September 21

This Day in History

Civil War

Sep 21, 1820:

Union General John Reynolds is Born

On this day, Union General John Fulton Reynolds is born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

One of nine children, Reynolds received his education at private academies before Senator James Buchanan, a family friend, secured him an appointment at West Point in 1837. He graduated in 1841, 26 out of 52 in his class. Prior to the Mexican War, Reynolds served in Maryland, South Carolina, and Florida. He was part of General Zachary Taylor's army in Mexico, and he distinguished himself at the Battles of Monterey and Buena Vista. His heroism earned him promotions to captain and major.

In the 1850s, Reynolds served in Maine, fought Native Americans in the West, and participated in the Mormon War of the late 1850s. In 1860, he returned to West Point as commandant of cadets. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Reynolds received command of a regular army regiment. His orders were soon changed, however, and he became a brigade commander with orders to serve at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Before he shipped for service along the coast, General George B. McClellan—then commander of the Army of the Potomac—used his leverage to secure Reynolds's service in McClellan's army.

In 1862, Reynolds participated in the Seven Days' Battles around Richmond, Virginia. This was the climax of McClellan's Peninsular campaign, in which Confederate General Robert E. Lee attacked the Yankees and drove them away from the Rebel capital. At the Battle of Gaines' Mills, Virginia, on June 26, Reynolds's brigade—protecting a Union retreat—bore the brunt of a Confederate attack. The next day, Reynolds held his position, but he was detached from the main Union army. The Confederates overran Reynolds and part of his command, and the general was sent to Richmond's Libby Prison.

Reynolds spent less than six weeks at Libby before he was exchanged in August 1862. He was given command of a division, and fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, on August 29 and 30, just three weeks after his release. In November, Reynolds returned to the Army of the Potomac as a commander of I Corps. His force fought at Fredericksburg, Virginia in December, but was held in reserve at Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863.

Reynolds commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, campaign. On the morning of July 1, he rode into Gettysburg and placed his force in front of advancing Confederates, forcing Union General George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, to fight. The 42-year-old Reynolds was killed that day, most likely by a Confederate volley, and was buried in Lancaster, his birthplace.

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