Reynolds of Pennsylvania

Posted: February 12, 2014 in Civil War
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                                        Major General John Fulton Reynolds, Commander of I Corps.

Reynolds, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania native, was nominated to West Point by future President James Buchanan in 1837 where he’d graduate 26th in a class of 50 in 1841. He would serve in the war with Mexico, earning the respect of his peers and those he’d lead in the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista.

Following the Mexican War, Reynolds would accept assignments to duties in Maine, New Orleans, and New York. In 1855, he’d be assigned to Fort Orford, Oregon, where he would participate in the Rogue River Wars and the Utah war with the Mormons in 1857 and 1858.

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.

Early in the Civil War, following orders that would contradict one another, Reynolds would be assigned to a board that interviewed and examined volunteer officers, determining their value as military leaders. After a short stint in this position, he’d be assigned to command the Pennsylvania reserves.

In early 1862, Reynolds would be named as the military Governor of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Following the battle of Gaines Mill, he’d be captured by the Rebels and held at Libby Prison. He was eventually exchanged for Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman.

During the Chancellorsville campaign, Reynolds would clash with his commander, General Joseph Hooker, over strategy and the position of his corps. Following the battle, a Union disaster, Reynolds would join the chorus of General Officers calling for the replacement of Hooker.

On the morning of July 1st, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the left-wing of the Army of the Potomac, with operational control of I Corps, III Corps, and XI Corps, as well as General Buford’s Cavalry division. As I Corps was approaching the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where General Buford’s dismounted cavalry was engaged with elements of Harry Heth’s forces, Reynolds rode ahead of his men and reconnoitered with Buford, who gave him the details of the situation. After placing the men of Cutler’s Brigade in position near the Chambersburg Pike, Reynolds found the leaders of the Iron Brigade, under General Solomon Meredith, and moved them into a position in the Herbst Woods. “Forward men, for God’s sake, forward… and drive those men out of those woods!” Moments later, a Rebel bullet would enter the back of Reynolds’ skull, killing him instantly. The General was 42 years old.

At the time of his death, General John F Reynolds was considered by many in the Union army to the best field officer in the Army of the Potomac. Well loved by his men, many would insist that he should have been promoted to command the entire army over General George G. Meade, who had received the command a few days before the battle of Gettysburg. Whether or not Reynolds would have had more or less success than Meade is still a constant issue of debate. The bullet that killed him not only robbed the General of the chance to prove himself further, but also cemented in a stellar reputation, stopping any future endeavors that may have damaged that reputation. Among Civil War historians, Reynolds remains among the most respected officers to have worn the blue federal suit of the Army of the Potomac.


“For God’s Sake, Forward! General John F. Reynolds,” by Michael A. Riley, 1995

“Towards Gettysburg: A Biography of General John F. Reynolds,” by Edward J. Nichols, 1988

“Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign,” by Lance J. Herdegen, 2008

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. It is public domain.

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