1829 Spruce St., Phila.

Sunday, July 5, 1863

 

My dear brother,

Yesterday the anniversary of our country’s birth, we consigned to the grave the body of our dear one who has given up his life for his & our country.  This will not be the first announcement to you of John’s fate; you will have seen it, as we did, in the papers.  I could not believe it & did not realize it till I saw him & even then it was long before I could trace his features & expression on that pale countenance.  But it did come to me at last & I am thankful indeed it did.  He was not expecting a battle but intended camping.  On reaching Gettysburg (he was two miles in advance of his Corps) he was met by some citizens who told him the rebs were driving in Buford’s Cavalry which was beyond Gettysburg.  He dashed through the town & seeing for himself the report was true he hurried back dispatching his aids to hurry up the men.  The first Rgt. he met he drew up in line of battle as the rebels came through the woods.  He rode along in the rear of the line of his men calling “Forward, Forward men.  Drive those fellows out of that.  Forward for God’s sake, forward!”  Those were his last words.  He turned his head to look if the Brigade were coming up when a minie ball struck behind his right ear, a little lower down than the ear, & following the skull passed through his brain & lodged in his breast.  He fell & his orderly, Veil, raised him & they carried him off hastily.  When they reached a field they stopped & asked if he suffered but he only turned his glazed eyes on Capt. Mitchell, who asked him, & smiled.  He gasped a few moments & died.  We all think he could not have suffered & would have been impossible to have spoken.  They procured a bag & ice at Gettysburg (I think) & put him in an ambulance.  Everything favored them; they met so many who knew him & all were willing to aid them in every way.  Jenny did not tell you that the same undertaker who attended to our dear father also acted on this sad occasion.  Our first intimation of it was Mrs. Reynolds coming up while we were at the breakfast table & she told us most kindly the papers came in a moment & it was there but we had to wait a long time for the confirmation.  It came at last & sad it was but a great comfort to know the remains were coming to us.  It never entered my mind till this moment, that they would not be saved, which was a merciful thing.  Capt. Rosengarten telegraphed to his brother or father, I do not know which, [that?] he with some of the staff were bringing up the remains & could telegraph when they would leave Balt.  The telegraph was from relay house on the Northern Central R.R.  We telegraphed to [Amos?] to know where Jim was & cousin Sam coming said he was at Safe Harbor & we then telegraphed to send for him.  Telegraphed Jenny & Harry (at Harrisburg but though we did not know that he was at Carlisle) & sent a boy for sister Lyd.  Then George telegraphed they would leave Balt. at 8 P.M. & we waited for them.  The dear remains were in a box & we sent an undertaker to meet them & everything was quietly done.  It was nearly 2 A.M. when they reached the house & were deposited on the breakfast table in the parlor in front of the mantle.  They were not opened till morning.  How I wish you could have seen them, but after all you have a more pleasant recollection of him.  The plate was so much obscured we could not see well & owing to the rounding from of the lid the hair did not show when you looked on him.  Looking on one side you could see, but could not take it all in at one glance.  The face was swollen & one side bruised where he fell but it had been bleached & did not show unless looked at very closely.  It looked to me so like [Burnside?] that it was long before I could see our own dear one.  The mustache & beard had been cut very short in Baltimore, the lips [partially?] parted & that one white to the showing.  The sack coat with his Major General’s straps & buttons were on him.  The wound did not show but we could see a slight protuberance at his collar as if there were a compress there.  How I longed to see his hand!  The glass plate was long enough to show the first cluster, & the first button of the second cluster of the three buttons.  The case was metal painted to look like rosewood & no ornament on it except the silver plate which was put on ____ & bore this inscription, “John Fulton Reynolds, U.S. Army. July 1st 1863.”  I have just written a notice (which I enclose), with the consent of all of us [feminines?], but George & Mr. [Kiness?] (whom I handed _____ to the _____ for publication) suggested his title should be short—that after talking it over we altered it to read Maj. Genl. J.F.R. & did not have U.S.A. to it.  His commission was only “Maj. Gen. of Vol.,” the same [that] his signature was & that of course none of us wished to affix to it more.  Always in writing his name at a hotel, or at any place where it was not official or on his comd., had it J.F.R., U.S.A.  I feel as if in this instance his wishes had not been carried out as they have been in all the other arrangements.  Everything was quietly and unostentatiously done & his staff each & all said they thought it was just what his wish would have been & was most gratifying to them.  They feel it as keenly, as we can.  I cannot even tell, much less write, you, of their & of my own feelings.  You share both & have been much in my thoughts.  You have never been with us in such a season of affection [affliction?] & we have wished for you most earnestly.  I feel as if I could write volumes & it would take volumes to tell you all.  To go back to my description of the case.  Jenny wrote of her offering in Balt.  Hal & I placed on it a cross of white flowers; most exquisite it was.  A few “forget-me-nots” were in it.  Mrs. Temple who was most kind, a superb wreath which she modestly placed at the foot; our cross was just below Jenny’s offering which was just below the glass.  Mrs. Plett a wreath of ivy which I hung at the head & after the grass plate was covered the ivy wreath was still there, hanging at the end.  The last offering of love was from Katie Hewitt, his affianced one.  Poor girl, she has been a heroic mourner & most worthy of our dear one.  I cannot tell you all she said of him but she was in his heart & from her I have learned much of him, of his feelings & inner life than I ever knew before.  She will arrange her business & then become a Sister of Charity probably at St. Joseph’s in this place.  She said “I have many trifles & would like to give them ____ (plurally) for now he is gone you are next.”  She had not shed a tear till she entered the parlor and then she wept copiously on her knees beside him but before she say his face.  At night she was very calm & so we sat beside him.  She would say in the sweetest, saddest voice, “Dearest.” & once or twice, “Dearest, how can I give you up.”  “Dearest, it is very hard to give you up.”  When we first saw her she (after becoming more composed) said, “I promised when he put this ring on my finger, I would never take it off till he did it & now I will give him up to his God & take it off.”  She kissed it & put it on the glass plate.  It was a great struggle.  She said she could not keep it as a Sister of Charity & she must give it all up now.  She asked for the little relic & said that she could keep.  As she laid the ring down she said, “Never let it be tainted by a disloyal hand.  He was too true for that.”  Hal has it & I have the one she gave him.  She would not take it tho’ I offered it at once she said, “No, you keep it.”  The cross of flowers she was so pleased to see.  She made no parade of her religion nor in any way did anything that was in the least disagreeable.  She had been expecting him to meet her in Phila. on the 8 of July & she said there he was to bring her to us.  Poor Col. Kingsbury left John on Sunday & is very ill at the Eutaw House in Balt.  Major Riddle (Willie Riddle of Pittsburg—Beckie knows him) is a man of most tender feeling & when he saw our dear one he threw himself upon the precious remains & wept uncontrollably.  When he & Kingsbury met they wept like children & the rest left them to comfort each other.  Major Riddle was carrying orders at the time & did not know the sad fact.  On coming back to the spot he expected to find his Genl., he found his (the Genl. were) orders not being carried out & he interfered, carried out the idea & captured a Genl. & a brigade.  Fortunate it was he did not know of our great loss or he could not have been able to have done it.  We are assured that tho’ he fell early in the action (about 10.30 or 11 A.M.), his action was most judicious & brought about great & good results to our cause.  Should this be indeed the death blow to this unholy rebellion it will be a comfort that his sacrifice was accepted & not in vain.  As I write most glorious news of the success of our armies under Meade is coming in.  After Meade’s appt. all the staff officers agree in saying a most marked change took place in the one whose loss we are now lamenting.  Before, he had been so depressed, and never said an unnecessary word; he at once seemed to throw off a load & his spirits were bright & he talked & joked as he had not done since Chancellorsville.  Capt. Rosengarten had been carrying orders & a ball threw up the earth all over him on his spectacles.  On delivering his report, which if I remember rightly, was not what the Genl. wished, he said in reply, “[See?] they have been throwing dust in your eyes.”  Kate will be here tomorrow or next day.  She is an orphan, has a brother who is as prejudiced against her religion that she cannot be much with him.  They have been very much separated.  He is a Baptist.  Of course we all wished for some little article belonging to John & we have divided them as we thought best, and for you, as we all felt you would like it, & you were the most fitting person to have it: his watch & chain, presented by the citizens of Fort Orford.  It is here in our cash box, and you please say what shall be done.  I will not risk sending it, without your order for it.  Poor sister Beckie has been much in our thoughts & I wrote her a line to the Astor house to tell her.  Kate bears up but was not able to go to L; the Dr. did no allow it.  She is suffering great anxiety about Harry & I fear his [death?]—nothing may cause her more.  Cousin Kate had the great pleasure of having our dear brother in her house to lunch last Sunday.  She wrote but, before she heard of his fall.  He was exposing himself very much & the balls were falling like hail.  It was not a sharp shooter but a chance shot.  I aid not tell you, a large flag was draped over the case & was only removed at the grave.  All the other offerings were consigned to the grave with him.  Genl. Barksdale, who was killed on the same day, was the rebel who was exchanged for our hero, not quite a year ago.  I must stop.  It is near midnight.  I have left this several times & that will acct. for part for this disjointed letter.  I will write you more of the particulars of our going to Lancr., etc.  Kate has recovered wonderfully since Meade is so successful and she thinks Harry will not be in action again but I think he will, for it is said Couch is taking the militia force to attack Lee, & as his battery has done so well it will be most likely to go also.  George has just left.  I hope this will reach you by the first mail & with the papers that announce our country’s loss & our own.  God bless & preserve you my dear brother!  I dread to hear of Charleston.  We hope all this bad tidings may be gently broken to sister Beckie.  I could not write while our loved one was here.  There was so much ado & it fell on Hal & me principally, as it should.  Sam seemed stunned & Jim who only came on Friday noon, was too nervous & excited to think.  Much love & may God preserve you for your country & your family.  Ever you affec. sister.

                  E.R.