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John F. Reynolds

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Title: John F. Reynolds  
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Subject: I Corps (Union Army), George Meade, Abner Doubleday, Battle of Chancellorsville, Battle of Gettysburg
Collection: 1820 Births, 1863 Deaths, American Civil War Prisoners of War, American Military Personnel of the Mexican–american War, Commandants of the Corps of Cadets of the United States Military Academy, Deaths by Firearm in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Reserves, People from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, People of Pennsylvania in the American Civil War, Rogue River Wars, Union Army Generals, Union Military Personnel Killed in the American Civil War, United States Army Generals, United States Military Academy Alumni
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John F. Reynolds

John Reynolds
Major General John F. Reynolds
Born (1820-09-20)September 20, 1820
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Died July 1, 1863(1863-07-01) (aged 42)
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1841–63
Rank Major General
Commands held I Corps, Army of the Potomac

Mexican-American War

American Civil War

John Fulton Reynolds (September 20, 1820 – July 1, 1863)[1] was a career United States Army officer and a general in the American Civil War. One of the Union Army's most respected senior commanders, he played a key role in committing the Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg and was killed at the start of the battle.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Civil War 2
    • Early assignments and the Seven Days 2.1
    • Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville 2.2
    • Gettysburg 2.3
    • Death controversies 2.4
  • In popular media 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and career

Reynolds was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of nine surviving children of John Reynolds (1787–1853) and Lydia Moore Reynolds (1794–1843). Two of his brothers were James LeFevre Reynolds, Quartermaster General of Pennsylvania, and Rear Admiral Will Reynolds.[2] Prior to his military training, Reynolds studied in nearby Lititz, about 6 miles (9.7 km) from his home in Lancaster. Next he attended a school in Long Green, Maryland, and finally the Lancaster County Academy.[3]

Reynolds was nominated to the United States Military Academy in 1837 by Senator James Buchanan, a family friend, and graduated 26th of 50 cadets in the class of 1841. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery, assigned to Fort McHenry. From 1842 to 1845 he was assigned to St. Augustine, Florida, and Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, before joining Zachary Taylor's army at Corpus Christi, Texas, for the Mexican-American War. He was awarded two brevet promotions in Mexico—to captain for gallantry at Monterrey and to major for Buena Vista, where his section of guns prevented the Mexican cavalry from outflanking the American left.[4] During the war, he became friends with fellow officers Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis A. Armistead.

On his return from Mexico, Reynolds was assigned to Fort Preble, Maine, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Fort Lafayette, New York. He was next sent west to Fort Orford, Oregon, in 1855, and participated in the Rogue River Wars of 1856 and the Utah War with the Mormons in 1857-58. He was the Commandant of Cadets at West Point from September 1860 to June 1861, while also serving as an instructor of artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics. During his return from the West, Reynolds became engaged to Katherine May Hewitt. Since they were from different religious denominations—Reynolds was a Protestant, Hewitt a Catholic—the engagement was kept a secret and Hewitt's parents did not learn about it until after Reynolds' death.[5]

Civil War

Early assignments and the Seven Days

Soon after the start of the Civil War, Reynolds was offered the position as aide-de-camp to Secretary of War to get his orders changed once again, assigning him to the newly formed Army of the Potomac. His first assignment was with a board that examined the qualifications of volunteer officers, but he soon was given command of a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves.[6]

As McClellan's army moved up the

Military offices
Preceded by
George G. Meade
Commander of the I Corps
September 29, 1862 – January 2, 1863
Succeeded by
James S. Wadsworth
Preceded by
James S. Wadsworth
Commander of the I Corps
January 4, 1863 – March 1, 1863
Succeeded by
James S. Wadsworth
Preceded by
James S. Wadsworth
Commander of the I Corps
March 9, 1863 – July 1, 1863
Succeeded by
Abner Doubleday
  • "John F. Reynolds".  
  • Reynolds family papers
  • Military biography of Reynolds from the Cullum biographies
  • Grand Army of the Republic in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

External links

  • Bearss, Edwin C. Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2006. ISBN 0-7922-7568-3.
  • Carney, Stephen A. "John Fulton Reynolds." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign; a study in command. New York: Scribner's, 1968. ISBN 0-684-84569-5.
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Vol. 2, Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Random House, 1958. ISBN 0-394-49517-9.
  • Hawthorne, Frederick W. Gettysburg: Stories of Men and Monuments. Gettysburg, PA: Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, 1988. ISBN 0-9657444-0-X.
  • Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – The First Day. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8078-2624-3.
  • Sander, Steve. "Enduring Tales of Gettysburg: The Death of Reynolds". The Gettysburg Magazine. Issue 14, January 1996.
  • Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. ISBN 0-395-86761-4.
  • Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. Ticknor and Fields, 1992. ISBN 0-89919-790-6.
  • Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
  • Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0-06-019363-8.
  • Tucker, Glenn. High Tide at Gettysburg. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1983. ISBN 978-0-914427-82-7. First published 1958 by Bobbs-Merrill Co.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.
  • Welcher, Frank J. The Union Army, 1861–1865 Organization and Operations. Vol. 1, The Eastern Theater. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-253-36453-1.
  • Reynolds family genealogy


  1. ^ Eicher, pp. 450-51.
  2. ^ Reynolds family genealogy.
  3. ^ Warner, p. 396.
  4. ^ Eicher, p. 450; Carney, p. 1631.
  5. ^ Carney, p. 1632; Bearss, p. 161; Tagg, pp. 10-11.
  6. ^ a b Carney, p. 1632.
  7. ^ Carney, p. 1632; Tagg, p. 10.
  8. ^ Sears, To the Gates of Richmond, p. 252.
  9. ^ Eicher, p. 451.
  10. ^ a b Tagg, p. 10.
  11. ^ Eicher, p. 704.
  12. ^ Sears, Chancellorsville, pp. 228-29, 243, 420-22; Tagg, p. 11; Carney, p. 1633; Welcher, p. 667.
  13. ^ Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 40-41; Tagg, p. 11. Eicher, pp. 773-74: Although Reynolds and Meade were both promoted to major general of volunteers with the date of rank of November 29, 1862, Reynolds' name appeared immediately before Meade's on the promotion list, ranking 49th of all the volunteer major generals. After Meade's promotion, Reynolds was the third most senior corps commander in the Army of the Potomac, after Henry W. Slocum and John Sedgwick.
  14. ^ Sources differ as to the location of the wound. Sears, Gettysburg, p. 170, quotes orderly Sgt. Charles S. Veil that a "Minnie [sic] ball struck him in the back of the neck." Tagg, p. 12, and Coddington, p. 269, assert the wound was behind the right ear.
  15. ^ Trudeau, p. 271.
  16. ^ Tagg, p. 9.
  17. ^ Foote, p. 468.
  18. ^ Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 154-225.
  19. ^ Hawthorne, pp. 19, 82, 135.
  20. ^ Bearss, p. 161.
  21. ^ Sanders, pp. 27-36; Catton, 273-74; Tucker, pp. 110-11; Coddington, pp. 269, 686; Pfanz, pp. 77-78.


See also

A significant portion of the song "The Devil to Pay" by Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth in the Gettysburg trilogy is dedicated to John Reynolds, with the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" played and stylized using both electric guitar and an orchestra.

Reynolds plays a role in Michael Shaara's 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels, as well as the 1993 film based on that novel, Gettysburg (in which he was played by John Rothman). The film portrays Reynolds as being deliberately targeted by a Confederate sharpshooter, a scene based on the Don Troiani painting of the event. Reynolds is also significant in the prequel to The Killer Angels, Jeffrey Shaara's novel Gods and Generals, although his role was deleted from the 2003 film based on the novel.

John F. Reynolds memorials

In popular media

Historians disagree on the details of Reynolds' death, including the specific time (either 10:15 a.m. or 10:40–10:50 a.m.), the exact location (on East McPherson Ridge, near the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, or West McPherson Ridge, near the 19th Indiana), and the source of the bullet (a Confederate infantryman, a Confederate sharpshooter, or friendly fire). One primary source was Sergeant Charles Henry Veil, his orderly and unit Color Guard, who described the events in a letter in 1864 and then contradicted some of the details in another letter 45 years later. A letter from Reynolds' sister, Jennie, stated that the wound had a downward trajectory from the neck, implying that he was shot from above, presumably a sharpshooter in a tree or barn. Historians Bruce Catton and Glenn Tucker make firm assertions that a sharpshooter was responsible; Stephen Sears credits volley fire from the 7th Tennessee against the 2nd Wisconsin; Edwin Coddington cites the sister's letter and finds the sharpshooter theory to be partly credible, but leans towards Sears' conclusion; Harry W. Pfanz agrees that the location was behind the 2nd Wisconsin, but makes no judgment about the source of the fire. Steve Sanders, writing in Gettysburg magazine, suggested the possibility of friendly fire based on some accounts, and concludes that it is as equally likely as enemy fire.[21]

Death controversies

Kate Hewitt had agreed with Reynolds that if he were killed in the war and they could not marry, she would join a convent. After he was buried, she traveled to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and joined the St. Joseph Central House of the Order of the Daughters of Charity.[20]

Reynolds' body was immediately transported from Gettysburg to Taneytown, Maryland, and then to his birthplace, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he was buried on July 4, 1863.[6] Befitting his importance to the Union and his native state, he is memorialized by three statues in Gettysburg National Military Park (an equestrian statue on McPherson Ridge, one by John Quincy Adams Ward in the National Cemetery, and one on the Pennsylvania Memorial),[19] as well as one in front of the Philadelphia City Hall.

Possible location of General Reynolds' death

The loss of General Reynolds was keenly felt by the army. He was loved by his men and respected by his peers. There are no recorded instances of negative comments made by his contemporaries.[16] Historian Shelby Foote wrote that many considered him "not only the highest ranking [sic] but also the best general in the army."[17] His death had a more immediate effect that day, however. By ratifying Buford's defensive plan and engaging his I Corps infantry, Reynolds essentially selected the location for the Battle of Gettysburg for Meade, turning a chance meeting engagement into a massive pitched battle, committing the Army of the Potomac to fight on that ground with forces that were initially numerically inferior to the Confederates that were concentrating there. In the command confusion that followed Reynolds' death, the two Union corps that reached the field were overwhelmed and forced to retreat through the streets of Gettysburg to the high ground south of town, where they were rallied by his old friend, Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock.[18]

For the Union side, the death of John Reynolds meant more than the loss of an inspiring leader; it also removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage this battle.

Noah Andre Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage[15]

On the morning of July 1, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the "left wing" of the Army of the Potomac, with operational control over the I, III, and XI Corps, and Brig. Gen. John Buford's cavalry division. Buford occupied the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and set up light defensive lines north and west of the town. He resisted the approach of two Confederate infantry brigades on the Chambersburg Pike until the nearest Union infantry, Reynolds' I Corps, began to arrive. Reynolds rode out ahead of the 1st Division, met with Buford, and then accompanied some of his soldiers, probably from Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's brigade, into the fighting at Herbst's Woods. Troops began arriving from Brig. Gen. Solomon Meredith's Iron Brigade, and as Reynolds was supervising the placement of the 2nd Wisconsin, he yelled at them, "Forward men! For God's sake forward!" At that moment he fell from his horse with a wound in the back of the upper neck, or lower head,[14] and died almost instantly. Command passed to his senior division commander, Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday.

"The Fall of Reynolds" – drawing of Reynolds' death at Gettysburg


[13] Reynolds joined several of his fellow officers in urging that Hooker be replaced, in the same way he had spoken out against Maj. Gen.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Reynolds clashed with Maj. Gen. Hooker, his predecessor at I Corps, but by this time the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Hooker originally placed the I Corps on the extreme left of the Union line, southeast of Fredericksburg, hoping to threaten and distract the Confederate right. On May 2, Hooker changed his mind and ordered the corps to conduct a daylight march nearly 20 miles to swing around and become the extreme right flank of the army, to the northwest of the XI Corps. The march was delayed by faulty communications and by the need to move stealthily to avoid Confederate contact. Thus, the I Corps was not yet in position when the XI Corps was surprised and overrun by Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's flank attack, a setback that destroyed Hooker's nerve for offensive action. Hooker called a council of war on May 4 in which Reynolds voted to proceed with the battle, but although the vote was three to two for offensive action, Hooker decided to retreat. Reynolds, who had gone to sleep after giving his proxy vote to Meade, woke up and muttered loud enough for Hooker to hear, "What was the use of calling us together at this time of night when he intended to retreat anyhow?" The 17,000-man I Corps was not engaged at Chancellorsville and suffered only 300 casualties during the entire campaign.[12]

At the request of Battle of Fredericksburg, but Reynolds did not reinforce Meade with his other two divisions and the attack failed; Reynolds did not receive a clear understanding from Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin about his role in the attack.[10] After the battle, Reynolds was promoted to major general of volunteers, with a date of rank of November 29, 1862.[11]

Upon his return, Reynolds was given command of the Pennsylvania Reserves Division, whose commander, McCall, had been captured just two days after Reynolds. The V Corps joined the Army of Virginia, under Maj. Gen. John Pope, at Manassas. On the second day of the Second Battle of Bull Run, while most of the Union Army was retreating, Reynolds led his men in a last-ditch stand on Henry House Hill, site of the great Union debacle at First Bull Run the previous year. Waving the flag of the 2nd Reserves regiment, he yelled, "Now boys, give them the steel, charge bayonets, double quick!" His counterattack halted the Confederate advance long enough to give the Union Army time to retreat in a more orderly fashion, arguably the most important factor in preventing its complete destruction.[10]

Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville

The Confederate attack continued on June 27 and Reynolds, exhausted from the Battle of Gaines' Mill and two days without sleep, was captured in Boatswain's Swamp, Virginia. Thinking he was in a place of relative safety, he fell asleep and was not aware that his retreating troops left him behind. He was extremely embarrassed when brought before the Confederate general of the capturing troops; D.H. Hill was an Army friend and colleague from before the war. Hill allegedly told him, "Reynolds, do not feel so bad about your capture, it is the fate of wars."[8] Reynolds was transported to Richmond and held at Libby Prison, but was quickly exchanged on August 15 (for Lloyd Tilghman).[9]


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