Jennie Wade, Wesley Culp and brothers Jack and Daniel Skelly were all young in the summer of 1863 when their hometown of Gettysburg played host to the greatest battle ever fought on the North American continent.
All four were still alive as dawn awakened Gettysburg on July 3.
Two of the four would not see another dawn.
Only Daniel Skelly would live to old age.
War swallows up the young in greedy gulps.
Daniel was then an 18-year-old clerk at the Fahnestock Brothers dry goods store on Baltimore Street. For the balance of the battle, he and his parents had been behind enemy lines after Confederates had invested the town on July 1, the first day of the conflict.
Two days later, he recalled, “When we got up in the morning of the third of July (the firing of guns) was a lively as during the (previous) night, with the addition of some artillery fire and continued until about 11 o’clock in the morning.”
During the morning, he encountered some Confederate soldiers “begrimed with powder” who had been fighting on the Rebel left around Culp’s Hill and weren’t happy about it.
“Their remarks about a hill they were butting up against were neither moral nor complimentary,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Mary Virginia “Jennie” Wade was baking bread at a house closer to the battlefield.
On the first day of battle, Jennie had left her home in the middle of town to stay with her sister. She should have stayed home. By the end of the battle, the sister’s house would be pock-marked with some 150 bullets, one of which took Jennie’s life on the morning of July 3.
She would never know that Wesley Culp, who came to Gettysburg to make war on his family and onetime neighbors, would be killed in battle that same morning.
Culp was tiny and bearded, like a Tolkien dwarf. He’d left Gettysburg before the war to take a job in Virginia. He must have grown especially fond of his adopted state; when the war broke out, he joined the 2nd Virginia Infantry.
On his way to Gettysburg, Culp happened to visit a boyhood friend, Johnston “Jack” Skelly, Daniel Skelly’s older brother. Jack was a Union soldier of the 87th Pennsylvania lying seriously wounded in a Virginia hospital after the Battle of Winchester in June 1863.
By some accounts, Jack was engaged to Jennie Wade. Reportedly, he entrusted a letter to Culp to be delivered to Skelly’s mother should Culp find himself in Gettysburg.
By July 12, only Daniel Skelly was still alive. Jack succumb to his wounds, nine days after Jennie Wade became the only Gettysburg civilian killed during the battle and Wesley Culp died not too very far from his uncle’s property on Culp’s Hill.
Unlike the other three, Daniel saw the Army of Northern Virginia defeated and Gettysburg relieved. No longer trapped behind enemy lines, he ventured out to see a Gettysburg countryside ripped to pieces.
“This, my first sight of a great battlefield, with all its carnage, ruin, suffering and death- and witnessed the day after the conflict- made a deep and lasting impression on my young mind,” he recalled, “stamping war on my memory as too horrible to even think about.”
He was still alive in 1932, the year he published a memoir, “A Boy’s Experiences During the Battle of Gettysburg.” An article in the Gettysburg Times in March of that year called him “one of the few persons in Gettysburg and Adams County who is able to relate the history and changes here since the Civil War.”
Skelly published his memoir just in time – he died later that year, age 87.
He is buried in Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery, where Jack Skelly and Jennie Wade lie near each other.
Wade also has a monument in the cemetery with the rare tribute of an American flag flying at all times. The home where she was killed is now the Jennie Wade House. Located on Baltimore Street, the site is both a museum and a repository of the inevitable ghost stories.
She is the subject of several books, including “The Jennie Wade Story” by Gettysburg resident Cindy L. Small and “Caught in the Storm: The Story of Jennie Wade” by Larry Carmichael, Mary Whitehead and Ellena Cheney.
As for Wesley Culp, the whereabouts of his corpse are unknown.