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Thursday, September 8, 2016

The "Another Civil War Hero From Lancaster" Story

General John Fulton Reynolds
It was an ordinary day.  Thought it was time to post a story about another of Lancaster's great soldiers of the late 18th century into the 19th century.  Union General John Fulton Reynolds was born in Lancaster on September 20, 1820 and was one of eleven children.  He was nominated to the United States Military Academy at West Point by future President James Buchanan who was a friend of the family.  He graduated in 1841 from West Point and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 3rd United States Artillery and was stationed at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.  During the Mexican War he served under General Zachary Taylor and eventually served at various posts after that war ended.  During this period in his career he became engaged to Catherine Mary Hewitt, but because she was Catholic and he was Protestant, they kept it a secret.  From 1860 to 1861 he was the Commandant of Cadets at West Point.  Reynolds was a supporter of James Buchanan and his pro-slavery policies, but was a through-and-through Unionist.  On August 20, 1861, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers in the Union Army and put in command of one of the brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves.  During the Seven Days Campaign he commanded his brigade at the Battles of Beaver Dam Creek and Gaines' Mill.  After the later battle he was captured while attempting to get some sleep.   Confederate General D.H. Hill, a pre-war colleague of Reynolds told him not to feel bad about his capture.  
This artwork is titled "The Fall Of Reynolds. It depicts
his being shot and killed in Gettysburg, PA.
Didn't take him long to get exchanged for another soldier and he was put in command of an entire division of Pennsyl- vania Reserves.  He commanded the division at the Battle of Second Manassas as well as Fredericksburg.  Eventually Reynolds was offered command of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln, but didn't receive it after he told Lincoln he would only accept the command if he could be sure there would be no interference from his superiors in Washington.  On the morning of July 1, 1863, as he was leading his forces towards Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he received a message that Confederate forces were almost there as well.  Reynolds led his troops to McPherson Ridge where he was killed instantly by a shot to the neck.  At the time he was the highest ranking soldier on either side killed in Gettysburg.  It was said that 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.  
His monument in Lancaster Cemetery.
Following his death the Union troops were overwhelmed and forced to retreat through the streets of Gettysburg to the high ground south of town where they were rallied by Reynold's friend, Major General Winfield S. Hancock.  His body eventually was transported to Lancaster where he was buried in Lancaster Cemetery.  He was featured in the novel The Killer Angels as well as the 1993 film Gettysburg.  A significant portion of the song "The Devil to Pay" by Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth is dedicated to John Reynolds with the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" played and stylized using both electric guitar and an orchestra.  The city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my hometown, is well-known and famous for many reasons, but its heroes are perhaps the highlight of the history of Lancaster.  I am proud to say I am a Lancastrian.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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