Born: about 1805 Died: April 12, 1865
There is perhaps no better example of the complexity of "our peculiar institution" (American slavery) than the story of Hannah Reynolds, the only known civilian casualty of the Battle of Appomattox Court House, fought on the morning of April 9, and the battle that directly led to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant.
Hannah was a slave owned by Dr. Samuel H. Coleman. On April 8, 1865 as Union and Confederate armies converged on Appomattox Court House, Dr. Coleman , his wife Amanda, and their two-year old Mary Ann, fled their 250-acre farm; Hannah refused to leave. When soldiers arrived at the Coleman home on April 8, Hannah resisted them as they ransacked her master's home.
"When the haughty soldiers began slitting the feather beds and scattering the feathers and the family wool, Hannah rushed into the group and very severely warned them, saying, 'Better let Miss Mandy's wool rolls alone'."
Mary Ann Coleman Irby, daughter of Samuel Coleman, April 1, 1940
Hannah demonstrated the dilemma of many victims of "our peculiar institution" (slavery). She protected the place she considered home, and people that were somehow family while being enslaved by those same people. Peculiar indeed.
Hannah was mortally wounded on the morning of April 9 by a Confederate artillery shell that passed through her arm while she lay in bed at home, which was literally in the middle of the battlefield. Later that day as Hannah was dying, the Union provided her the medical attention that allowed her to be among the living that afternoon when the surrender occurred at the McLean House just a mile away.
As fate would have it, a Union field hospital was set up at the Coleman House to treat some of the soldiers wounded in the fighting that morning. Dr. Benjamin Williams, an Assistant Surgeon with the 8th Maine Infantry attended Hannah as did their Chaplain, Rev. J. E. M. Wright. Rev. Wright recounts their interaction with Hannah and her "husband" (marriages of enslaved people were not legally recognized), Abram in a riviting article he wrote entitled, From Petersburg to Appomattox Court House published by the Maine Bugle, 1894.
On Wednesday, April 12, the same day that roughly 22,000 Confederate Infantryman stacked their arms at Appomattox Court House, Hannah Reynolds died from the wound inflicted upon her by the Confederate artillery, a wound that the Union was unable to heal, though they made every effort to do so.
Hannah Reynolds was enslaved when she was mortally wounded on the morning of April 9 but was a free women before the sun set on the same day. Perhaps her last four days of freedom were better, in some way than Hannah's 60 years in slavery. Today, we can read the information on the 1865 Appomattox County Death Register regarding Hannah. It is profound to read the final two columns which identified the person reporting her death and their relationship to the deceased: Samuel Coleman: "Former Owner."