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4.28.2016

Downtown Gettysburg: Shriver and Jennie Wade House Museums & More

Once we finished brunch at Biglerville's Fidler and Co. and got a decent primer on the battle at the Gettysburg National Battlefield and Visitor Center, we headed into town to check out some of the different museums. Prior to venturing through the battlefield, we wanted to evaluate the aftermath first, which is the most important lesson that we can learn from studying the battle. The museum did an excellent job of this from the perspective of the soldiers. Now we wanted to take a look at what the civilians experienced. 
The Shriver House Museum
Of all of the places we visited throughout the city of Gettysburg, the Shriver and Jennie Wade House Museums were probably my favorites in portraying the real toll of war, the human toll. The Jennie Wade House was the site of the only (direct) civilian death in Gettysburg during the battle. Saying she was the only civilian death during the battle is a bit of a misrepresentation when accounting for the spread of disease after the battle. The civilians were left to clean up the horrific aftermath. Not only were there 7000 bodies, but there were "piles of limbs" that littered the area from young men who were forced to have amputations. Before you explore the battlefield, I highly recommend going to the museum, and visiting the civilian centered museums around the town. Understanding the context of this battle, before you go out into the field, is critical.
The Jennie Wade House was home to the only direct casualty of battle. Jennie (or Ginnie) was baking bread in her home, when a Confederate sniper's bullet killed her at only twenty years old. She lived a difficult life as it was, with her father being committed to an asylum, in addition to the man she was said to be engaged to being sent off into battle. He would die a few weeks later in the battle of Winchester. Her mother and herself were seamstresses, operating out of their house.

Perhaps the saddest and most beautiful thing that I've heard is that her mother ended up baking fifteen loaves of bread with the dough that her daughter was making when she was shot. Stories like this make the battle real to me. While war game strategy is interesting to study and changes with each battle, the end result always remains the same on the micro level. Families get torn apart in war.. The story of the tragedy of Jennie Wade is duplicated similarly in every war. You could easily mix up the Jennie Wade story with that of the wedding party that was hit by snipers in Sarajevo's Sniper Alley during the Bosnian War, or today with drone strikes possibly taking out one or two targets and killing many innocent people that may have been around the targeted individuals. In military terms, it is easy to claim that these human lives are "collateral damage," but to these families, that is an entirely different story. The Wade family and countless others throughout the history of time, have lost loved ones that had no interest or part in whatever battle was being waged around them. 
As we were venturing through the area, all of the trees were starting to spring back into life. 
One of the "Witness Trees," the "Twin Sycamores" at the great Mr. G's Ice Cream. The Sycamores are roughly two centuries old. This place cannot be missed if you are in Gettysburg. Delicious ice cream and a cool place to check out.
I think the place that really tied Gettysburg together for me was the Shriver House Museum.
The Shriver House was built just a few years prior to the Civil War by a young family. George and Hettie Shriver were a young couple that had two daughters, Sadie and Mollie. George was working on building a tavern and small business out of their newly built home, when the war came along. George enlisted and was out fighting. When it became apparent that a battle was going to take place in Gettysburg, Hettie took their two young daughters out to her grandfather's farm that was located between Big and Little Round Tops. Little did she know that this is where some of the bloodiest fighting would take place, and that they would witness all of it. The Shrivers came home on July 7th to find out that the Confederate armies had ravaged their home and pillaged all that they could. They used the home for a slop house, busting holes into the side wall and shooting out of the house. They partook in drinking, gambling, and pilfering anything that they could. The quiet country home that her family had worked so hard to build was forever scarred by the Confederates that commandeered her family home. In the end, Hettie would be the only person left out of her entire family within the next decade. This is a tragic story that is relatable and captures the essence of what every war has ever caused to innocent civilians. These are the people we need to study when we consider waging war. 

The Shriver House tour captured the essence of this war. The house is set up masterfully, and the tour tells the story of a family that we can all relate to, a family that was just trying to live out the American Dream.

Confederate snipers commandeered her home and used it for unspeakable acts of violence.
And they used the home as a center of vice: drinking, gambling, killing, and more. 
Holes in the side of the building from shots fired by Union soldiers in return from the Confederate sniper fire
Of all of the educational centers in Gettysburg, the Shriver House fully captured the civilian experience. We highly recommend visiting these different places before you head out into the battlefield. The context is extremely important to understand before you travel through the fields of monuments that memorialize the sacrifice, despair, and agony that was endured by everyone in Gettysburg.

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