A sad but true story

This was actually the first story I ever wrote on my Danish Historic Stories page. It takes place during the Civil War, but as most good stories, has a beginning. The story has three characters, two men and a woman, but it is not a love triangle in any way.

One of the men was Wesley Culp, a native of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1839 and grew up on what was then the outskirts of town. He spent a lot of time hunting in the woods of Culp's Hill, an area belonging to his uncle, Henry Culp. When he became a teen, he had to provide for himself, so he got to work as a harness maker for a local coachmaker in his hometown. In 1858 the coachmaker - tired of the local competition, moved his business to Martinsburg in what was then Virginia (present day West Virginia). Wesley and a couple of other employees moved along. In Martinsburg, Wesly made new friends and joined the local milita, which was more of a social club.The members met once or twice a month, made some drills and some shooting, and socialized. This way his life continued for three years, while still keeping in touch with his family back home in Gettysburg. In the 1860 census Wesley lived in Martinsburg, Virginia in the household of one John C. Allen, coachmaker from from Pennsylvania and together with several other tenants, that probably all worked for Allen, as three were recorded as blacksmiths, one coach painter and Wesley, who is recorded as coach trimmer.

In 1861 Virginia seceded from the Union, and the different local militias were incorporated in different regiments. The Martinsburg militia became part of 2nd Virginia Infantery Regiment, and Wesley was enrolled in Company B together with other members of the militia. Today nobody knows why he didn't return to Gettysburg and joined the Union Army, but the fact is, that he didn't. 2nd Virginia later became part of the famous Stonewall Brigade, and Wesley fought in the First Battle of Manassas, The Valley Campaign, The Peninsula Campaign, Second Battle of Manassas, Battle of Fredericksburg, Battle of Chancellorsville and Second Battle of Winchester (Carters Wood) and survived them all.

While Wesley was fighting for the Confederacy, his brother William had enrolled in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. The two forces confronted each other in The Second Battle of Winchester. None of them were wounded, but it is not known whether they actually met during the battle or not. On June 15, 1863 Wesley met one of his old childhood friends, Johnson "Jack" Skelly. He was wounded and taken prisoner. The two had grown up together, Wesley being two or three years older than Jack.  Jack knew he was badly wounded and never would return to Gettysburg, so he told Wesley that he was courting a young girl from their hometown, a girl that Wesley also knew well from their childhood. Her name was Mary Virginia Wade, and she was known as Ginny among her friends. It's not clear whether Jack and Ginny were officially engaged, or if they were just dating. Jack asked Wesley to bring a message to Ginny, when he got back to Gettysburg, and Wesley promised to do so. Some think that the message was a written note, but most think that it was just an oral message, which seems likely if Jack was badly wounded - and he was, as he died a July 12th.

The house  on Baltimore Street where Jennie was killed is today a Jennie Wade Museum. The staue outside depicts Jennie with bread and water for the Union troops.

Mary Virginia Wade was born in 1843 and so younger then both Wesley and Jack, and 20 in 1863.Today she is a celebrity in Gettysburg, as she was the only civilian, that was killed during the battle in July 1863. Among her friends, she was known as Ginny, but today she better is known as Jennie Wade. In Gettysburg you can see her birthplace (in Baltimore Street), the place she lived with her mom and siblings when the battle took place (in Breckingridge Street), and the house, where she was killed (in Baltimore Street about 0.3 miles from her birthplace). At that time the latter belonged to her sister, Georgiana, who was married and had left the familiy's home. At the time of the battle, Jennie or Ginny stayed with her mom and siblings at their home in Breckingridge Street. Their father was long gone, admitted to an asylum in 1852. Later rumors will know, that he had committed rape, but that can't be confirmed from official records. 

When the battle began, Jennie, her mother and her younger brothers moved in with Georgiana to help look after her newborn baby. On the 2nd of July heavy fighting took place in town and the McClelland House (home of Georgiana and her husband John McClelland) were hit by at least 150 bullets. At lot of fighting also took place outside town, and the Stonewall Brigade was involved in fighting on Culp's Hill. In the evening Wesleys commanding officer allowed him to visit his family on Culp's farm, not far from the hill. During this visit he told about the message he had for Ginny. (Some sources say the message was for Jacks mother, but most agree it was for the girl.) After the visit Wesley returned to his regiment, and nobody know if the brought the message to Ginny that night. If not, she never got it.

On the morning of July 3rd, Ginny and her mother were busy baking bread for the Union troops in the kitchen of Georgiana's house. A presumed Conferate sniper used the door handle of the McClelland house as target, and a stray bullet passed through the door and through another door to the kitchen where it struck Ginny in the back and she was killed instantly. Others think that the bullet may have been fired from a Union soldier somewhere on Emmitsburg Road, but nobody know for sure who fired the fatal shot. Later that day Wesley Culp were killed during the fighting at Culp's Hill. At least one source has that he was the only casualty in Company B of 2nd Virginia on that day. In the evening captain A. S. Pendleton the division aide de camp sneaked through what was now enemy lines, to inform Wesley Culp's family of his death. He also told them, that his comrades had buried Wesley under a certain crooked tree and marked the grave well.

Ginny was buried on the 4th of July in a coffin made for a Confederate officer in the backyard of her sister's house. In January 1864 the coffins was moved to the cemetery at the German Reformed Church in town, and in November 1865 it was moved once more, this time to a family plot on Evergreen Cemetery that John McClelland had bought after the war. Her boyfriend Jack Skelly was already buried here, and the two graves are rather close to each other. A monument is erected at the grave and the American flag are flying day and night. On the 4th of July, Wesley's uncle and cousins went to the battlefield to recover his body, but they never found it. All they found was a riffle stock with his name engraved on it. Later rumors will know, that they actually found the body but were afraid to bury it in a cemetery, in fear that some may dislike the idea of a traitor buried in hallowed grounds and vandalize the grave. In stead the remains of Wesley were buried in the cellar of the Culp farm.

As it appears, Jack Skelly survied longest of the three friends, but they all died within 10 days, and nobody knows if Wesley delivered he message to Ginny (or Jack's mother). The vdescendants of Georgiana McClelland thought though as late as in 1991, that he did deliver it. Such were the faiths of three young people interwoven to a sad but true story, and it is even sadder. Wesleys brother, William, survived the war, but he considered Wesley a traitor, and never mentioned his name again in his life.

Of course this is not all that is told about this story. At least one man from Gettysburg claimed that Jennie, far from being a unionist, was a confederate sympathizer and he even calls her a "she-rebel". He also claimed that she was killed by a citizen of Gettysburg, that didn't like that. Most sources today maintains though, that John Burns who made this accusation, was jealous because Jennie diverted attention from his own efforts in the battle. Burns was a 69 year old veteran from the war of 1812. He took a riffle and ammunition from a wounded Union soldier and walked out and fought with the Union army. He was wounded three times, and became a national hero, but may have felt that Jenny's fame dminished his own. Burns is not the only one to hint at Jenny's southern sympathies. It's also stated in diary of a black schoolgirl and another soucre claims, that she wasn't baking bread, but entertaining the troops in quite another way. But no matter what Jenny was doing, it doesn't influence the sad story.


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