 for those tours, with 5 and under free.
Where Is The Nearest Parking For The Jennie Wade House?
The Jennie Wade House Museum offers plentiful free parking including handicapped parking right outside the gift shop door.
The Jennie Wade House Museum Tour
The Jennie Wade House Museum Tour features guides in period attire who are entertaining and well-versed in the history of the home.
The house is furnished from top to bottom as it would have been in 1863, with original artifacts from that fateful day on display as well.
Some of the artifacts include the artillery shell that went through the roof of the house and a floorboard with Jennie’s blood still on it.
The dough trough in the kitchen is the actual one used by Jennie when she was killed, and the clock on the mantel of the fireplace on the Mclain side of the house is also original.
For those who want to see more, there is also a 2-hour Jennie Wade Walking Tour that takes visitors along Baltimore Street and points out other notable residents during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Jennie Wade House Ghost Tour
The regular Jennie Wade House Tour is in the top #15 things to do on TripAdvisor.
There are a number of ghost tours that highlight the Jennie Wade House including the Spirits of Jennie Wade tour. It is just one of the many ghost tours in Gettysburg.
Out of the many museums in Gettysburg, the Jennie Wade House is the oldest one, opening in 1901.
Value plans to purchase tickets to multiple museums or tours are available through the Gettysburg Tour Center at 778 Baltimore Street, Gettsyburg.
The Jennie Wade House Gift Shop
The Jennie Wade House Museum Gift Shop is a great place to look for souvenirs and keepsakes from your trip to Gettysburg.
The shop features books, souvenirs and collectibles that relate to Jennie Wade.
They also have unique nostalgic gifts like mood rings and old-fashioned toys for children.
Was Jennie Wade The Only Civilian Killed In Gettysburg?
Jennie Wade is the only civilian killed directly during the Battle of Gettysburg, but there were other indirect deaths that occurred in and around Gettysburg.
Ephraim Whistler succumbed to injuries after a Confederate shell burst directly above his head at his home on the Chambersburg Pike.
Other civilians, including children, died from handling shells that exploded and loaded weapons that discharged.
What Hotels Are Close To The Jennie Wade House?
If you’re planning a trip to Gettysburg and need a place to stay near the Jennie Wade House, you’re in luck.
I highly recommend that 1863 Inn at Gettysburg, since it is right beside the Jennie Wade House and convenient to other museums, shops and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a budget hotel, the Budget Host Three Crowns Motor Lodge has been providing accommodations in Gettysburg for generations. Location is right in the heart of the tourist district. Walkable to everywhere.
And another convenient hotel is the Inn at Cemetery Hill. It’s close to everything including restaurants and museums in the tourist district and Evergreen Cemetery.
Find A Hotel Near Jennie Wade House
Wrap-Up Of The Jennie Wade House Museum
With only minor changes and repairs to the Gettysburg Jennie Wade house, it is truly a step back in time.
During the Jennie Wade House tour, guides dressed in period attire keep you spellbound as they recount the tragic story of Jennie’s death.
Overall, the Jennie Wade House Museum and tour offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of a young woman who was caught in the crossfire of one of the bloodiest battles in American history.
It is a must-see destination for anyone interested in the Civil War, American history, or the experiences of civilians during wartime.
On a budget? There are a number of free things to do in Gettysburg that are fun for the whole family.
Disclosure: I was treated to a complimentary tour at the Jennie Wade Museum by Destination Gettysburg. The opinions expressed are my own from dozens of tours over many years at this historic house.