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History Made Personal: Jennie Wade’s Purse


The 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War was recognized around the nation this past April, with hundreds of communities sharing lectures, speeches, artifacts and even some remembrances from those whose ancestors participated in the historic conflict. The Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1- 3, 1863 was a turning point in that war. Roughly 160,000 soldiers gathered in the small crossroads town for one of the seminal events in American history. Brutal fighting in places with colorful names like the Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard would in subsequent years be material for hundreds of books whose authors tried to decipher the reasons for the bloody battle.

The town of Chadds Ford, Pa., holds a significant artifact from this important battle. A tiny change purse sits in a case at the Christian C. Sanderson Museum on Creek Road. The purse rests quietly among the many Civil War artifacts displayed nearby, but it links us in a very personal way to one of the most tragic events of that battle. The purse belonged to Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Jennie Wade’s Purse

Jennie Wade was 20 years old in July 1863 and a supporter of the Union cause, baking bread and distributing it to Union soldiers as they swept into the town on the first day of the battle. Although Jennie lived blocks away on Breckenridge Street, she decided to move her family to the center of town into her sister’s brick house on Baltimore Street, which she felt would be a safer place. On July 2, she and her sister prepared another batch of dough and left it to rise overnight. On the morning of July 3, Jennie stood in the kitchen kneading dough when a Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet pierced the wooden door and hit her in the back, killing her on the spot.

Christian Sanderson, an avid collector of Americana, gathered thousands of artifacts during his 84 years of life from people and places around the country and around the world. He met Jennie’s sister Georgia Wade McClellan in Gettysburg in 1913 on the 50th anniversary of the battle. She later sent him Jennie’s purse as a reminder of Gettysburg. Sanderson treasured the purse, and it holds a special place in the hearts and minds of people who have studied this tumultuous event. There were nearly 600,000 casualties from this war, with fathers fighting sons, brother against brother and families torn apart forever. The South would slowly rise again, but only after many decades of effort to rebuild and move away from its blistering past. Memories of the Civil War remain with us in simple things like Jennie Wade’s Purse.

Visit the Sanderson Museum – A Man’s Life, A Nation’s History at 1755 Creek Road (old Route 100) in Chadds Ford, PA, just north of Route 1 or online at www.SandersonMuseum.org.

For information on the author of this article, visit www.GenePisasale.com.

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