The Ghost of Jennie Wade

Family History
15 July 2013

Jennie Wade ([Public domain] from Wikipedia)
Jennie Wade ([Public domain] from Wikipedia)
One hundred fifty years after the bloody battle fought there, Gettysburg is a city rich in history and hauntings. Thousands of soldiers gave their lives at Gettysburg, and apparently many of them had some unfinished business because they are still there.

One of the most “felt” ghosts of Gettysburg isn’t a soldier. It’s the ghost of a woman often called Jennie Wade. It’s said that her ghost comforts people who are scared or upset—ironic, right?

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Perhaps she still haunts the town because she’s upset that people don’t get her story right, starting with her name. Her real name was Mary Virginia Wade, though she was called “Ginny.”

Ginny was born and raised in Gettysburg, where, at the end of June 1863, Union forces were gathering in anticipation of their next battle. Twenty-year-old Ginny took refuge in a home that turned out to be no refuge at all—the home of Georgia McClellan, who was soon to deliver a baby.

Mary Virginia Wade appears as "Jennie" on the index for a Civil War pension granted her mother. (Image courtesy of
Mary Virginia Wade appears as “Jennie” on the index for a Civil War pension granted her mother. (Image courtesy of Ancestry)

Around the same time, soldiers had arrived in the area and needed bread and water. According to her mother’s account, Ginny baked for the soldiers both before and during the battle. On her last morning, Ginny had awoken early to make more bread. While she worked in the kitchen, a bullet traveled through the house, hit her in the back, and killed her instantly. It’s said she was buried with bread dough still on her hands.

Many ghost stories involving Ginny say that she was a midwife delivering a baby during the war. Some say that the baby died, so Ginny’s work was left unfinished. It’s unlikely that Ginny was a midwife by trade. The 1860 census shows that her mother was a tailor, and Ginny presumably helped her with the work. Various historical records also make it clear that Ginny was not helping with the birth of just anyone’s baby, but with her sister’s baby—Ginny’s first nephew. Georgia McClellan was Ginny’s older sister.

1860 U.S. Federal Census, Mary Virginia Wade (Image courtesy of
1860 U.S. Federal Census, Mary Virginia Wade (Image courtesy of Ancestry)

And what did become of that child? Did he die, leaving Ginny’s work unfinished? No. The Gettysburg baby, Lewis K. McClellan, lived not only through the turning point of the Civil War but also through World War I and into World War II. He died in February of 1941.

So, what is Ginny’s unfinished business? Not the bread—reports say that her mother finished baking the loaves the next day. If Ginny really does have something to resolve, perhaps it’s that she never married her supposed fiancé, Corporal Johnston Hastings Skelly, who was serving in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. If that’s the case, the next person who encounters Ginny’s ghost in Gettysburg might tell her that Johnston died honorably just about a week after she did.

—Kendra Williamson

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