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John Fulton Reynolds

By John T. Marck

Reynolds was just one of a few men who served the Union who had gained the utmost respect from his men, and whom they greatly anguished upon his death. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1820, he grew to be a man of great courage and excellent tactical skill.

Reynolds was the son of a newspaper editor, as well as the good friend of James Buchanan, also of Lancaster, who would become our nations fifteenth president. Attending West Point in 1837, Reynolds graduated twenty-sixth in the class of 1841. Following his graduation, he spent the next five years serving in the army on garrison duty in Texas. During the Mexican War he received breveted promotions of captain and major. Placed back of garrison duty after the Mexican War, the work was monotonous, wasting his many talents. Being an excellent tactician, he then was assigned a commandant position at West Point where he was an instructor of tactics until the Civil War began.

On May 14, 1861, Reynolds was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry. Soon thereafter on August 26, he was promoted to brigadier general. He then went on to serve in the Washington defenses, as well as was the temporary military governor of Fredericksburg. On June 26, 1862 he joined the Army of the Potomac, as a brigade commander. At the Battle of Gaines' Mill, Reynolds was captured and sent to Libby Prison before finally being released under the exchange program on August 13, 1862.

At the Battle of Second Bull Run, Reynolds commanded the 3rd Division of the Pennsylvania Reserves, and commanded the Pennsylvania militia at Antietam. On November 29, 1862, he was again promoted, this time to major general, in time to command the I Corps at the Battle of Fredericksburg. After the Union defeat at Chancellorsville, President Abraham Lincoln, looking to replace the armies commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, offered this ultimate command to Reynolds. Desiring unrestricted control that Lincoln would not approve, Reynolds declined the promotion. Consequently, Lincoln gave the command to Reynolds junior, Major General George G. Meade, just three days before the start of the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, on July 1, 1863, Reynolds was the commander of the I, III, and XI Corps. He ordered his infantry troops forward, in an attempt to reinforce and replace a Union cavalry unit, who were engaged in battle against a Confederate infantry force. As Reynolds entered a patch of woods riding his mount, he turned in his saddle to look for more troops. Without warning he suddenly fell from his horse to the ground. Shot in the back of his neck as he turned, he died instantly. It is believed that the bullet that killed him was either stray, or perhaps could have come from a Rebel sharpshooter. John Reynolds death on July 1, 1863 was a blow to the Union and to the men who had the privilege to serve under him. As he was placed in an ambulance and taken from the field of battle, his men who passed by to victory, saw his body and were saddened that he had not lived to enjoy the ultimate achievement he had helped to create.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.