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Major Riddle: 1864

Major Riddle: 1864

April 1864. "Brandy Station, Virginia. Major William Riddle and friends. Headquarters, Army of the Potomac." Wet plate negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. Civil War glass plate collection, Library of Congress. View full size.

 

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Alright men!

Assume the Civil War pose, and you two men up front look away.

A Lovely Story

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In War and In Love

There’s an interesting and poignant story involving Major Riddle. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he was aide-de-camp to General John F. Reynolds, one of the Civil War’s highly regarded Union generals.

Shortly before the Civil War, Reynolds met and fell in love with Catherine Mary “Kate” Hewitt. She was 16 years younger and a recent convert to Catholicism, which apparently hindered her from marrying the Protestant Reynolds in view of his position with the army. They became secretly engaged and when the war began, promised to marry when it was over. If Reynolds did not survive the war, Kate pledged to join a convent.

On the morning of July 1, 1863, Reynolds, commanding the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, arrived near Gettysburg from Emmitsburg, Maryland (about 12 miles south), where he had spent the previous day (in June Emmitsburg had become the supply base for the Union army). In the midst of arranging troops he was shot and killed. One story attributes his death to a Confederate sharpshooter, another to friendly fire.

It is said that Major Riddle was the soldier who discovered the small Catholic medal around Reynolds’ neck, and that he was wearing a gold ring with two clasped hands and the inscription “Dear Kate”.

Keeping her pledge to her beloved, Kate joined the Sisters of Charity. The convent she entered was in Emmitsburg. I do not know if she knew her sweetheart's last night on Earth was there, or even that he had been there.

When Reynolds and his troops marched into Emmitsburg, one of his officers wrote about the moment: “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.”

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