US Hewitt, Catherine Mary

Catherine Mary “Kate” Hewitt
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Photo taken of Kate Hewitt in Philadelphia,
just after General Reynolds was killed. Est. Mid-1863


Catherine Hewitt was Maj. General John Reynolds' secret fiancé. Kate Hewitt's existence wasn't discovered by John's colleagues or family until his death when they found Kate's Catholic medal and a gold ring in the form of clasped hands around John's neck. Inside the ring were inscribed the words "Dear Kate". They also noticed that John's West Point ring was missing.

Disambiguation: The Catherine "Kate" Hewitt of Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, born in 1834, is a different person, and was never engaged to be married to Maj. Gen. John Fulton Reynolds.

Born: April 1, 1836

Birthplace: Owego, New York

Fiancé: Major Gen. John Fulton Reynolds 1820 - 1863
(Buried: Lancaster Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania)​

Husband: Joseph B. Pfordt - Married June 24, 1874
(Buried: Pfordt Family Plot, Saint Agnes Cemetery, Menands, New York)​

Religion: Catholic

Antebellum History:

Kate is an orphan at an early age, her mother dying when she is about 8 years old, not much more is known about her childhood.​
1856: At about the age of 20, Kate went to San Francisco as a governess for the children of relatives​

1860: While travelling back from California to New York via steamship, Kate met and fell in love with John Reynolds. Travelling over land was long and uncomfortable, there was no trans-continental railroad yet, and much of the countyside was untouched, even dangerous. Sailing was a more convenient alternative for many travelers.​
The nearly month-long voyage began at the port in San Francisco in Late-July, sailing on the SS Golden Age to the Western coast of Panama. When they made port, they probably traversed the isthmus in about 4 hours via a newly built railroad. At the Eastern coast they boarded yet another steam ship, this time the SS North Star, bound for New York City.​
John and Kate arrived at their final destination in the middle of August. John left for an assignment at West Point Military Academy, Kate travelled to Pennsylvania to continue her religious studies.​
1860: Kate entered the Academy of the Sacred Heart, where she became a convert to the Catholic faith​

Civil War History:

1861: On September 15th, Reynolds visited his family in Philadelphia at which time he visited Kate and proposed. They exchanged rings, she getting his West Point Ring, which she used to imprint the wax seals on the letters she would send to him.​
1863: Early in the new year, John made another visit to his family in Philadelphia, as well as made a clandestine visit to see Kate. With no way to know they were already having their final visit, they set "July 8th as the date to announce the engagement to his family".
1863: On July 1st, John Reynolds is killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. John's body and personal effects are sent to his sister home in Philadelphia​

John’s family find a Catholic medal and a gold ring in the form of clasped hands around John's neck. Inside the ring were inscribed the words "Dear Kate". They also notice that his West Point ring is missing.​
1863: Kate visits the home of John's sister in Philadelphia on July 3rd, hoping to visit John's body. One of the sisters correctly asks if the visitor is the mystery "Kate" from John's ring. When she admits who she is, the family welcomes her. Kate reveals the secret relationship to the family five days earlier than the couple had originally planned, and under much more tragic circumstances.​
After getting to know the family, they spent much of the day, and late into the evening mourning the loss of John. Kate returns John's West Point ring, knowing she won't be able to keep it anyway. She won’t be able to keep most earthly possessions where she plans to live next. She takes her religious medal back from among John’s other possessions.​
1864: On March 17, in fulfillment of what's become known as her "Last Promise" to John in the event of his death, she committed to enter into religious life, choosing a life at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Daughters of Charity, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, just 10 miles from the Gettysburg battlefield.​

1864: Kate finished her Seminary on October 2, and received the habit at that time. Also, at that time Kate was given the community name, Sister Hildegardis.​
Kate is visited at Seminary by Sgt. Charles Veil, who was General Reynolds' faithful orderly from the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as two of John's sisters. After talking about Reynolds' last day, Kate gave Sgt. Veil a parting gift, something she was making for her general when he died, it was an embroidered handkerchief, Veil later wrote about it's "beautiful U.S. coat of arms", something he claimed to keep and treasure.​
Kate is sent on a mission for the Sisters of Charity to teach children at St. Joseph’s School in Albany, New York​

Postbellum History:

1868: One of Reynolds' sisters visits Kate in August, and notes in her letter that Kate is still living in Albany, New York, that she struggles with health issues, specifically a cough that began in the mid-1860's​
1868: On September 3, Kate left the Community of the Sisters of Charity, leaving her former life behind, until recently (2020) nobody was really sure what became of her.​
1871: Kate prepares a detailed and ornate 7' by 5' banner for the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Albany​
1874: Kate marries Joseph B. Pfordt of Albany, a florist, on June 24 at St. Joseph's Church in Albany. Pfordt family genealogy lists Kate as a "former nun".​
1875-76: Kate prepares a large banner for another display, this time for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Her work is reported in the press with glowing reviews of her beautiful embroidery work, especially with regard to her Great Seal of the United States. The banner was to be sold after the exposition was ended for about $2000 according to one estimate.​
1876: Kate is rewarded for her stellar creation at the Exposition with a special award, but sadly, the presentation is given on the day she died.​

Died: October 6, 1876

Age at Death: 39 Years Old

Place of Death: Albany, New York

Cause of Death: Consumption

Burial Place: No individual marker, Pfordt Family Plot, Saint Agnes Cemetery, Menands, New York


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Last edited:

CivilWarTalk

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This is another case where I went down an unexpected rabbit hole! I saw that Reynolds didn't have a wife, but Rob's bio for John listed a "Girlfriend", and I was like "huh?"

So, I looked her up, and started reading many different conflicting stories, and it took a little time to untangle the more recent discoveries from all the older established histories.

The biggest problem was that most full bios on this person are out of date, and the newer information doesn't go into every detail, it just highlights where some older info is correct, where the new correct information comes from, and compares it to what used to be considered correct.

In the bio above, I've combined what seem to be the newest research correcting the origins and fate of Kate, while keeping all the original facts that still matter in the original story. I think what I've posted above is mostly accurate, if I've got an error, I'm not sure where.

Some less pertinent facts have been omitted for clarity. For instance, I didn't include Kate's 16-year-old travelling companion on the trip heading to New York when she met John, because it only muddies the story. People would ask, what happened to her?

I also didn't add the Reynolds Family photos from the Devil's Den at Gettysburg to this post, because there is no confirmation that Kate is actually in the photos, although it would be awesome to figure out if she is.
 
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