A Song for Jennie

By Claire Bickers ’20


The above-pictured sheet music is an ode to Gettysburg’s own Jennie Wade, who was killed in the crossfire of July 3rd, 1863. The simple tune was created by lyricist E. B. Dewing and composer J. P. Webster who hoped they would inspire patriotism in their female audience while they worked to become accomplished musicians. When the Civil War broke out, the young women who played the piece had been left behind on the home front, only to imagine what horrors their men were facing. The government and the warfront alike relied on the homefront to present a brave and loyal face in order to maintain support for the war effort through the fostering of a nationalistic, sentimental culture that bled into all aspects of Union life. Music was a feminine expression of patriotic devotion that many women used to empathize with those on the battle front as well as to inspire themselves and their peers toward acts of patriotic sacrifice on behalf of their war-torn nation. After the war ended and America moved into Reconstruction, music like “Jennie Wade, the Heroine of Gettysburg” continued to inspire women, who were busy honoring the dead and healing the country’s gaping wounds.

In that vein, in 1865, Dewing and Webster produced a collection that was patriotically themed. One of the songs in that collection was “Jenny Wade, the Heroine of Gettysburg,” which was a simple tune included in an educational musical collection that described itself as being “divided into two kinds of lessons—the one for musical culture and the other for muscular culture… those lessons which are designed to awaken, develop, and strengthen a love for music.” Since the performers played this piece to develop their piano and vocal skills, it is likely that many of the earliest performers were young and still early on in their musical journey. It is also likely that many of the earliest performers of the song were in fact young women. Since musical ability was considered an asset for women’s marriageability and a marker of femininity and social class, many nineteenth-century young women were musically trained from an early age. If the intended audience for this music was indeed young women, then that makes it all the more interesting that the subject matter of this song is also a tribute to a woman. The women who played the music likely saw themselves in Jennie’s story; the shared experience of being a woman in a war-weary nineteenth century was a unifying force in the lives of both the consumer and the subject of the tune.

The message that these women consumed in the lyrics that Dewing wrote tap into nineteenth century ideas of sentimentalism. Soldiers and civilians alike relied upon the framework of sentimental thinking to understand and justify the brutality and fatality of war: Sentimentalism was an ideology that promoted unfailing courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming grief and honorable sacrifice in the name of a higher cause. Sentimentalism also emphasized the deep-rooted connection between soldier and home, reminding women on the homefront of their duty to remain stoic in the face of loss. Southern historian Lisa Laskin argues that “the people to whom the soldiers looked for emotional support also proved to be the group most capable of sabotaging soldier morale.” To protect soldiers’ morale, it was vital for women to maintain their patriotism during the war, and composers and lyricists such as Webster and Dewing monopolized upon the thirst for inspirational entertainment through the rapidly expanding genre of patriotic music.

At the onset of the Civil war, the patriotic music industry boomed, featuring many different styles of music, a large amount of which was styled after the Napoleonic epic of “The Battle of Prague.” Similarly styled songs, including “The Battle of Manassas” and “Battle of the Wilderness,” were composed throughout the war and attempted to capture the horrors of the battlefield through music, even calling for vocal sound effects (The “Battle of Manassas” encourages performers to exclaim “Chu Chu” at one point to imitate a train’s arrival) and dramatic gestures. Although the patriotic musical genre was dominated by battle songs and odes to the masculine, Dewing and Webster chose to honor a more feminine subject for a predominantly young, predominantly female audience. The song employs patriotic imagery as they praise her, saying her “spirit yet shall serve Free men defending right” because she died with the “courage of a woman true, [as she] Upheld the dear old flag.” Dewing intentionally chose these words to remind women of their bravery and sacrifice throughout the war, traits they would continue to need while facing its aftermath.

The publishers included a short line at the top of the sheet music that gives a brief explanation of the events that led up to Jenny’s death, noting that “the heroic girl…was making bread for our soldiers in a house between the two armies, and exposed to the fire of both, although repeatedly urged, she would not desist from her labors, and fell victim to her patriotism.” This story must have been striking to the young musicians who were playing the song for the first time. The young women who performed the piece doubtless all knew a man who had gone to war and would never return, but they were far less likely to have met a woman in the same situation. Being presented with the story of a young woman who died a bloody, masculine death must have been a stark reminder of the heavy cost of war: Even a northern woman, who was theoretically supposed to be safe from the danger of battle’s crossfire, could be killed in an instant and that minie balls did not discriminate on the basis of gender.

However, the description that Dewing wrote about Jennie’s death sanitized her passing as much as possible, distancing her death from the battlefield and aligning it with the feminine sphere. Dewing and Webster did not specifically mention how exactly Jennie died; they simply alluded to it and allowed players to infer the rest. Instead, the two men focused on what Jennie was doing at the time of her death – baking bread. This choice in details conveyed the message that Jennie’s physical and symbolic role in the war like all other women and civilians, was meant to be separate from the front-line action. Instead, a woman should prove her patriotic devotion by selflessly serving in the feminine sphere.

At twenty years old, Jennie Wade was probably not much older at her death than many of the musicians who played this piece. The song’s attempts to sentimentalize her death by laying Jennie to rest “with our bravest,” implied to performers that her sacrifice was just as deep and meaningful as the deaths of the more than seven thousand young men who fell on the Gettysburg battlefield. Consumers of “Jenny Wade, the Heroine of Gettysburg” and its message were presented with a sentimental interpretation not of those men’s deaths, but of the death of the one and only civilian killed during the battle. The song gives a face to this feminine martyr while inextricably linking the necessary and heroic sacrifices and sufferings of both the battlefield and the home front. Dewing and Webster’s song inspired their audience with the heroism that was expected of every American, civilian or soldier, in their country’s time of need.


Laskin, Lisa. “”The Army Is Not near so Much Demoralized as the Country Is”: Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front.” In The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, 91-120. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Marisi, Rossella. “Female Music Making in the Nineteenth Century.” Review of Artistic
Education, no. 5/6 (September 2013): 18–24.

Morgan, Elizabeth. “Combat at the Keys: Women and Battle Pieces for the Piano during
the American Civil War.” 19th Century Music, 40, 1 (2016):7–19.

“Welcome To Jennie Wade House.” Jennie Wade House | Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Accessed  March 26, 2019.

“We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?

By Jen Simone ’18

“I am so sick of hearing about the Civil War every single day.”
“I didn’t expect there to be so many history nerds at this school.”
“I don’t get why so many tourists come to a little place like Gettysburg.”

I hear constant complaints from fellow Gettysburg College students about how tired they get of hearing about the Civil War. What did they expect coming to Gettysburg College, situated in one of the most visited historic towns in America? More importantly, what is so wrong with hearing about the Civil War so often? I decided that I wanted to investigate—why are so many people drawn to this small town in rural Pennsylvania? What draws millions of people to take time out of their busy lives to explore this special place? I’m hoping that my findings will convince college students that it is worth exploring this history-rich town and maybe for once, get them to stop to read the interpretative markers while they’re out jogging on the battlefield instead of simply passing by.

What draws people again and again to this battlefield? Photograph by author.
What draws people again and again to this battlefield? Photograph by author.

I conducted my whole investigation by walking up to random people I met in town and asking them all the same simple question: “Why are you here?” I expected to get very similar answers throughout all of my interviews and was ready to keep a tally of people visiting because they are either history buffs or because they have never been to Gettysburg before and just thought they should visit and see what all of the hype is about. I was shocked, however, for no two responses I received were the same. Continue reading ““We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?”

Unfortunate Events and Special Circumstances: Why the Rupp Family Tells the Civilian Experience at Gettysburg

By Savannah Rose ’17

Is the Jennie Wade story important to remember? Is she the ideal image of the civilian experience during the Battle of Gettysburg? When it comes to the civilian experience at Gettysburg, tourists flock to the Jennie Wade House Museum to hear the tale of a young girl caught in the crossfire of a major battle. Wade’s circumstances were unusual for the battle, but her story is better known due to its excitement and tragedy than because of its representativeness. The lesser-known story of the Rupp family gives us a better idea of what civilians experienced when the two armies entered their town. Like most families during the battle, the Rupps escaped danger by avoiding the conflict, emerging unharmed. So what was the civilian story of the Battle of Gettysburg? Whose struggle better conveys the civilian experience? Is it the tragic story of a single civilian casualty, or the experience of a family that hid in their basement to escape harm?

The Rupp Tavern, currently owned by the Gettysburg Foundation, stands at the intersection of Baltimore and Steinwehr Avenue. Photo by the author.
The Rupp Tavern, currently owned by the Gettysburg Foundation, stands at the intersection of Baltimore and Steinwehr Avenue. Photo by the author.

Continue reading “Unfortunate Events and Special Circumstances: Why the Rupp Family Tells the Civilian Experience at Gettysburg”