Kate Hewitt

Kate Hewitt, fiancee of Maj. Gen. John Fulton Reynolds, in the early 1860s.

Editor's note: This column previously noted an incorrect route used by Gen. John Reynolds and Kate Hewitt when traveling from San Francisco to New York in the summer of 1860. The Panama Canal did not exist at that time. They used the Panama Railroad to cross the Isthmus of Panama.

On July 1, 1863 — the first day of the battle at Gettysburg — a Confederate minie ball penetrated behind the right ear of Maj. Gen. John Fulton Reynolds, one of the Union army’s primary commanders. Reynolds died within minutes. So did his planned marriage to Catherine “Kate”' Hewitt.

A member of a distinguished Lancaster family, Reynolds is buried in Lancaster Cemetery. A Lancaster middle school is named for him.

Hewitt, who was secretly engaged to Reynolds, introduced herself to his family following his death. They were surprised but welcomed her into their grieving circle.

Hewitt revealed that she had told Reynolds she would join a convent if the general died in the war. She soon joined the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She left the convent in September 1868 and disappeared.

Years ago, a researcher discovered a Kate Hewitt buried in the town of Stillwater, near Albany, New York. She died in 1902. Everyone assumed this was the Kate Hewitt who had been engaged to the general.

Not so, says Jeff Harding in the August edition of Civil War Times. Working with Mary Stanford Pitkin — a Charlotte, North Carolina, genealogist — Harding found that Kate Hewitt married Joseph B. Pfordt, an Albany-area florist. She taught school in Albany.

So were there two Kate Hewitts? Precisely. They lived within a few miles of each other. The Hewitt who mourned John Reynolds married Pfordt and died in Albany in 1876. The other Hewitt died in Stillwater in 1902.

To untangle the story, Harding, a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg who lives on Delaware’s eastern shore, and Pitkin began with primary sources.

U.S. and state census data for the period indicate two women named Catherine Mary Hewitt lived in the Albany area in the 1860s and 1870s.

Passenger lists of the SS Golden Age and the SS North Star, commercial ships from San Francisco to New York in the summer of 1860, show one Hewitt was a passenger. They used the Panama Railroad to cross the Isthmus of Panama.

John Reynolds and Kate Hewitt sailed together on that voyage and fell in love. The pair left San Francisco on July 20 and arrived in New York on Aug. 13.

“This is important because the 1860 census shows a ‘Cate Hewitt’ living in Stillwater as of June 25, 1860,” write Harding and Pitkin. “This cannot be the same ‘C. Hewitt’ who traveled with Reynolds from San Francisco to New York.” (The researchers assume Hewitt could not have traveled over land from Stillwater to San Francisco between June 25 and July 20.)

The Kate Hewitt who knew John Reynolds, Harding and Pitkin determined, is buried in the Pfordt family plot in St. Agnes Catholic Cemetery in Menands, Albany County, New York. She died in 1876.

The article’s authors say Reynolds’ sisters, who met Kate Hewitt Pfordt following their brother’s death, had noted Kate’s health problems, particularly a persistent cough. That’s another reason the researchers believe Pfordt is the real Kate Hewitt.

“We can presume that if Kate Hewitt indeed suffered with consumption from the mid-1860s forward,” they conclude, “it is highly unlikely she would have survived until 1902, as did the Catherine Hewitt of Stillwater.”

There’s more to this story. Harding and Pitkin are writing a book.

Jack Brubaker, retired from LNP | LancasterOnline staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at scribblerlnp@gmail.com.