Friday, May 20, 2011

A Sad Ending To A Love Affair

Major General John F. Reynolds

       Pennsylvania General John F. Reynolds spent his entire adult life in uniform. He entered West Point at the age of seventeen and graduated 26th out of 50 cadets in the class of 1841. He would be assigned to the artillery and saw action in the Mexican War. The friendship between Confederate General Lewis Armistead and Federal General Winfield Hancock has been well documented. Most have overlooked the fact that Reynolds was also a good friend of the two men. The three met during the Mexican War. 
       Reynolds became the commandant of cadets at the Military Academy when the Civil War began. It could have been there that he met Catherine Mary "Kate" Hewitt. Kate had been born in New York in 1836. She was almost 16 years younger than John Reynolds. Her life had been full of tragedies. She had lost her mother and brother when she was young. 
       Kate moved to California in 1856 where she worked at a Catholic school. She could have met John there. She converted to Catholicism while in California. Despite this small problem, they soon fell in love and were secretly engaged. Being Catholic at the time was very unpopular and John was afraid it would hurt his chances at promotion in the army. Because of this, he also hid the information from his family. 


       Reynolds became one of the most respected and loved officers in the Federal army. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, Reynolds was a major general in command of a corps. He led his men into battle that day, calling to his men, "Forward men, forward for God's sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods."
       A bullet soon struck Reynolds behind the left ear. He fell from his horse, crashing face down on the ground. The general was dead. His effects were sent to his family and it was there that the family discovered he was romantically involved. A ring was found on a chain around his neck. "Dear Kate" was inscribed inside the ring. He also wore a cross around his neck. They also noted that his West Point ring was missing.

Kate Hewitt

       On July 3, Kate arrived at the Reynolds home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. John's sisters rushed to meet her at the door and embraced her. Kate informed the family that she had hesitated to come because she knew not one member of the family, but she couldn't bear to not see John one more time. Upon seeing his body, she broke down. Kate remained with the body during the night long vigil. 
       She gave John's West Point ring back to the family, but insisted on keeping the cross he wore. John's sisters told her how much they regretted their brother not telling them about his fiancée. They made Kate's stay as comfortable as possible. They also treated Kate as a sister and attempted to meet her at least once a year. 
       A week after the funeral, Kate kept a promise she had made to John in the event of his death. She joined a convent and decided to become a nun. Ironically, the convent she joined was only ten miles from the spot where John had been killed.

Reynolds grave in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

       Five years later, for reasons unknown, Kate Hewitt left the convent without ever having taken any vows. She returned to Albany, New York where she became a school teacher. Kate eventually gave up the Catholic faith. Mourning for her lost love, she would never marry. 

Kate's grave in Stillwater, New York

       Catherine Mary "Kate" Hewitt would die of pneumonia in 1902, almost 29 years after the death of John. She is buried in Stillwater, New York. Hopefully, the two are finally together now.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow! What a love story and in the midst of such violence! Thank you for telling their story.

  3. An extraordinary story! When Kate and Reynolds returned from SF, they had with them a 13-year old orphan, named Catherine Dunn, whom Kate had informally adopted. Had they married, they presumably would have adopted Catherine as their daughter. Instead, Catherine fades from history. I would love to find out Catherine's subsequent story (I have one intriguing possibility, but am unable to verify it). Frank Burns