548 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, PA

(717) 334-4100

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Photo Copyright Branson Johnson
Used with Permission

Quite possibly the most famous house in all of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is known by many as the Jennie Wade House & is considered a must-see when visiting the town. 

The “Jennie Wade House” is situated just a stone’s throw away from East Cemetery Hill, a spot that saw extensive fighting throughout the Battle of Gettysburg, & just a few feet from where the armies divided the town. For many years, I have been intrigued by this story, as have many others, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right story. (DISCLAIMER: All of the details remain open to speculation & your own interpretation, there are several different versions of this story & none of us were actually there when the event unfolded. This is my research & my personal interpretation/belief)

The house was built in 1842 as a divided, two-family home, the south (right) side of the house was owned by a woman named Catherine McClain, & the north (left) side was owned by “Jennie’s” brother-in-law, John Louis McClellan. The house was originally called the McClellan house prior to “Jennie’s” death & she never actually lived there until the battle grew too close to her home & she came to stay with her sister, Georgeanna.

When the battle came into town, both families remained in their respective homes, going about life as best they could with a war raging quite literally in their backyard. However, on the morning of July 2, 1863, an artillery shell hit the house, but didn’t explode, leaving a hole in the wall that divided the two homes. This would later play a role in removing ‘Jennie’s’ body after she was killed.

The story goes that the morning of July 3, 1863, while ‘Jennie’ and her sister were preparing bread for the Union soldiers, a Confederate bullet penetrated two doors & struck ‘Ginnie’ in the back, killing her instantly. The story continues by saying that Union soldiers helped carry her body down to the cellar where she & her family waited out the rest of the battle in the July heat.

Photo Copyright Branson Johnson
Used with Permission

“Jennie” was born Mary Virginia Wade on May 21, 1843, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Mary Ann Filby, & James Wade, Sr. While digging through several of the exact same stories & articles, I eventually found information that I don’t think has ever been talked about, so let’s.

“Jennie” was often thought to be a “copper head” or southern sympathizer, but this rumor could be attributed to the fact that her father, James was born in Virginia. It could also be attributed to the speculation that she, Jack Skelly, & a boy named Wesley Culp were childhood best friends. Before the war, Wesley moved to Virginia with his boss & joined the Confederate Army when Virginia seceded. There’s some speculation that she was actually in love with Wesley, not Jack. (which, quite honestly wouldn’t surprise me, but who knows.)

Going back now to her father, in 1839, James was charged with “committing fornication by force & fathering a child out of wedlock”, on this charge he was found not guilty by the Adams County Court, however, this wasn’t his first run in with such behavior. He was accused of arson, charged with assault three times & found guilty twice & sent to prison for larceny. That was, until 1852 when “Jennie’s” mother, Mary petitioned to have James found insane. He was sent to the Adams County Almshouse & remained there until his death in 1872. It was said that the family raised the said child as “Jennie’s” older brother, but I’ve only been able to find three brothers in her family tree, from credible sources, & they are three, seven & twelve years younger than “Jennie”. Her only older siblings are two sisters, Georgeanna, “Georgia” (who lived in the house where “Jennie” was killed) & Martha.

Photo Copyright Branson Johnson
Used with Permission

After “Jennie’s” death, not everyone was thrilled with a monument being erected for “Sweet Jennie Wade”. A War of 1812 veteran & Union soldier, John Burns made his feelings for her very clear in a writing to a local newspaper after the battle, “I knew Miss Wade very well. The less said about her the better. The story about her loyalty, her being killed while serving Union soldiers, etc., is all fiction, got up by some sensation correspondent. The only fact in the whole story is that she was killed during the battle in her house by a stray bullet.... I could call her a she-rebel.”

A Union Colonel, David Hunter Strother said that the monument to her “reminded me of when I was a boy and would become sentimental about corn cobs!” It was even said that the Gettysburg locals weren’t exactly fond of the Wade family. Maybe it was because of her father’s supposed history, or maybe they had different reasons to believe otherwise.

The story of “Jennie’s” death is one that almost every Gettysburg buff has heard, but I don’t know what to believe anymore. There’s the story that she was killed by a Confederate bullet, but personally, this version has been laid to rest for me. In 2007, a package arrived at the Jennie Wade House, addressed to the then owner/manager. Inside the small parcel was a bullet, kept by a Union soldier who had found it in the casket containing Wade’s body. The soldier hadn’t actually removed the bullet, but a family member had removed it when examining the body before presenting his findings to Congress (presumably to determine if her mother could get a government pension for the death of her daughter).

The owner sent the bullet off to a Civil War relic dealer to have it identified. It came back as a .577 caliber Union minie ball that had lost its velocity.  This bullet not only put an end to the controversy as to “who” killed “Jennie”, but it also provided evidence that she was hit twice. Once by a spent round, & one that proved fatal.

Over the years, claims of the house being haunted have surfaced. Including a “dark” energy that is felt in the basement, believed to be “Jennie’s” protective father. Other claims include footsteps, voices, apparitions, shadow figures, and other phenomena occurring inside the house. Even a local legend had spawned when the house opened its doors to tourism. It’s said that if a single woman places her ring finger in the bullet hole on the door, she will be engaged not long after.

Some visitors have even reported seeing “Jennie” wander around the surrounding battlefield, others have seen her wandering around the McClellan house, & some have even captured photos of who they believe is “Jennie’s” ghost.

I’ve had a personal experience without ever stepping inside the house, (yeah, I’ve not been inside yet), but the spirits there seem to know who I am. My friends, Steve & Dylan from Haunted Nights were there on an investigation, doing a livestream when they decided to do a digital recorder session. Dylan had asked if the spirits there remembered me, a response on Steve’s recorder repeated my name back to him, & Dylan’s recorder captured a voice saying, “I remember her.”

Could they know me, despite me only walking past the house a year ago? Or is it possible that the Civil War friends I’ve made in Gettysburg have mentioned me to those who still occupy the house 160 years later?" 

Photo Copyright Branson Johnson
Used with Permission