Civil War Ballads: Death of Jenny Wade

David Matthews (no, not that one) wrote and recorded this song for his 1994 album Shades of Blue & Gray: Songs From The Civil War, released by Delta, and re-released on various alternatively-titled albums over the years. It heavily romanticizes the alleged love between Jennie (Ginnie) Wade, the only direct civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Corporal Johnston Hastings “Jack” Skelly of the 87th Pennsylvania.

Mary Virginia “Ginnie” Wade

As they said their goodbyes
He looked in her eyes
He said, Jenny, my love, I will return.
She held his hands to her breast
Said even though we’re apart,
I will hold you inside
like the light in my heart.

Always together, for now and forever
Love is the armor that keeps us alive
Always together, for now and forever
I love you, fair Jenny
Fair Jenny, my wife

With the fighting and dying
Raging outside her door
Jenny wondered where John was tonight
And although she could not know
John lay dyin’ alone
In the land of Virginia,
Away from their home.

Corporal Johnston Hastings “Jack” Skelly

Always together, for now and forever
Love is the armor that keeps us alive
Always together, for now and forever
I love you, fair Jenny
Fair Jenny, my wife

One lone shell calling
For Jenny that day
As the smoke and the dust settled down
And this small town of farmers
Said goodbye on that day
And a young bride of 20,
They placed in the ground.

Always together, for now and forever
Love is the armor that keeps us alive
Always together, for now and forever
I love you, fair Jenny
Fair Jenny, my wife

Though a touching song, it’s not very historically accurate. Jenny Wade’s name was Mary Virginia “Ginnie” (or “Jennie”) Wade, not Jenny. Ginnie was the diminutive form of Virginia. Her presumed fiance, Johnston Hastings “Jack” Skelly, was not named John. Ginnie and Jack were childhood sweethearts, and a photo of Jack was found in the pocket of Ginnie’s gown after she died.

Jack was wounded in the Second Battle of Winchester (Carter’s Woods). While laying in a Confederate hospital, he gave Wesley Culp, an old friend from Gettysburg who joined the Hamtramck Guards in Virginia and remained in the Confederate Army during the war, a letter to give to Ginnie if he ever made it home. Before he could deliver the message, Wesley (ironically) died near Culps Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg. Many speculated the message was a marriage proposal, but we will never know. Jack succumbed to his wounds in Virginia on July 12.

About 8:00 a.m. on July 3, 1863, Ginnie was kneading dough in her sister’s kitchen when a Minié ball pierced the door and struck her heart, killing her instantly. She became the only direct civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg. The house where she died is now the Farnsworth House Inn.

The untimely deaths of Ginnie Wade, her childhood sweetheart, Jack, and her sweetheart’s friend, Wesley, seemed to perfectly capture all the tragedy of the Civil War. It’s no surprise their story has been romanticized and retold for generations.

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About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

Posted on July 27, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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