Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Old Postcard Wednesday--Jenny Wade House and Monument, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Notice that the back of this old postcard mentions only that poor Jenny Wade was killed "while attending to household duties . . . " and does not specify what that housework was. It is interesting to me because Googling Jenny Wade brings up numerous hits that mention she (most often spelled Jennie in online sources) was killed while making biscuits. For instance, the Battle of Gettysburg Resource Center goes into considerable detail about that unfortunate day (I added highlighting):
Jennie Wade, 20 years old at the time of the battle . . . spent most of July 1st distributing bread to Union soldiers and filling their canteens with water. By late afternoon on July 2nd, the diminishing supply of bread made it apparent that more bread would be needed the next day. Jennie and her mother left the yeast to rise until the morning of the 3rd.

At about 7am on the morning of the July 3rd, the Confederate sharpshooters began firing at the north windows of the house.   The prep work to bake biscuits was begun at 8am.  At about 8:30am, while Jennie stood in the kitchen kneading dough, a Confederate bullet pierced two wooden doors and struck her in the back beneath her left shoulder blade embedding itself in her corset.  She fell dead with a groan.   The cries of her sister and mother attracted Federal soldiers who carried Jennie's body to the cellar.  Later she was buried in a coffin some Confederate soldiers had fashioned for an officer. In the early afternoon of July 4th, Mrs. Wade baked 15 loaves of bread from the dough which Jenny had kneaded. . . -- from a special Gettysburg edition of the Civil War Times Vol. 2 No. 4 dated July 1963, plus other sources
Evidently, the Civil War Times piece does not carry weight with all Civil War buffs, at least not regarding the details of what happened to Jenny's dough. There is a quite humorous conversation thread at Civil War Talk, begun in Nov. 2006, wherein various guys discuss the outcome of Jenny's dough and/or biscuits. A person named Gary jumped into the conversation in Jan. 2008 (he had over 3000 posts at the time - now there is a Civil War fanatic!):
First, it is safe to assume that which ever side held the area around her house got to eat the biscuits. However, Gettysburg was in Union hands until they were driven out of the town and onto Cemetery and Culp's Hill. Therefore, we have to determine the time Wade was shot. If early in the battle, it is likely that the boys in blue ate the biscuits. If later in the day, then the Corn-feds were biscuit fed which makes them Not-so-Corn-fed or Not-as-much-Corn-fed.

Second, if the biscuits were eaten, how do we know Wade was baking biscuits when she was killed? Was she even finished making the batter or was she in the process of making the batter? If she was in the process, how does one distinguish between biscuit dough and doughnut dough? Bisquick wasn't marketed yet (and Wade was no f-rby to have snuck an empty box into her house). I don't think we can. We can certainly tell it isn't pie dough as pie dough has altogether a different texture. It wasn't cake dough either as cake dough tends to be very wet and runny. Having baked pies and cakes, I base my assertion on first hand knowledge. So, as to Wade's intent, did she leave behind a dairy, journal or letter that said, "I'm making biscuits today?" Did she make a statement to another who recorded it? Or was she by habit making biscuits daily? We don't know. Perhaps Wade in the practice of making biscuits whenever there's a battle in town. Most likely not as Gettysburg didn't have any battles before that day (unlike Yorktown or Bull Run). Assuming Wade did make biscuits, if they were eaten by either side, what evidence do we have that she did make biscuits? I can't find any reference in the Official Records and I challenge any scholar to find it (with respects to Wade's biscuits). I can't expect any soldier's journal entry or letter to read, "I ate poor Jennie Wade's biscuits today." However, if a soldier, any soldier on either side, ate biscuits that day and his unit was in Gettysburg, that might be recorded in the diary. Some soldiers did record mundane things like the distance they marched, the weather and what they dined on. So, someone please show me the letter. I haven't read it myself, haven't seen it in any published diary or journal or memoir or letter. I haven't read it in any regimental or unit history and Andy Turner's Gettysburg magazine doesn't have an article on it either.

It also raises an issue of culiniary practice. Are Pennsylvanians in the habit of serving gravy with their biscuits and if so, was there evidence of gravy or the ingredients for gravy in her kitchen? Gravy would indicate that she was preparing or did prepare biscuits. Generally gravy is made while the biscuits are baking. At least that's how I'd do it.

If the biscuits were made and consumed, there'd be no evidence that Wade even made biscuits at all that day. Could the biscuit story be fabricated by some Gettysburg resident in anticipating of giving Wade an air of nobility?

Never mind slavery and the cause of the war! Never mind whether slaves fought for the Confederacy! We've got a real issue at hand that demands hard answers. Why have historians overlooked something like this for years? Who started the conspiracy to canonize Wade? Did they want to draw tourists there to worship at her house like the spring at Lourdes? Didn't they think the battle would draw enough people there anyway?

Let's fire off these thoughts to the National Park Service and demand the truth. End the Conspiracy. I blame Bush.

Okay. On a serious note, a write-up on the Jennie Wade House at Gettysburg Tour Center is worth the click. It has new photos of the place, including a close-up of the red door (it is no longer green as in this old postcard) full of bullet holes.

Finally, I wondered if there might be a song about Jenny Wade. Yup, there is. Jim Nelson, a member of a band called The Cutaways, composed and recorded songs on a CD titled,  
To Gettysburg! Stories from the great battle that includes a song about Jennie Wade. Click on the link to hear a clip from The Gettysburg Maid.



Don't Feed The Pixies said...

fabulous - whoever knew making biscuits could be so dangerous or so controvertial.

I shall be more careful when creating food ever more!

Great post

francessa said...

Poor Jenny Wade! Killed in the line of duty. Interesting story, Lydia! I'm learning a lot about American history here and have listened to all those battle songs! Oh Jenny, sweet young Jenny ....

Lydia said...

DFTP~ So nice to have you here on Wednesday. I always love your comments on the old postcards I post. :)

francessa~ Poor Jenny Wade, indeed. To be honest I didn't know about her either until looking for information after deciding her card would be the postcard this week. Do you think that Jim Nelson did a good job with those songs? I was surprised how good some of them sound...nice that he set his interest in the Civil War to music. :)

La Belette Rouge said...

Never did I think a postcard of a woman who died in the civil war would lead to such hilarity. I have to say that something about "She died with a groan" also made me laugh. I know its not funny. I feel sure that most of us would groan if our biscuit making had been interrupted by death.

Lydia said...

La Belette Rouge~ I too know it's not funny but I too laughed at the groaning death line. The way the statement is just stuck there way the bullet stuck where it landed sounds like a funny skit or something.
In summer, when I think of biscuits I think strawberry shortcake!.

K. said...

Gary wanted to "did she leave behind a dairy?"

Good question, but did she need an entire dairy to make biscuits? sounds like one accomplished 20-year old!

Looking to the Stars said...

This was fascinating!!!! I loved it and I loved your joke "I blame Bush".That made me howl. I love your sense of humor.

We may never know the truth behind Jenny unless a member of her family wrote something. That's why I am writing the truth behind my family and encourage everyone to do the same.

One of my favorite quotes: "False history gets amde all day, any day. The turth of the new is never on the news." Adrianne Rich.

Thanks again for a great read :)

Lydia said...

K~ Look at you! I didn't even notice that the guy typed "dairy" instead of "diary"! (I assume he did mean diary, don't you? Now, can you explain what the author meant when he shortened one word or expression this way: "f-rby" ? I am clueless and my husband didn't know either.

Looking to the Stars~ I did not write the piece you are laughing at, my friend! Please note that I am quoting a man named "Gary" who was a part of a conversation thread at the site I linked above the quote.

Look at it this way, we both find the same thing very funny. :) I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

Lydia said...

Looking to the Stars~ p.s. I thought the "I blame Bush" line was great, too. He's not tied to this issue (I don't think) but shall we start numbering the things for which he is to blame? Nah, not enough hours in the day...

K. said...

I'm stumped as to what "f-rby" refers to. The first thing that comes to mind when you see "f-" is the F word, but that doesn't make any sense here. Unless Gary is pulling semi-Palin and inventing a new profanity.

In the sense, possibly it's an antonym of "passerby." So, instead of being an "innocent passerby," Wade could have been a "sneaky f-rby."

BTW, "gloaming" is one of my favorite words.

Lydia said...

K~ Gloaming IS my favorite word! When I saw it was the I whispered it to myself. It's so darn beautiful and the meaning behind it is too.

I don't know, maybe it is an antonym for passerby. My mind just stuck on Furby when I first saw it and won't let that go. But of course it doesn't stand for Furby!

Phivos Nicolaides said...

How much I love all these old postcards! Have a great day dear Lydia.

Lydia said...

Phivos~ And I love your visits!



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