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General Reynolds' last battle.

Gettysburg has become a consecrated name, and among all the long array of those who fell there, John Fulton Reynolds will forever stand out foremost. A soldier by profession, he won a reputation that gave promise of achievement, not fully realized by reason of his early death. A native of Pennsylvania, it was eminently fitting that he should lead the van of the Army of the Potomac, when it hurried to the defense of the State in which he was born. Singularly beloved by his comrades in the army, from his West Point days, through his campaigns in Florida, his services on the frontier, his life upon the Plains, he was admired by his volunteer soldiers, and by the great number of civilians with whom he was brought into intimate relationship in the two campaigns in Pennsylvania and Maryland, in which he was prominently engaged. Free from any personal ambition, he devoted himself to his duty in every post in which he was placed, and he won the confidence alike of subordinates and superiors, so that his name was constantly suggested for the very highest command. His modest preference for Meade as the chief of the Army of the Potomac, when Hooker was relieved, no doubt brought Reynolds to the spot where he found his death; but it was characteristic of his life, and he undoubtedly preferred to serve in the immediate command of the lesser body of troops, that he might inspire them with his own example of courage, rather than to take upon himself responsibilities without adequate power. Impetuous without rashness, rapid without haste, ready without heedlessness, he liked better to be at the head of a compact corps than to command a scattered army.

In no instance of the many supplied by West Point, was there [61] a better example than that of Reynolds of the wonderful effects of a West Point training upon a characteristic American mind. Here was a lad taken from a modest family, brought up in a country town, grown into manhood at West Point, sent to Florida, then from point to point through the West, slowly earning his promotion, recognized as a good soldier, and so good a disciplinarian, that even at the outbreak of the war he was appointed to duty at West Point, and soon after assigned to the slow business of organizing one of the new regular regiments, then given a brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves, and from that moment showing himself master of the art of war, and rapidly rising to the height of every new command, of every novel duty, of every fresh demand upon his military skill and resources. It was his brigade that first smelled powder at Drainesville; it was his division that made the stoutest resistance on the Peninsula, and his imprisonment at Richmond after his capture, ended only in time to find him sent to Pennsylvania to organize and command the hasty levies of militiamen, brought together to resist the raid of 1862. He thoroughly inspired his subordinates with his own zeal, and the men who served under him felt that unconscious and irresistible strength, which comes from a commander fully competent to his work, ready to do it with whatever forces are given him, and able to command success from every opportunity. That task done, he led the division which, at the second Bull Run, held its own against overwhelming odds, and helped to save the army. His corps won the only success at Fredericksburg, and in the operations that ended so disastrously at Chancellorsville, Reynolds took a leading and always prominent part. In all the intrigues of the army, and the interference of the politicians in its management, he silently set aside the tempting offers to take part, and served his successive commanders with unswerving loyalty and zeal and faith.

When the Gettysburg campaign was inaugurated, he was assigned to the command of the three corps, his own, the First, Sickles' Third and Howard's Eleventh, and led the left wing in its rapid passage through the country that lay in front of Washington, protecting it from the armies that moved up in the sheltered valleys, feeling them through the gaps, offering them battle, crossing the Potomac and following and seeking to engage Lee's forces wherever they could be found. In the midst of this energetic and unceasing action, came the sudden order relieving Hooker from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and it is a tradition of Reynolds' Corps that the post was offered to him, that he made the accepting of it conditional upon being left absolutely free and untrammeled from [62] any interference or supervision from Washington; that being denied, he was asked who ought to have the command, and said that Meade was the man, and it was to his persuasion and the promise of his aid, that Meade yielded. He was with Meade at Frederick when the order assigning Meade to the command of the Army of the Potomac came, and during the brief hours of that summer night he aided Meade in working out the plan which ended in Gettysburg. It was characteristic of the man that from that momentous interview, he rushed to the front and swooped down on a poor German cavalry general, safely ensconced in a Maryland border village, sending in as dispatches from his scouts and his own observations reports made up of the rumors published in the newspapers. The poor German was soon sent to the rear, never more to be heard of, and a trusty soldier put in his place, while Reynolds hurried on to concentrate his forces and secure the combined strength of the Army of the Potomac for the great struggle that was at hand.

Reynolds knew Buford thoroughly, and knowing him and the value of cavalry under such a leader, sent them through the mountain passes beyond Gettysburg to find and feel the enemy. The old rule would have been to keep them back near the infantry, but Reynolds sent Buford on, and Buford went on, knowing that wherever Reynolds sent him, he was sure to be supported, followed, and secure. It was Buford who first attracted Reynolds' attention to the concentration of roads that gave Gettysburg its strategic importance, and it was Reynolds who first appreciated the strength and value of Cemetery Hill, and the plateau between that point and Round Top, as the stronghold to be secured for the concentration of the scattered corps and as the place where Meade could put his army to meet and overthrow the larger body he was pursuing. Together they found Gettysburg and made it the spot upon which the Union forces won a victory that was bought with his among the precious lives lost there. Buford and Reynolds were soldiers of the same order, and each found in the other just the qualities that were most needed to perfect and complete the task intrusted to them. The brilliant achievement of Buford, with his small body of cavalry, up to that time hardly appreciated as to the right use to be made of them, is but too little considered in the history of the battle of Gettysburg. It was his foresight and energy, his pluck and self-reliance, in thrusting forward his forces and pushing the enemy, and thus inviting, almost compelling their return, that brought on the engagement of the first of July.

Buford counted on Reynolds' support, and he had it fully, faithfully, [63] and energetically. Reynolds counted in turn on having within his reach and at his immediate service at least the three corps that belonged to him, and there can be little question that if they had been up as promptly as he was in answer to Buford's call, the line he had marked out would have been fully manned and firmly held, while Meade's concentration behind Gettysburg would have gone on easily, and the whole of the Army of the Potomac would have done briefly and effectually what was gained only at the end of three days of hard fighting, with varying successes that more than once threatened to turn against us, and the loss on our side would have been so much less that the pursuit of Lee's forces could have been made promptly and irresistibly. It is not, however, given to all men to be of the same spirit, and the three corps that were under Reynolds followed his orders in a very different way from that in which he always did his work. When he got Buford's demand for infantry support on the morning of the first, it was just what Reynolds expected, and with characteristic energy, he went forward, saw Buford, accepted at once the responsibility, and returning to find the leading division of the First Corps (Wadsworth's), took it in hand, brought it to the front, put it in position, renewed his orders for the rest of the corps, assigned the positions for the other divisions, sent for his other corps, urged their coming with the greatest speed, directed the point to be held by the reserve, renewed his report to Meade that Buford had found the place for a battle, and that he had begun it, then calmly and coolly hurried some fresh troops forward to fill a gap in his lengthening lines, and as he returned to find fresh divisions, fell at the first onset.

The suddenness of the shock was in itself, perhaps, a relief to those who were nearest to Reynolds. In the full flush of life and health, vigorously leading on the troops in hand, and energetically summoning up the rest of his command, watching and even leading the attack of a comparatively small body, a glorious picture of the best type of military leader, superbly mounted, and horse and man sharing in the excitement of the shock of battle, Reynolds was, of course, a shining mark to the enemy's sharpshooters. He had taken his troops into a heavy growth of timber on the slope of a hill-side, and, under their regimental and brigade commanders, the men did their work well and promptly. Returning to join the expected divisions, he was struck by a Minnie ball, fired by a sharpshooter hidden in the branches of a tree almost overhead, and killed at once; his horse bore him to the little clump of trees, where a cairn of stones and a rude mark on the bark, now almost overgrown, still tells the [64] fatal spot. The battle went on in varying fortune, and so long as the influence of his orders that had inspired men and officers could still be felt, all went well; but when the command had been changed by the successive arrival of generals who outranked each other, what there was of plan could hardly be made out, and the troops of the First Corps, without reinforcements and worn out and outnumbered, fell back at first with some show of order, and then as best they could, to find shelter in the lines pointed out by Reynolds for the concentration of his fresh troops. Thus even after his death, his military foresight had provided for the temporary defeat, which prepared the way for the great victory.

It is a striking proof of the discipline he had taught his own corps, that the news of the death, although it spread rapidly and that at a time when the inequality of numbers became apparent, produced no ill effect, led to no disorder, changed no disposition that he had directed, and in itself made the men only the more eager to carry out his orders. At the moment that his body was taken to the rear, for his death was instantaneous, two of his most gallant staff officers, Captain Riddle and Captain Wadsworth, in pursuance of his directions, effected a slight movement which made prisoners of Archer's Brigade, so that the rebel prisoners went to the rear almost at the same time, and their respectful conduct was in itself the highest tribute they could pay to him who had thus fallen. While his body lay in the little house on the Emmetsburg road, which he had passed in such full life only a few short hours before, Major Baird, his Assistant Adjutant General, was practically carrying out his orders in the disposition of the troops as they came up, and General Hofmann, whose Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania had made the first onset, was supported by Wadsworth, himself in the far front, until other regiments could be deployed and the line taken. From the extreme left, where Colonel Chapman Biddle, in charge of the brigade, and Colonel Alexander Biddle, in immediate command of the One Hundred and Twenty-first Pennsylvania, which withstood the shock of attack quite without support and literally in air, that is, with no troops or even natural or artificial cover to protect their exposed flank, to the extreme right, where the Eleventh Corps was at last put in position, the First Corps was deployed in thin ranks. Reynolds had counted on having the Third Corps well in hand to extend his line to the left, but it was late in starting, late in moving, lost its way and got far out into the hostile lines, and got back only by Humphrey's skill and readiness, and long before they were on the field, Reynolds' dead body was on its way to a place of safety. [65]

While the battle waged in the woods in front of the Seminary, and the overwhelming forces came out from behind the ridges that had sheltered them from sight, Reynolds' aides and messengers were busy bringing to Meade news of the conflict, looking for Howard to urge forward his corps, and hunting up Sickles to put him on the right road. Buford was busy, too, in making his little cavalry force, with its few batteries of horse artillery, serve to support in turn the infantry, which had come forward at his demand, and thus lengthening out the hours of the battle before the troops came up. It was Reynolds who had pointed out Cemetery Hill as the key of the position, on which he saw that Meade must fight to win, and while some of the horse batteries, shattered and badly used up, went into position there, his body lay dead and stark in a little house at the foot of the hill. It was only after the arrival of the head of Howard's command that Schurz took his division out to support the right of the First Corps, and the other division took its place as a reserve on Cemetery Hill, and after Reynolds' staff had communicated his last orders to Doubleday and Howard, who in turn succeeded to the command, that the necessity arose of providing a safe and suitable place for the care of the sacred dust. In the midst of the turning tide, when it was feared that the day was lost, the positions turned, and stragglers began to pour in from the front, an ambulance started off with Reynolds' body, in charge of his faithful and gallant orderly, and one or two others. Soon after leaving the town behind, Hancock met the little cortege, and it was stopped to give him the last news of the day, while on the arrival at Meade's headquarters, in the midst of sincere expressions of deep sorrow and an overwhelming loss, time was taken to explain to Meade, and Warren, and Hunt, and Williams, and Tyler, all that could serve to explain the actual condition of affairs, the real state of the case, the advantages of the position, the need of troops and the necessity of moving immediately to the front.

As Meade went off in that direction, the little group carried on their sacred burden until the railroad was reached. From that point to Baltimore was a comparatively easy journey, and then came the sad, slow move to Philadelphia and Lancaster, where, at last, on the Fourth of July, when the army of the Potomac had been declared the victor on the field of Gettysburg, Reynolds was buried in the tranquil cemetery, where he lies in the midst of his family, near the scenes of his own childhood, and on the soil of his native State, in whose defense, and in the service of the cause of the Union, he had given up his life. The record of his career [66] would not be complete without an expression of regret that due justice was not done his services and his memory by those who best knew both-his immediate commander, and those in authority at Washington. Yet, in spite of the brief and imperfect record that has been made, his name is still affectionately cherished by his old comrades of the regular army; by all who served with him in his successive commands; by the veterans of his own First Corps; by the volunteers and militia who felt his force and will and military qualities, even in their brief term of service under him. To their united loyal efforts and assistance, and to the persistent energy of a few of his old officers, is due the statue of Reynolds; noble it stands on Cemetery Hill, looking over Gettysburg, and out beyond to the long line of wooded country through which he moved with his troops, and to the little knoll where he fell in the very front, and almost at the first onset. It is right that his memorial should thus command the field, for his influence made itself felt through the long days of that great battle, and its final success was largely due to the plans he had made and the operations he had conducted.

The history of Gettysburg yet remains to be written. So barren is the official record that a very gallant officer of the old First Corps said once that he often wondered if he had really been there, for he looked in vain at the official reports for any mention of his command, and yet Dick Coulter was never in action without leaving his mark. There have been hot and angry disputes, and an amount of angry recrimination and plain talk between very prominent general officers as to their respective shares in the credit of the battle, and there have been learned essays on the strategy and grand tactics of the operations that made part of the campaign of Gettysburg, by men who never set a squadron in the field, but the whole story still remains to be told. Perhaps the Count of Paris may put the record straight, for his history of our great civil war seems likely to be the best, and to serve as the last resort, beyond which there will be no appeal. Be that as it may, the subject is one that ought to be properly and exhaustively treated, and it would be well if the entire and complete set of official reports from officers of all grades and arms of service engaged in the battle, could be published from the archives at Washington. If we cannot get an official history of the war, such as the German and French staff have already supplied for their campaign, let us have at least the sources of history, the reports that give the story as it was told at the time. Reynolds is in no need of posthumous fame, but the country ought to know what such a man did, and then it could the better judge of what it lost in a life so prematurely cut short in its service.

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