Major General John F. Reynolds was a notable commander in the Union Army during the Civil War . Born in Pennsylvania, he graduated from West Point in 1841 and distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War . With the onset of the Civil War, Reynolds quickly rose through the ranks of the Army of the Potomac and proved to be one of its finest field commanders. Despite his track record on the battlefield, he was often frustrated by the political restrictions placed on the army and likely refused command of it in 1863. Reynolds was lost on July 1, 1863, when he was killed leading his men into the field during the early stages of the Battle of Gettysburg . Major General John Fulton Reynolds
The son of John and Lydia Reynolds, John Fulton Reynolds was born in Lancaster, PA on September 20, 1820. Educated initially in nearby Lititz, he later attended Lancaster County Academy. Choosing to pursue a military career like his older brother William, who had joined the United States Navy, Reynolds pursued an appointment to West Point. Working with a family friend, (future president) Senator James Buchanan, he managed to gain admission and reported to the academy in 1837.
While at West Point, Reynolds’ classmates included Horatio G. Wright , Albion P. Howe , Nathaniel Lyon , and Don Carlos Buell . An average student, he graduated in 1841 and placed twenty-sixth in a class of fifty students. Assigned to the US 3rd Artillery at Fort McHenry, Reynolds’ time in Baltimore was brief as he received orders for Fort Augustine, FL the following year. Coming towards the end of the Second Seminole War , Reynolds spent the next three years at Fort Augustine and Fort Moultrie, SC. Major General John Fulton Reynolds
With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 following Brigadier General Zachary Taylor ‘s victories at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma , Reynolds was instructed to travel to Texas. Joining Taylor’s army in Corpus Christi, he participated in the campaign against Monterrey that fall. For his role in the fall of the city, he received a temporary promotion to captain. After the victory, most of Taylor’s army was transferred to Major General Winfield Scott ‘s counter-Veracruz operation .
Remaining with Taylor, Reynolds’ artillery battery played a key role in holding back the American left at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. In the struggle, Taylor’s army managed to contain a larger Mexican force commanded by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. . In recognition of his efforts, Reynolds was promoted to major. While in Mexico, he befriended Winfield Scott Hancock and Lewis A. Armistead.
Returning north after the war, Reynolds spent the next few years as a garrison in Maine (Fort Preble), New York (Fort Lafayette), and New Orleans. Ordered west to Fort Orford, Oregon in 1855, he participated in the Rogue River Wars. With the end of hostilities, Native Americans in the Rogue River Valley were transferred to the Coast Indian Reservation. Ordained south a year later, Reynolds joined Brigadier General Albert S. Johnston with Utah forces during the Utah War of 1857-1858. Major General John Fulton Reynolds
Fast Facts: Major General John F. Reynolds
- Classification: Major General
- Service: US Army/Union
- Born: September 20, 1820 in Lancaster, PA
- Died: July 1, 1863 in Gettysburg, PA
- Parents: John and Lydia Reynolds
- Conflicts: Mexican–American War , Civil War
- Known for: Second Battle of Manassas , Battle of Fredericksburg , Battle of Chancellorsville , and Battle of Gettysburg .
The Civil War Begins
In September 1860, Reynolds returned to West Point to serve as a cadet commander and instructor. While there, he became engaged to Katherine May Hewitt. As Reynolds was Protestant and Hewitt Catholic, the engagement was kept secret from their families. Remaining for the school year, he was at the academy during the election of President Abraham Lincoln and the resulting secession crisis.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Reynolds initially received an offer of aide-de-camp for Scott, the General in Chief of the United States Army. Refusing this offer, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the 14th United States Infantry, but received a commission as a volunteer brigadier general (20 August 1861) before assuming that post. Directed towards the newly captured cove of Cape Hatteras, NC, Reynolds was on his way when Major General George B. McClellan instead requested that he join the newly formed Army of the Potomac near Washington, DC. Major General John Fulton Reynolds
Reporting to duty, he first served on a board that evaluated volunteer officers before being given command of a brigade in Pennsylvania reserves. This term was used to refer to regiments created in Pennsylvania that exceeded the number originally requested from the state by Lincoln in April 1861.
to the peninsula
Commanding the 1st Brigade of Brigadier General George McCall’s Second Division (Pennsylvania Reserves), I Corps, Reynolds first moved south into Virginia and captured Fredericksburg. On 14 June, the division was transferred to Major General Fitz John Porter ‘s V Corps which was participating in the McClellan Peninsula Campaign against Richmond. Joining Porter, the division played a key role in the successful Union defense at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek on 26 June.
As the Seven Day Battles continued, Reynolds and his men were attacked by General Robert E. Lee ‘s forces again the next day at the Battle Mill of Gaines. Sleepless for two days, an exhausted Reynolds was captured by Major General DH Hill after the battle while resting in Boatswain’s swamp. Taken to Richmond, he was briefly held at Libby Prison before being exchanged on 15 August by Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, who had been captured at Fort Henry . Major General John Fulton Reynolds
Returning to the Army of the Potomac, Reynolds took command of the Pennsylvania Reserves, as McCall had also been captured. In this role, he participated in the Second Battle of Manassas at the end of the month. At the end of the battle, he helped to take up position on Henry House Hill, which helped cover the army’s retreat from the battlefield.
a rising star
As Lee moved north to invade Maryland, Reynolds was detached from the army at the request of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtain. Ordained to his home state, the governor tasked him with organizing and leading the state militia if Lee crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. Reynolds’ assignment proved unpopular with McClellan and other senior Union leaders, as it deprived the army of one of its best field commanders. As a result, he lost the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam where the division was led by fellow Pennsylvania Brigadier General George G. Meade .
Returning to the army in late September, Reynolds was given command of I Corps as its leader, Major General Joseph Hooker , was wounded at Antietam. In December of that year, he led the corps at the Battle of Fredericksburg where his men achieved the only Union success that day. Penetrating Confederate lines, the troops, led by Meade, opened a gap, but a confusion of orders prevented the opportunity from being exploited.
For his actions at Fredericksburg, Reynolds was promoted to major general with the date November 29, 1862. After the defeat, he was one of several officers who called for the removal of army commander Major General Ambrose Burnside . In doing so, Reynolds expressed his frustration with the political influence Washington has exerted over army activities. These efforts were successful and Hooker replaced Burnside on January 26, 1863.
That May, Hooker attempted to bypass Fredericksburg to the west. To keep Lee in place, Reynolds’ corps and Major General John Sedgwick ‘s VI Corps were to remain opposite the city. As the Battle of Chancellorsville began, Hooker summoned I Corps on 2 May and instructed Reynolds to maintain Union right. With the battle going badly, Reynolds and the other corps commanders insisted on offensive action, but were defeated by Hooker, who decided to retreat. As a result of Hooker’s indecision, I Corps was only lightly engaged in the battle and suffered only 300 casualties. Major General John Fulton Reynolds
As in the past, Reynolds joined his countrymen in asking for a new commander who could operate decisively and free from political constraints. Much respected by Lincoln, who referred to him as “our brave and courageous friend”, Reynolds met with the president on June 2. During the conversation, it is believed that Reynolds was offered command by the Army of the Potomac.
Insisting that he would be free to lead regardless of political influence, Reynolds refused when Lincoln could not make such a guarantee. With Lee again moving north, Lincoln instead turned to Meade, who accepted command and replaced Hooker on 28 June. Riding north with his men, Reynolds was given operational control of the I, III, and XI Corps, as well as Brigadier General John Buford ‘s cavalry division. Major General John Fulton Reynolds
Death at Gettysburg
Arriving in Gettysburg on June 30, Buford realized that the high ground south of the city would be key to a battle raging in the area. Aware that any combat involving his division would be a lengthy action, he dismounted and placed his soldiers in the low ridges north and northwest of the city to buy time for the army to come and occupy the heights. Attacked the next morning by Confederate forces in the early stages of the Battle of Gettysburg , he alerted Reynolds and asked him to bring support.
Moving towards Gettysburg with I and XI Corps, Reynolds informed Meade that he would defend “inch by inch, and if it is driven into the city I will barricade the streets and detain him as long as possible.” Arriving at the field. of battle, Reynolds met with Buford and his advance brigade to relieve the pressed cavalry. As he directed troops into the fight near Herbst Woods, Reynolds was shot in the neck or in the head.
Falling from his horse, he was killed instantly. On Reynolds’ death, command of I Corps passed to Major General Abner Doubleday . Though overwhelmed at the end of the day, XI Corps and I managed to buy time for Meade to arrive with the bulk of the army. As the fighting intensified, Reynolds’ body was removed from the field, first to Taneytown, MD and then back to Lancaster, where he was buried on July 4th. Major General John Fulton Reynolds
A blow to the Army of the Potomac, Reynolds’ death cost Meade one of the army’s finest commanders. Adored by his men, one of the general advisers commented, “I don’t think any commander’s love was felt more deeply or sincerely than his.” Reynolds was also described by another officer as “an excellent looking man… and he rode his horse like a centaur, tall, straight and graceful, the ideal soldier.”