Sunday, June 30, 2013

Culp's Hill And The Tragic Story Of Three Friends

Culp's Hill
  On the 1st of July 1863 the remnants of the Union 1st and 11th Corps retreated through Gettysburg to Culp's and Cemetery Hill. The union line from Culp's Hill to Big Round Top looked like a fish hook with Culp's Hill being the barb. Culp's Hill was the extreme right of the Union line. On the night of the 1st Confederate General James S. Ewell, who is buried in Nashville's City Cemetery, was given discretionary orders by Lee to take Culp's Hill. Take it if possible but not to bring on a general engagement. Ewell sent a Division under Major General Edward Johnson to take the Hill. He sent out a small party to reconnoiter and they ran into the 7th Indiana Infantry of the 1st Corps. As a result Johnson failed to attack. This was a critical mistake of the battle. Had the Confederates taken Culp's Hill it would have made the rest of the Union line untenable. By the next day there were too many Union troops on Culp's Hill. The Confederates sacrificed hundreds of men trying to take it on July 2nd and 3rd when it had been there for the taking on July 1st. This is why Stonewall Jackson's death was such a loss to the South because Ewell commanded Jackson's 2nd Corps. Many historians believe that Jackson would have taken the hill. 

  One of the Confederates killed on Culp's Hill was John Wesley Culp. He was born and raised in Gettysburg. Culp played on his Uncle Henry's farm on Culp's Hill growing up. The Culp name is very prominent in Gettysburg and when I visited Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery on Cemetery Hill there were many Culp's buried there. Wesley Culp became a harness maker for a company that made carriages. In 1858 the owner decided to move the company to Shepherdstown Virginia and Wesley decided to go with the company. He made many new friends although he stayed in contact with his friends and family in Gettysburg. When the war started Culp decided to enlist in the Confederate Army so he could be with his Shepherdstown friends. Wesley's brother William enlisted in the Union Army but they never faced each other in battle. Before the Confederate Army headed north Wesley ran across an old Gettysburg friend that had been mortally wounded and captured at the 2nd battle of Winchester on June 15, 1863. His name was Corporal Jack Skelly, a Union soldier who was engaged to be married to another friend and Gettysburg resident Virginia "Jennie" Wade. Jack gave Wesley a letter and asked him to deliver it to Jennie if he came close enough to Gettysburg. Wesley never got to deliver the letter because he was killed fighting on Culp's Hill on July 3rd.
  Jennie Wade was a twenty year old seamstress and along with her family was forced to leave her home in Gettysburg because of the fighting on July 1st and move in with her sister Georgia and her newborn son. Georgia had a difficult delivery and was bedridden. Jennie took care of her sister and distributed bread and water to the Union soldiers that came near the house. On July 2nd Jennie ran out of bread and she and her mother prepared more. They allowed the yeast to rise until the next morning. On the morning of the 3rd Confederate sharpshooters were firing bullets into the north side of the the house. About 8:30 AM, while Jennie was kneading bread, a bullet crashed through two doors and struck her in the back, killing her instantly. When we visited the Jennie Wade house in 2005 the tour guide showed us where she was shot and where her sister lay in bed in the next room. It was decided to move the family to the other side of the house so they would be safer. They walked upstairs and crossed through a hole created by an artillery shell and then walked down into the basement where they stayed until the end of the battle. 

  There is a bed in the corner of the basement with what looks like a woman's body covered with a blanket. The house today is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in America if you believe in the paranormal. Jennie was buried in the yard for six months. Her body was moved to a church yard until 1865 when it was moved to it's third and final resting place in Evergreen cemetery. An executive order was signed making it possible to fly the American flag over her grave twenty four hours a day. The only other woman to have that honor is Betsy Ross. Jack Skelly would die of his wounds on July 12th 1863 and was buried near his sweetheart Jennie Wade. Wesley Culp's body was believed buried on the battlefield but his grave has never been located.
Culp's Hill
Wesley Culp

Jennie Wade death house

Table that Jennie was kneading bread on when she died.

Bullet hole

Stairway leading to attic where family escaped to the basement / Supposed apparition 


Evergreen Cemetery

Jennie Wade Grave / Evergreen Cemetery

Grave of Jack Skelly / Evergreen Cemetery

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