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  • As so often happens, while I was in search of one story, I literally waded into a completely different one. This happened after I had been out to Neill Avenue, spent what must have been a couple hours out there, just taking it all in, absorbing it all into my very being, and leaving only when I felt like it was time to leave. I had actually almost absorbed too much into my very being right at the end of my stay out there.

    Did I mention I almost stepped on a rattlesnake while I was out there? No, I probably left that part out. Now, that would have made a great story, eh? “Descendent of Civil War veteran, visiting site where ancestor fought in great battle on Veterans Day, steps on rattlesnake and dies at the foot of battle monument!” The only problem with that story is, I wouldn’t be here to write it! Otherwise, if there was a good story in it, I’d be in!

    There were a lot of leaves on the ground, being late fall and all. There was a very interesting rock formation, about 15 yards from the 61st Pa’s monument, and I wanted to get a better vantage view of that rock formation, and perhaps get a good shot of the monument from that viewpoint.

    Just as I was coming back up the little rise from the rocks to the monument, stepping over a couple of rocks, I saw something interesting on the ground, mostly covered by leaves, that I’d nearly stepped on. I bent down to get a closer look at what it was, and immediately saw the snake’s skin. Oh shit! Then, I saw the rattle at the end of the snake’s tale. Oh f***ing shit!!

    I don’t know if it was dead or alive. It didn’t shake it’s rattle, but it might have been asleep, for all I knew. It might have been poised to spring up at me. It might have already shook its damn rattle, and I hadn’t heard it, because I’m going deaf, and it was to the point of saying, “O.K., dude, I warned you, now I’m gonna bite your ass”.

    All I can tell you is, I didn’t hang around long enough to find out. I didn’t take a picture. I didn’t check to see if it was dead or alive. I did grab my scared, shaking ass, with both hands, and I got it and the rest of my fool self the hell out of there! I took it as a clear sign that it was time to go!
  • But, that’s not the other story I waded into. This is. After I left the Lost Lane, making my way across the farm field – that’s when I spotted the cows, by the way – check these cats out – surreal! – I made my way down the hill, past the chicken coops and the shed and the barn, to my car parked behind Dean Shulz’ house. He wasn’t around for me to thank again, but I’d already decided that I’ll be back up on Saturday morning to meet the 61st Pennsylvania Reenactors, which he had requested I do as my way of saying thanks.

    I drove into town to find a bookstore and a bite to eat. I pulled into a parking lot that was mostly empty, figuring I’ll park here and just go walk around town a bit. A sign said, “Parking for Jenny Wade House only. All others will be towed.” I saw a store off to the side of the parking lot, apparently connected to the Jenny Wade House, so figured I’ll go browse around the store, maybe pick up a knick-knack or two, then go walk around town. I was looking for a book that Dean had suggested, that best describes the activities of the 61st Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, which he had described fully to me upon my arrival, earlier. Maybe they’d have the book?

    A very nice lady, dressed in the garb of the 1860’s, asked if she could help me. “No, just looking around – so, who was Jenny Wade, anyway, and what’s up with her house?” “Why don’t you take the tour and find out?” So, that’s how they rope you into these things. Normally, I would have said no, I have more important things to do while I’m here, but something told me to hear what she had to say. “How long is the tour?” “Oh, just about 35 minutes. Bob, here, will conduct the tour, and he is very knowledgable about the house, and about all things connected to the battle.”

    Bob looked like the real deal. Dressed in some sort of Union-like outfit, he looked like he might have fought in the battle himself. I could tell I was being pulled in, ever so slowly, but she’d already had me with “Why”. I was already saying to myself, “Why not?” I was just in one of those moods. I’d faithfully followed my maps and my charted course to get to Neill Avenue, now I was free to ad lib, and follow wherever the day led me. “Ah, what the heck - why not? O.K., let’s go, Bob! How much does it cost?” The nice lady said, “Well, that depends. Are you a veteran?” “I am – in fact, I’m a disabled veteran. Does that give me any advantages?” “It sure does – your tour is on the house – the Jenny Wade House, that is – because it ‘s Veterans Day!”
  • And so, this story finally begins. Jenny Wade was the only civilian in the town of Gettysburg who died during the battle. This is nothing short of a miracle in and of itself, because for all 3 days of the battle, a lot of fighting happened right in the town itself. The Rebels pushed into town from the north, driving the Yankees back through town all the way to the south of town, then the Yankees pushed back, and the line of battle for the next three days in town happened to be right where the house that Jenny Wade’s sister, Georgia, and their mother lived in.

    Most civilians in the town had either done the wise thing, and gotten the hell out of Dodge, or went down into their cellars to wait the battle out. But, Georgia had just had a baby 5 days before the battle began, and she was still bed-ridden, with the baby in a little crib at the foot of her bed. She couldn’t handle stairs, so her bed and crib were set up in the living room of the first floor, just off the kitchen. Jenny lived more towards the middle of town, and when the fighting broke out, she came to stay with her mom and sister, and to help take care of Georgia and the baby, along with her crippled brother. Georgia’s husband was off fighting in the war, as was Jenny’s boyfriend. Jenny was 20, and Georgia was 22. The union line was immediately to the south of their house, the confederate line immediately to the north. Cries of confederate wounded, lying in the streets and fields immediately to the north of the house, could be heard throughout the 3 days. Jenny would occasionally take water and bread out to the wounded soldiers, on both sides, and she was baking her little ass off the entire first two days.

    Early in the morning of the third day of the battle, she was bent over her bread box, pounding out the dough for more loaves of bread, mostly for the soldiers, when a stray Rebel bullet pierced right through the front door, then through another opened door that Jenny was standing behind, pounding her dough, when that bullet found the back of her left shoulder, then went out the front through her heart, instantly killing her. Their mom was over by the fireplace, and never heard a scream or a cry – just a thud, as Jenny’s body fell to the wooden floor. Georgia would be forever grief- and guilt-stricken that Jenny’s death was on her hands, for it was her decision to remain in the house, and to not go down into the cellar or to leave town, because of her condition.
  • When the next round of Union soldiers came around looking for bread and water, they insisted that Georgia and her baby and the others get down into the cellar. The only problem was, the only entrance to their cellar was outside, on the side that faced the Rebel lines. They couldn’t take that chance. They somehow must find a way to get the vulnerable civilians over to the other side of the house – it was a duplex house, with a brick wall seperating the two halves of what appeared to be single house from the outside. There was an entrance to the cellar from the other side, also on the outside but the side facing the Union line. On the second floor of the house, a Rebel shell had come through the roof and lodged in the brick wall seperating the two sides of the house, knocking several bricks loose. Miraculously, the shell had never exploded – it was a dud – but the broken bricks there gave the soldiers an idea. They continued breaking through the wall with the butts of their muskets until a doorway had been established, through which Georgia, her baby, and the others were escorted to the other side, and down into the cellar from that, the “safer” side.

    Georgia had insisted that they also bring Jenny down there with them. She could not bear the thought of leaving her all alone in the abandoned house upstairs. So, they brought Jenny down and laid her out in a corner. There, they sat all day, sure that the house was going to come down around them as the earth shook and the house shaked as the worst cannonading of all history took place for hours just up the road from them, that being the artillery fire that preceded, and continued throughout, the bloodiest of all battles, Picketts Charge. But, they survived, and the Union soldiers returned later in the day, with a casket for Jenny, one that had been constructed for a Union General, but that wound up not being needed, for whatever reason, and so it was used to bury Jenny.
  • A strange postscript to the story - Jenny’s boyfriend, Jack Skelly, who was a Corporal with the 87th Pennsvlvania, had been shot and severly wounded during the Second Battle of Winchester two weeks earlier (the same battle Martin reported hearing gunfire from, as he made his way north towards Gettysburg). An old friend of theirs, a fellow named Wesley Culp, whose family lived in Gettysburg, but who was fighting for the Confederates, came across the wounded Skelly, as his outfit was moving out to make its way to Pennsylvania. Skelly gave Culp a note to give to Jennie, were he to get near Gettysburg in his travels. It should also be noted that Wesley’s brother, William Culp, was an officer with the 87th Pennsylvania. They had been on opposite sides of the line at Winchester, brothers fighting against brothers.

    Culp fought for the 2nd Virginia, who was on the other side of the line from Martin Hager and his Regiment. During the terrible fighting on the morning of the 3rd, on Culp’s Hill, land that was owned by Wesley’s uncle, Wesley was shot and killed. He was never able to deliver the note to Jennie from Skelly. But it didn’t matter – Jennie was shot and killed at about the same time as Culp. Nine days later, on the 12th of July, Skelly would die of his wounds, never knowing about Jennie’s fate.

    Is there any question about it? War is hell!
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