American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

John Burns: Jenny Wade

Most of the people of Gettysburg left their homes on the approach of the Confederates, but among the citizens was one old man named John Burns, a veteran of the war of 1812, who had no notion of running away. When he heard that the enemy was marching on the town, he took down his old State musket and began running bullets.

"What are going to do with those bullets?" asked his wife, who had anxiously watched his movements.

"Oh," replied he, "I thought some of the boys might want the old gun, and I'm getting it ready for them."

When the Union troops passed through the streets, he seized his gun and started out.

"Where are you going?" called the old lady after him.

"Going to see what's going on," he answered.

Going to a Wisconsin regiment, he asked the men if he might join them. They gave him three rousing cheers and told him to fall in. A rifle was given him in place of his old gun, and the old man fought bravely in the first day's fight, and received three wounds. When the Union troops fell back, he was left with the other wounded on the battle field, where he was found by the Confederates. Being in citizen's dress, he knew they would shoot him if they found out that he had been fighting against them, so when they said to him, "Old man, what are you doing here?" he replied:

"I am lying here wounded, as you see."

"But what business had you here, and who wounded you, our troops or yours?"

"I don't know who wounded me; I only know that I am wounded and in a bad fix."

"Well, what were you doing here? What business had you here on the field in battle time?"

He told them he was going home across the fields, and got caught in the scrape before he knew it. They asked him where he lived, and carried him home and left him there; they suspected him, for they asked him many more questions; but old Burns stuck to his story, and they finally left him.

There was a heroine as well as a hero among the people of Gettysburg. Before the battle, Jenny Wade was baking bread for the Union soldiers. She was in a house within range of the guns. When the Confederates drove the Union troops through the town, and forced them to take refuge on Cemetery Hill, they ordered her to leave.

But she refused and kept at her work even while the battle was going on. While busy with her baking a Minie ball killed her almost instantly. She was laid in a coffin which had been prepared for a Confederate officer, slain about the same time, and now lies on Cemetery Hill, where the battle raged hottest that day.