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Emmitsburg in the Civil War

General Reynolds and Emmitsburg

John Allen Miller

As the Pennsylvania Campaign started to unfold, the Army of the Potomac, under the newly appointed commander General George Meade, took up defenses around a river known as the Pipe Creek. General Meade was only in command for a few days after Washington relieved General Joseph Hooker on the night of June 27th in Frederick, Maryland. The Confederate army was in Maryland and in Pennsylvania.  On July 1st, General Meade devised a plan to stop an invasion by forming a defensive line that would stretch from Middleburg to Manchester, Maryland. This was known as the Pipe Creek Defense Line.

The line was drawn to protect Baltimore and Washington from the invading forces. After several engagements in southern Adams and Franklin Counties, Pennsylvania and at York and Carlisle, the Confederate army started moving south and east. This brought some of the skirmishes towards the northwest part of the Emmitsburg area. Emmitsburg started to see those troops in gray heading toward Gettysburg in late June. Soon after that, the left wing of the Union Army under General Reynolds started to head toward Emmitsburg, Maryland.  

On June 29th General Reynolds issued is orders to his division commanders.  They would march from Frederick, Maryland heading to the Mason Dixon Line to the small town of Emmitsburg.  The orders that General Reynolds issued are as follows:

"General Orders, Headquarters First Army Corps, Numbers 70. June 29, 1863.

The First Corps will march this morning at 4 a. m. in the following order: The Second Division, the Third Division, the First Division, by Lewistown and Mechanicstown to Emmitsburg, keeping to the left of the road from Frederick to Lewistown between J. P. Kramer's and where the road branches to Utica and Creagerstown, to enable the Eleventh Corps to march parallel to it. Headquarters will be at Middleburg tonight. Strong exertions are required and must be made to prevent straggling. The First Division will furnish the guard for the train, and the commanding officer of it will report here for orders at 4. a. m. He will be furnished by the division commander with a copy of the orders issued today from these headquarters in reference to the march of the rear guard. The artillery will march in the rear of the leading division, which is the Second, detailing a section of rifled guns to report to the commanding officer of the rear guard.

By command of Major-General Reynolds: William Riddle, Major and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General."

As the first portions of the Army of the Potomac traveled toward Emmitsburg, a local farmer and his family who lived near Mechanicstown gave bread to the troops in blue.  The column continued its march toward the Mason and Dixon Line.  An Illinois officer wrote about the rich farmland and as his unit came into Emmitsburg he quoted: “His 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.”

As General Reynolds and his staff approached Emmitsburg, General Reynolds rode ahead of his columns and entered the town.  Once there, Reynolds and his staff tried to recruit locals to cross over the Catoctin Mountain Gaps to observe and report in detail the movements of the Confederate Army.  

The Union forces, tired from a day's march from Frederick and Middletown, Maryland set camp in Emmitsburg. The soldiers' campsite covered the grounds of the present day National Fire Academy and reached almost to what is now the Post Office. The town’s residents welcomed the men in blue. After seeing the damage done by the fire on June 15th, the men in blue thought that the rebel army had torched the town. They soon found out that it was actually a stable fire that caused three sections of the town's square to burn down. The rebels were cleared of this false accusation.

On June 30th Emmitsburg became the supply base for the Union army. Major General John Reynolds, commander of the Left Wing of the Union Army consisting of the First, Third, and the Eleventh Corp, was moving towards Emmitsburg. Parts of the First and Eleventh Corps came through Emmitsburg during the day. The First Corp came into Emmitsburg to obtain supplies that the army needed. There the First Corp set camp and mustered to receive their pay. At the Southern end of town, towards Mount Saint Mary's College, the eleventh Corp, under the command of General Oliver O' Howard, made their way into Emmitsburg. General Howard made his headquarters at Mount Saint Mary's. During the early evening hours General Reynolds decided to break camp and move the First Corp to Marsh Creek, which is located about five miles north of Emmitsburg. Just across the Mason Dixon line, General Reynolds made his headquarters at the Moritz Tavern.

As General Reynolds corps marches out of Emmitsburg, members of General O. Howard’s corps started to lie out camp on the grounds of Saint Joseph’s Academy. An officer quoted that the Sisters of Charity supplied them with a good dinner that was truly enjoyed.  While relaxing, General Carl Schurz performed a small recital on the academy’s chapel organ.   

As soon as General Reynolds set up his headquarters, he received a message from General Buford stating that the rebel forces were now at Cashtown, advancing towards Gettysburg. General Reynolds forwarded the message to General Howard as well as to General Meade, whose headquarters were at Bridgeport, just east of Emmitsburg. General Howard was instructed to position his men to Reynolds' left in case the Confederates happened to come from the direction of Fairfield. By this time it seemed that the Confederates were moving towards Emmitsburg.  

General Meade replies to General Reynolds as follows:

"Headquarters Army of the Potomac, Taneytown, June 30, 1863-11. 30 a. m.

General Reynolds:

Your dispatch is received. The enemy undoubtedly occupies the Cumberland Valley, from Chambersburg, in force; whether the holding of the Cashtown Gap is to prevent our entrance, or is their advance against us, remains to be seen. With Buford at Gettysburg and Mechanicstown, and a regiment in front of Emmitsburg, you ought to be advised in time of their approach. In case of an advance in force either against you or Howard at Emmitsburg, you must fall back to that place, and I will re-enforce you from the corps nearest to you, which are Sickle's, at Taneytown, and Slocum's, at Littlestown.

You are advised of the general position of the army. We are as concentrated as my present information of the position of the enemy justifies. I have pushed out the cavalry in all directions to feel for them, and so soon as I can make up any positive opinion as to their position, I will move again. In the meantime, if they advance against me, I must concentrate at that point where they show the strongest force. Please get all the information you can, and post yourself up in the roads and routes of communication. The only news we have beyond yours is that Stuart, with a large cavalry force, was in Westminster last night, and moved toward Gettysburg. Supposed the same force that has been ravaging in our rear.

Truly, yours, George. G. Meade, Major General

P. S. If, after occupying your present position, it is your judgment that you would be in better position at Emmitsburg than where you are, you can fall back without waiting for the enemy or further orders. Your present position was given more with a view to an advance on Gettysburg, than a defensive point."

During the evening, General Howard rode out to see General Reynolds at the Moritz Tavern. There they ate dinner and looked over maps. General Reynolds wrote a dispatch to General Meade telling him about the movements of the Confederate army. With that dispatch, General Reynolds also sent a message to General Meade that in case of a Confederate break-through, a defensive plan was required. General Reynolds wrote that a position north of Emmitsburg was a good place to make a stand. If they were to fight a defensive battle in this vicinity, north of Emmitsburg, the Confederate force would undoubtedly turn the western wing by way of Fairfield. After sending out the message to General Meade, the commander made his way to bed. On the ride back to Mount Saint Mary's, General Howard thought that General Reynolds seemed distracted. Perhaps the General was thinking about his love, Catherine Hewitt, or maybe he somehow knew the coming of day would be his last on earth.

General Reynolds met Catherine Hewitt in California in 1860. There they fell in love with one another. General Reynolds was then transferred to West Point. Miss Hewitt traveled back east with General Reynolds; while there she attended school in Pennsylvania at Sacred Heart Academy near Torresdale. General Reynolds and 'Kate,' as he called her secretly planned to marry, however the marriage was postponed by the start of the war. They decided instead to get married after the war had ended, as so many others planned to do.

Early in the morning on July 1st, General Reynolds awoke his staff officer. The orders of the day were to move within supporting distance of General Buford outside of Gettysburg. Orders were then sent out to General Howard whose Eleventh Corp was still at Emmitsburg. The Eleventh Corp was ordered to march out and support the First Corp outside of town. Another dispatch was sent to General Sickels, who was in command of the Third Corp. General Sickels near Bridgeport, Maryland was told to report the location of his command and if he was heading towards Emmitsburg.

As General Reynolds rode up the Old Emmitsburg Road, he could hear that Buford was already engaged at the town of Gettysburg. On the road with him were civilians, already fleeing the town of Gettysburg. General Reynolds rode to see General Buford and to have him detail what was happening on the field. General Buford stated that General Henry Heth's Division was to their front and that they were part of A.P. Hill's Corp.

General Reynolds deployed the First Corp next to General Buford's Cavalry outside of Gettysburg. General Reynolds had mixed feelings as to where to deploy his men. First, he wanted to take the high ground known to us today as the Round Tops. Realizing this action would leave the town of Gettysburg to the Confederates, General Reynolds decided to stay and fight. After seeing the Confederates moving towards Herbst Woods, Reynolds gave orders to a courier to move past Meredith's Brigade to confront the Confederates there. General Reynolds then hurried down towards Herbst Woods.

There he confronted the second Wisconsin and ordered them to move forward into line at double quick time. As the regiment moved towards the woods with General Reynolds in front, a volley came from the Confederates. At this time General Reynolds turned from his saddle looking for other regiments to reinforce the second Wisconsin. Shot by a sharp shooter's rifle, he fell to the ground. His last orders were "for God's sake, forward". General Reynolds' aides jumped to the ground to help him and moved his body back towards the Seminary to seek medical assistance. As the General was laid to the ground it was discovered that the bullet had struck him below the right ear and by the time a surgeon came onto the scene, General Reynolds had already passed away.

Catherine Hewitt, upon hearing of the death of General Reynolds came to Philadelphia to view his body and there the engagement was finally revealed. While preparing the general for burial the family discovered a locket around his neck and a ring on his finger with the inscription "Dear Kate". The family was at first shocked upon the learning the secret, but after Ms. Hewitt sat down with the family and explained the story of the engagement, the family took Ms. Hewitt in as if she was one of them. Heartbroken and grieved, Catherine Hewitt came to Emmitsburg and entered a convent called the Sisters of Charity. Ms. Hewitt Sister Hildegardi. Kate kept in touch with the Reynolds family until 1868 when she left the convent and was never seen or heard from again.   

Read other articles by John Miller

Read Mike Hillman's Account of the Emmitsburg role in the Battle of Gettysburg