Saturday, July 6, 2013

Over 46,000 Gettysburg Casualties, But Only One Civilian Death

Jennie Wade
The July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, considered the bloodiest of the Civil War, resulted in approximately 23,055 Union casualties (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded and 5,369 captured or missing) out of a force of nearly 94,000. On the Confederate side there were some 23,231 losses (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded and 5,830 captured or missing) out of a force of 71,699. An unknown number of additional deaths followed as many of the wounded perished from lack of adequate medical care.

What I find remarkable is that the only civilian casualty of that conflict was 20-year-old Mary Virginia ("Jennie") Wade, who was shot at 8:30 am, July 3, at her sister Georgia McClellans's home by a bullet that went through two wooden doors and struck her left shoulder blade and heart, killing her instantly. There were other Gettysburg civilians, including children, who died later as a result of live ammunition left on the surrounding battlefields after the war, but no other noncombatants were killed during the three day conflict.

Prior to her death Jennie is reported to have said, "If there is anyone in this house that is to be killed today, I hope it is me, as Georgia has a little baby." That baby had just been born to Jennie's sister in a difficult delivery two days before, and Jennie and her mother were there to help take care of Georgia and the new arrival as well as to bake bread for hungry Union troops.

To add to the tragedy of the story, Jennie is believed to have been engaged to a Corporal Johnston Skelly of the 87th Pennsylvania regiment who, unknown to her, had been wounded and captured in a battle in Winchester on May 13, then died in a Confederate hospital there on July 12. He also never heard about his fiance's tragic death over a week earlier.

Many other civilians died elsewhere as a direct or indirect result of the Civil War, some due to malnutrition and disease (there were in fact twice as many soldiers who died from infections and infectious diseases as by guns or cannons). But civilians were not normally in the line of fire as they are today. With the use of aerial bombing, missile attacks and drone warfare, war has become ever more inhumane and barbaric, and many more civilians are killed or injured than combatants.

When will we ever learn?

Information from various online sources and from a recent visit to Gettysburg.
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