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John F. Reynolds

John Fulton Reynolds (September 20, 1820 - July 1, 1863) was an American soldier. He was influential during the American Civil War, and died at the Battle of Gettysburg.

John F. Reynolds was born at Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1820. He graduated from West Point in 1841, and was posted to the artillery, wherein he was awarded two brevet promotions during the Mexican War. Between that war and the Civil War, he was an instructor and cadet commandant at his alma mater. Technically, between 1855 and 1861, he was a captain in the 3rd Artillery.

He received the lieutenant colonelcy of the 14th Infantry at the start of the Civil War. He was promoted to brigadier general about a month after 1st Bull Run, and was given command of a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves. That unit played an important role in the Peninsular Campaign, and General Reynolds was captured after falling asleep, separated from his troops, the day after the Battle of Gaines' Mill. He was exchanged in time to command the Pennsylvania Reserves Division in the defeat at 2nd Bull Run.

Reynolds, at his request, was given command of the Pennsylvania Militia during General Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland, and therefore missed the Battle of Antietam. However, he returned to the Army of the Potomac in late 1862, and was given command of the I Corps. One of his divisions, commanded by Brig. Gen. George G. Meade (who would later become his superior), made the only breakthrough at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Generally, it is considered that, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Major General Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, made a horrible blunder when he failed to use his best troops (those of I Corps, II Corps, and perhaps certain elite troops in other units) when the inexperienced troops of the XI Corps were overrun by General Stonewall Jackson's flank attack. This disgusted General Reynolds, whose troops were almost untouched.

However, President Abraham Lincoln, after firing General Hooker, decided that Reynolds would be his new choice for the command of the Army of the Potomac. Although most of the general staff of the Army were certain that General Reynolds would probably be the best choice, he refused, after being informed that the usual "strings" between the government and the army (i.e. politically based moves and campaigns, directed by government officials) would not be cut. Many people state that had Gen. Reynolds accepted the command, the outcome at Gettysburg may have been very different.

General John Buford's cavalry troops had been defending the town of Gettysburg against heavily superior numbers. He called upon the nearest troops, General Reynolds's I Corps, to help. He did so gladly. He arrived with the 1st Division, and accompanied some troops of that division into the fighting at McPherson's Woods. It is unclear specifically which troops he accompanied, although they were most probably Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler's troops that he accompanied. It is also unclear exactly who eventually killed General Reynolds. He was shot (that is almost certain) by Confederate troops in the back of the neck, and died almost instantly. Command passed to his senior division commander, Major General Abner Doubleday (who was purportedly the inventor of baseball).

General Reynolds was considered one of the best corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, during his time. Many of the other high-ranking generals were either too old (Edwin Sumner), politically appointed (Daniel Sickles), or simply no higher than competent. However, Reynolds, along with fellow corps commanders Sedgwick (VI Corps) and Winfield S. Hancock (II Corps), was considered one of the best.

The Death of General Reynolds

There are no completely irrefutable sources regarding General Reynolds's death. Even his time of death cannot be pinpointed. Staff officers have stated that his death was somewhere between 10:40 and 10:50 (give or take a few minutes) AM. However, General Abner Doubleday, his eventual successor to command of I Corps, stated that his death was closer to 10:15 AM.

Ben Thorpe, a sharpshooter of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, stated that he killed the general, while he was posting a battery (of artillery). However, there is a flaw: General Reynolds was not posting a battery at his death, according to staff reports. Also, Thorpe states that he killed the officer from 700 or so yards away. This would have been impossible, as Reynolds was screened by thick woods (McPherson's Woods).

It is almost certain, however, that General Reynolds was killed by a minie bullet. There is no evidence to support the claim of an artillery shell killing General Reynolds, as, among other things, it would probably have severely injured the head and neck of Reynolds (possibly decapitating him), which did not happen.

Members of the 1st Tennessee Infantry and the 13th Alabama Infantry both claimed to kill Reynolds. The former's statement is unlikely, as they joined in the fighting much later than General Reynolds's death. However, the latter's statement is possible, and even likely, as those troops were near the fighting. However, whomever killed Reynolds probably did not step forward, due to one of several reasons. He could have not known the magnitude of whom he killed (many officers rode on their horses, much as General Reynolds did, during battle), he may have died during the fighting, or he simply may not have known that he killed anyone (volleys of more than 200 rifles at once were common, meaning that nobody knew who killed specific people).

Generally, consensus is that it is most probable that the person who killed General Reynolds was probably a regular private infantryman, who did not step forward after the war (as many people had).