04 December 2007 by Published in: Union Cavalry 15 comments

Charles H. Veil was an orderly assigned to the service of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds. Years after the war, he left this account of the last hours of Reynolds’ life:

At that point, on June 29, 1863, General Hooker was relieved and General George G. Meade placed in command. General Meade was an old army officer and a particular friend of General Reynolds. He at once placed him in command of the left wing of the army, consisting of the First, Third, and Eleventh Corps. On the 29th we marched out toward Emmitsburg, and on the 30th to Marsh Creek with the First Corps, the Eleventh a short distance in the rear, and the Third Corps within supporting distance of the Eleventh.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General John Buford’s division of cavalry, which was also under General Reynolds’s command, had occupied Gettysburg. General Reynolds had no knowledge of where Lee was, but supposed, as reports were, that he was in the Cumberland Valley, heading for Harrisburg. Buford reported that evening that he was in Gettysburg and that all was quiet, that some Confederate troops had been in the town the day before but had gone out again. In that way we camped the night of June the 30th and next morning early started with the First Corps for Gettysburg, the general riding in ahead.

After proceeding about three miles we met one of General Buford’s staff officers riding in great haste with the information that the enemy was advancing on Gettysburg by the Cashtown, or Chambersburg, Pike and that he was then sharply engaged. General Reynolds at once dismounted and sent staff officers to the different corps of his command with orders to press forward the different corps of his command with orders to press forward. He wrote a note to General Meade, giving him the information which he dispatched by another officer, and then mounted his horse and rode rapidly into Gettysburg and to Seminary Ridge, where he found General Buford engaged.

When he met Buford, the Confederates were then in plain view advancing down the pike. The general held a short conversation with Buford, telling him to hold on as long as he could and that he would hurry his men forward to his assistance. In the meantime Reynolds had sent orders to the head of his column to cut across the country from the Emmitsburg Road toward the Lutheran Seminary and rode out in that direction himself until he met the head of his column coming on. He then led them out to where he had first met General Buford and indicated the position he desired them to occupy.

The regiments no sooner were in position than the action commenced. The general rode to the left, evidently with a view of selecting a position to occupy with his troops as they came up. When riding into the McPherson woods he discovered a column of Rebel infantry advancing through the woods and coming in such a direction as would take the troops the general had already placed in action on their left flank. He at once turned and rode toward the seminary, where he met the head of the brigade following the First, or one already in action, and with the leading regiment of that moved forward to the point at which he had discovered the Confederate infantry advancing through the McPherson woods.

As the regiment reached the brow of the little ridge, or incline ground, General Reynolds gave the work to charge, leading in person and riding considerably in advance of his troops. The regiment undertook to follow but met with such a hot fire from the Confederates that, instead of following him, it sheered off to the right or to where the leading brigade was in action, leaving the general and myself alone in front of the advancing Confederate line as he rode into the edge of the woods where the monument now stands marking the spot on which he fell. He turned in his saddle, looking toward the rear and the Lutheran Seminary, where he was struck by a Minnie ball and fell from his horse.

General Reynolds fell upon his face, his arms outstretched toward the enemy. I at once sprang from my horse and ran to his side, gave one glance at his body and seeing no wound or blood, turned his body upon its back. I again glanced over it and, seeing no blood or wound, the suggestion struck me that he had probably been stunned by a spent ball. My next impression was to save him from falling into the hands of the enemy. Not having any assistance, not one of our men being near, I picked him up by taking hold under his arms and commenced pulling him backward toward our line or the direction in which we had come from. As I did so, the Confederates yelled, “Drop him! Drop him!” But I kept on backing off as fast as I could and finally got over the brow of the rise, where I found some men and where we were out of range of the enemy’s fire.

As I laid him down there, I first discovered where he had been struck. The ball had entered the back of his neck, just over the coat collar, and passed downward in its course. The wound did not bleed externally and, as he fell, his coat collar had covered up the wound, which accounted for my not discovering it at first. With the assistance of the men I found, we carried the body across the fields over to the Emmitsburg Road, the one we had marched in on that morning.

This is an authentic account of the circumstances attending the death of the lamented General Reynolds and can be verified by no other living person than myself, having been the only person directly present when the general fell. The sad event impressed itself so indelibly on my young mind that, after these forty-five years that have elapsed since it occurred, my recollections are as vivid as though it had occurred but a few days since.

The death of General Reynolds was a great loss to the Union Cause deeply felt by all, but by no one person as much as myself. I had been with the general from the time he joined us at Harrison’s Landing, in every move and march to the time of his death, and I am always pleased when I recall that I had won his confidence. I knew that on a number of occasions he had entrusted me with messages that ordinarily should have been carried by an officer.

After we carried his body to the little stone house on the Emmitsburg Road and laid it on the floor in the little sitting room. Major Adolph Rosengarten of his staff and I rode into town to try and find a casket, but the best we could do was to get a case that caskets are shipped in. We got one of these, which proved to be too short. One end was knocked out and in that the general’s body was placed and started that evening for Westminster, Major Rosengarten and myself accompanying it. The major rode on the ambulance with the driver and I rode the general’s horse, he having run into our lines after Reynolds fell. Mine was killed as I dismounted.

From Westminster, where we struck the railroad, we went to Baltimore. There the body was embalmed and from there we went to Philadelphia, the general’s home. On the Fourth of July I accompanied the body with the general’s family to Lancaster, where he was buried. I had never met any of the general’s family before this, but they all appeared to know of me and paid me great attention. They appeared to feel themselves under great obligations from the fact of my preventing his body from falling into the hands of the enemy. When we were at Lancaster, so near my home, the general’s brothers and sisters suggested that I should go on to my home for a day or two and I did so. Father and Mother and all, of course, were very glad to see me. After remaining a day or two, I started back and rejoined the army before it had recrossed the river again, in pursuit of Lee.

By the general’s death on the first day, I missed the battle of Gettysburg, save the opening of it, but the short experience I had has never been forgotten and led to a change in the whole course of my life, as subsequent events will show. When I got back to the army I found General John Newton in command of the corps, and I resumed my duties as orderly to the commanding general.

While we were on the march following up Lee, who was again retreating into Virginia, I one day received an order to report in person to General Meade, the commander of the army. I first reported to General Williams, the adjutant general, as I knew was the proper thing to do, and he rode up to the front with me, where General Meade was riding at the head of his staff. “General,” said he, “here is Veil.” The general turned to me and said he had a package General Reynolds’s sisters had sent him to give me. He then handed it to me, saying it gave him great pleasure to do so and that it was something I might be proud of. I thanked him without knowing what it contained, but when I fell back and opened the package I found a beautiful gold watch and chain with a nice letter from the general’s sisters. There was an inscription inside the watch, saying “Presented to Orderly C. H. Veil by the Sisters of the Late General J. F. Reynolds, United States Army, Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.” That I was, and am, proud of the watch you may be assured. I have it yet and always will as long as I live. There is not a farm in Tioga County that I would take in exchange for it. All I regret is that I have not a boy to hand it down to, who in years to come might say he had a watch General Reynolds’s sisters gave his father and had it sent to him by the hand of General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac.

Veil received a lieutenant’s commission in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry as a reward for the care that he showed his fallen general’s remains. He had a long career as an officer in the Regular Army in the years after the war.

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  1. dan
    Wed 05th Dec 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Following your posts with interest. Reynolds has always been a favorite on the Union side. I haven’t read this account before and appreciate very much your posting it.
    PS. I own the DVD of the movie “Gettysburg” but have not seen since it appeared on the screen during which time I reviewed it for a Boston area newspaper. At the time, I gave it a very favorable review because I love Civil War studies and wanted folks to see the film and learn about the subject. But now, upon reflection, I recall that all the beards were wrong and most of the acting was abysmal, so there it sits in its case unviewed.

  2. Wed 05th Dec 2007 at 2:16 pm


    You’re welcome. Veil was an interesting fellow.

    As for The Movie, amen, brother. 🙂


  3. billy
    Wed 05th Dec 2007 at 7:09 pm

    I love to read personal accounts like this one and I am glad you posted it. Thank you.

    Regarding the movie GETTYSBURG, I hope you will sometime post a critique of it. As an amateur battle historian I thought it was pretty accurate although I agree that the acting was not the best in some cases. But overall I like the movie and usually watch it every July 3. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried watching it the first time. Some of my Confederate family members made the trip with Pickett that day (or should I say they preceded Pickett that day) and two of them lay now in unmarked graves some where on that field without even a stone to mark their passing. But I remember them and admire their bravery that day.

    In any case I would LOVE to hear a thoughful critique of the movie and comments from fellow posters

  4. Mon 10th Dec 2007 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for posting that, Eric — I hadn’t seen that before. What’s the source?

    Since I deal with sharpshooters a lot I often get questions about “who shot Reynolds.” Mostly my conclusions track those of J. D. Petruzzi who wrote an excellent article on the subject post on the Gettysburg web site.

    Unlike Sedgwick, it’s most likely that Reynolds was shot by someone in the Confederate skirmish line rather than a sharpshooter in the sense of a sniper, such as the one shown in the movie Gettysburg (where he has a heavy Union target rifle).

    We know now, however, that these skirmishers were organized into sharpshooter battalions and had extensive marksmanship training, and would have regarded a man on horseback at the head of an infantry column as a high value target.

    Veil’s account does add an interesting detail, tho — that Reynolds was hit in the back of the neck and that the bullet traversed downward. The two most likely explanations are 1) the shot was at fairly long range. A sight setting of 4-500 yards by a standing rifleman would have sent the bullet well above the level of Reynolds’ head and thus it would have hit him on its downward travel. 2) he was hit by a sharpshooter in a tree. Given the pace that the battle was unfolding, I consider the first the most likely.

    There are two other alternative explanations. One is that it was simply a stray bullet; the other — since he was hit in the back of the neck — is that he was hit by friendly fire.

  5. Mon 10th Dec 2007 at 12:17 pm


    You’re very welcome. The source was Veil’s memoirs, written late in life. They were edited and published by Herman Viola in the 1990’s.


  6. Tue 11th Dec 2007 at 1:41 pm

    When my wife and I lived in an apartment in downtown Philly, I would regularly walk past City Hall on the way to do our food shopping at the Reading Terminal Market. I always made it a point to walk past the statue of Reynolds on the north side of the building (next to one of McClellan) and offer a prayer of thanks. I believe that the statue shows Reynolds just at the moment he was hit, horse facing the Confederates, Reynolds turning to see how fast the troops were soming up and yelling encouragement.
    I have seen a number of alternate histories of Gettysburg and know of none in which Reynolds does not get killed. I believe the war would have been over a lot more quickly if he had lived, but of course have no real way of “proving” this counterfactual.

  7. Fred Veil
    Fri 05th Sep 2008 at 3:18 pm

    The story is true. I am the great-grand nephew of Charles Veil and I have the original hand written account of Reynold’s death. also have the watch referenced in the Memoirs partially reproduced above. Copies of his memoirs are generally available at Alibris, the online used book dealer. If you are interested in Veil, watch for my paper dealing primarily with his life in Arizona after the War, which will be published in a future dition of the Journal of Arizona History.

  8. Eleri
    Wed 16th Mar 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I am really moved by the Veil story. I was seconded to PA with work from Wales back in 1999. I drove to Gettysburg one weekend, and took the “cassette tape” tour, and was enthralled. That evening in the bar of the hotel, I happened to get talking to a relative of Charles H Veil, who gave me a copy of the Viola book, which I treasure and read to this day. would love to catch up with the relative, and say thank you.

  9. Tue 07th Aug 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I have read with great interest the comments and history of Charles H. Veil who was born in our little vicinity of Scalp Level, Pa. We are very interested in learning and accumulating any of the information concerning his life which we will be honored to have in our displays and files at the Windber Area Musuem. The Veil family has added a great deal of the history to Scalp Level. The father being Henry Veil who operated an early tannery in that location. Please consider donations of any books and information to the area where Charles Henry Veil was born. Thank you for your interest and support.

  10. Diane Benckert
    Tue 12th Feb 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you SO much for publishing this! I’ve been a Reynolds fan for years and was trying to find Veil’s report of what happened, so was thrilled to find all this information. As for the movie “Gettysburg”, personally I love it in spite of the lousy acting, but anybody who watches it and/or reads “Killer Angels” and thinks they know the Battle of Gettysburg, has a LOT of studying to do. It’s a great book and I love the movie, but Shaara took a lot of liberties to make dramatic impact.

  11. Thu 25th Sep 2014 at 10:46 am

    Hello sir ~ I just finished reading your well written article on the death of General Reynolds as told by Charles Henry Veil. I just wanted to tell you that Veil’s homestead is right down the road from my home. The original building was washed away during the Johnstown, PA. flood in 1977. Several years ago, I attempted to have a PA. state historical marker placed at this site but they refused me. While researching for that marker, I had the opportunity to speak with a direct descendant of Veil’s (who lives at the site now) and she told me that prior to the flood, they had some of Veil’s military articles (hats, buckles, belts, etc) in their possession. Sadly, the items as well as the house were all washed away and lost due to the flood waters. I will be attempting to have the marker placed again as I believe Henry deserves it!

  12. Thu 18th Dec 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Veil’s mention of “Major Adolph Rosengarten” may be partly inaccurate. In all other accounts, this Philadelphia officer is known as Major Joseph G(eorge) Rosengarten.
    (See Guelzo, Chamberlain, etc.)

  13. Russell a stiles
    Wed 29th Apr 2015 at 1:39 pm

    i am also a descendant of Charles Henry Veil and I have copies of his reports preserved with the family tree. When I take students on a battlefield tour, they are often very emotional when these events are highlighted. RIP to all the brave men and women who have been sent off to conflict.

  14. Frank Burns
    Sat 29th Aug 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for the Charles Veil article. Besides witnessing Reynolds’ death, Veil also played a part in the Kate Hewitt story — he stayed in contact with Kate thru the Reynolds sisters. I’m doing research around the couple; specifically in relation to the orphan who accompanied Kate (and Reynolds) back east in 1860. I believe that had Reynolds survived and married Kate, they would have adopted the orphan. The subsequent life of the orphan is a fascinating topic!

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