If you watched the C-SPAN video coverage of the Sesquicentennial of the events at Appomattox Court House, Virginia in the last several days, you would have missed this:
As historian David Blight (author of "Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory") said in his speech and in on-camera remarks, it was the most moving experience of the entire 150th Anniversary re enactment, if not his life.
C-SPAN did not broadcast it, but thanks to videographer Ronin Dave, here it is.
National Public Radio's piece on Hannah Reynolds was very informative also:
Little is known about Hannah Reynolds apart from the details of how she died — a fact that Jones hopes to change with further research. But on Saturday, just a day before the 150th anniversary of her death, those few details were enough.
Dressed in period clothing, Jones delivered his eulogy to crowds of reenactors and spectators, an April sunset casting a gauzy glow over the proceedings. As the sky darkened, reenactors lit 4,600 paper lanterns — one for each Appomattox County slave who became free at the Civil War’s end— which lined the path of the wagon bearing Reynolds’s “coffin.”
“It’s very encouraging to see that the nation as a whole is speaking to African Americans and recognizing that experience,” Jones said. “It was a tremendous moment.”
In the final hours of the Civil War’s last battle, while gunfire crackled and cannon smoke clouded the air of the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, Hannah Reynolds lay dying.
A slave in the household of Dr. Samuel H. Coleman, Reynolds had been left behind to care for the house when Coleman and his family fled the fighting. At some point during the April 9, 1865, battle, a cannonball tore through the house and into Reynolds’s arm, inflicting a brutal, deadly wound.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee signed the surrender documents that triggered the end of the war just a few hours later. So Reynolds, the only civilian to die during the battle, was thought to have died a slave.
That’s what historians believed. But a century and a half after Reynolds’s death, a few dozen words on a scrap of microfilm have transformed her from a tragic footnote of American history into a heartening symbol. According to a 1865 death register, Reynolds didn’t die until three days after the battle’s end — no longer a slave in the Confederacy, but a free woman.
That discovery is thanks to Appomattox pastor Alfred L. Jones III, who had been tasked with writing a eulogy for a ceremony at the battle’ssesquicentennial that would honor Reynolds and the 4,600 other people in Appomattox who were emancipated after Lee’s surrender.
“I had heard about Hannah Reynolds about 20 years ago, and at the time I just said to myself, ‘That’s such a tragic story,'” Jones said in a phone interview with The Post Sunday. “… But when they asked me [to give the eulogy] I thought if I’m going to eulogize her I need to find out as much as possible about it.”
[Pastor Alfred L. Jones III, dressed in period clothing, delivered a eulogy for Hannah Reynolds at a ceremony at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park Saturday]
Working on behalf of the Carver-Price Legacy Museum, which documents the history of African Americans in Appomattox County, Jones spent weeks digging through old census records and contemporary accounts for information on Reynolds’s death. Eventually, his research took him to theJones Memorial Library in nearby Lynchburg, where a staff member pulled out a roll of microfilm containing copies of Virginia death records.
“I remember I was sitting at a computer while he put the microfilm in, and then he said, ‘There she is,'” Jones recalled. “I went over to look and just immediately I knew.”
There on the screen, in scratchy black and white print, were the words “Hannah Reynolds. Cause of death: Artillery shell. Parents: Unknown. Place of birth: Unknown. Date of death: April 12, 1865.”
“That was so exhilarating. To find out that this woman who was injured as a slave in the final battle before General Lee surrenders … actually died on the same day the Confederacy is stacking arms. It’s kind of poetic justice that this woman survived,” Jones said.
For Jones, who jokes that the answer to one genealogy question is always five or 10 more, the discovery of the death registry was the beginning, not the end, of his research. Also listed on the registry was the name of Reynolds’s husband, Abram. So he set about tracking history’s intertwined strands to their modern day conclusions — the descendants of Abram Reynolds and Samuel Coleman.
It wasn’t until last week, just days before the ceremony in honor of Hannah’s death, that he was able to talk to Abram’s great great and great great great grandchildren (he and Hannah did not have children, but Abram remarried after the war’s end).
“Their jaws kind of dropped,” Jones recalled.
Abram’s descendants were at the ceremony Saturday. As were Coleman’s.
Reynolds’s life had been prolonged by two members of the Union army, a surgeon and a chaplain from Maine, who tended to her in her final hours. No one knows whether she knew that her last days were as a free woman, but Jones likes to think that she was aware of it.
It seems that Coleman, who recorded her death in the Virginia registry, was also aware. In the column for “relationship” to the deceased, he had written “former owner.”