- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Many students of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg know the tragic tale of Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, but few know that Reynolds had a secret love named Kate and that even the Reynolds family knew nothing about her before the general’s death at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

In May 1863, the Army of the Potomac suffered a stinging defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. President Lincoln was fed up with his Eastern Army commanders. He already had relieved Ambrose Burnside after Fredericksburg and had tired of George McClellan’s plodding pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Rebel army.

Lincoln’s advisers told him the best-regarded officer in the Union Army was John Fulton Reynolds, a 42-year-old graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and native of Lancaster, Pa. (just 50 miles from the battlefield at Gettysburg). Reynolds frequently was praised by his contemporaries.

McClellan wrote that Reynolds was “remarkably brave and intelligent, an honest, true gentleman.”

Reynolds was quiet, efficient and dedicated to the Union cause. Reviews of contemporary letters and diaries can uncover no negative words about him.

Lt. Frank Haskell, who wrote a famous account of the Confederate repulse at Gettysburg, called Reynolds “one of the soldier generals of the army, a man whose soul was in his country’s work.”

“General Reynolds obeys orders literally himself, and expects all under him to do the same,” wrote artilleryman Charles Wainwright. “General Reynolds is very different from [Gen. Joseph] Hooker, in that he never expresses an opinion about other officers. I can get nothing out of him.”

Lincoln invited Reynolds to the White House for a private meeting. Many historians believe Lincoln offered the taciturn soldier command of the Army of the Potomac but that Reynolds wanted unfettered control of the Army, a stipulation Lincoln would not allow.

A few weeks later, Lincoln ordered Hooker relieved. On the night of June 27, 1863, Gen. George Gordon Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac in Frederick, Md.

Meade had to deal immediately with Lee’s invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. He drew up a plan known as the Pipe Creek Defense Line, which stretched from Middleburg, Md., to Manchester, Md.

By July 30, Reynolds and his 1st Corps were in the middle of this line. By the evening before the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, Reynolds and his troops were at Emmitsburg.

The Union Army campsite covered the grounds of what is now the Department of Homeland Security’s National Emergency Training Center (then the grounds of Saint Joseph’s Academy) along with what is now the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and reached almost to what is now the Post Office in Emmitsburg.

An Illinois officer wrote that the weary soldiers found themselves near a Catholic convent. “The beauty and tranquility of this place, so strikingly in contrast with a military tumult which suddenly invested it, are vividly remembered,” he recorded.

The Daughters of Charity made bread for their new flock.

Gen. John Buford and his cavalry were the first to encounter Lee’s Confederate forces just outside Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. He hastily scribbled notes to Reynolds, the commander of the Union Army’s 1st Corps, urging his rapid march to the battle site.

Buford was conducting a defense in depth — slowing down the Confederates of Gen. Henry Heath’s division but also executing a slow, organized withdrawal.

Buford was at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg when Reynolds and his forces came on the scene. In a famous exchange, Reynolds called out, “What goes, John?”

Buford characteristically replied, “The Devil’s to pay!”

Reynolds quickly assessed the situation. He sent a member of his staff, Capt. Stephen Minot Weld, to Meade with this situation report: “Tell the General that we will hold the heights to the south of the town, and that I will barricade the streets of the town if necessary.”

Personally directing his men after arriving on the field, Reynolds shouted out, “Forward men, forward for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods.”

Within minutes, however, a Confederate sniper shot Reynolds, who wheeled and fell from his horse.

He was dead — a tragic loss to the Union cause.

The Union Army quietly removed the body of its 1st Corps commander from the field by ambulance. Then, because his family lived so close to the battlefield, Reynolds’ remains and personal effects were sent home to his family. Among those effects, the Reynolds family discovered a previously unknown ring engraved with the words “Dear Kate.”

The Reynolds family had never known that John Reynolds had met and fallen in love with Catherine Mary “Kate” Hewitt, his secret love, in California in 1860.

When Reynolds had been transferred to West Point, Miss Hewitt had traveled back east with him. While Reynolds had taught at West Point, she had attended the Sacred Heart Academy near Torresdale, Pa.

Reynolds had planned to marry his Kate but had postponed the nuptials as the war erupted.

Kate had vowed to join the convent if anything happened to her John.

After Reynolds’ death, Catherine Hewitt met the Reynolds family and became like a daughter.

Then she traveled to Emmitsburg and entered the Charity convent. Miss Hewitt became Sister Hildegardi.

She kept in touch with the Reynolds family until 1868, when she left the convent. The sisters at Emmitsburg found her “unsuitable for community life,” according to biographer Marian Latimer, author of “Is She Kate?”

Brooding, mourning for a man that was neither husband nor blood relative, she was alone in the world. She apparently gave up on her Catholic faith and returned to her first home in Stillwater, N.Y.

Catherine Mary Hewitt died of pneumonia there in 1895. She is not buried in a Catholic cemetery.

Mr. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page of The Washington Times.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide