South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"The army has met with a grievous loss. . ."

After fighting a long and bloody stalemate around Fox's Gap on September 14, 1862, Major General Jesse Reno moves up with his staff to get a look at the situation for himself. With daylight fading, it is quite difficult to get a handle on his troops positions and as General Reno's party came within yards of the gap, shots rang out. Immediately, there was the distinct thud of hot lead hitting human flesh and General Reno crumbles in the saddle. One of his staff officers gains control of the General's horse and leads the mortally wounded commander of the Union 9th Corps back down the mountain. Reno would be laid underneath an oak tree where, within the hour, he would succumb to his wound.

Jesse Lee Reno was born on April 20, 1823 in Wheeling, West Virginia to Lewis Thomas and Rebecca Reno. He was the third of eight children the couple would have together. His parents moved the family Franklin, Pennsylvania in the northwestern part of the state. The young Reno would spend his childhood here and he would receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842 while living here. in 1846, he would graduate eighth in a class that included future Civil War generals George B. McClellan, Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall), and George Pickett. He would serve in the Mexican-American War where he would be brevetted a first lieutenant following the Battle of Cerro Gordo and Captain following the battle of Chapultepec.

During the period before the outbreak of the Civil War, Reno would serve in various different capacities. He would teach at West Point, be a member on various ordnance boards, take part in
mapping surveys, and he would serve as the chief of ordnance during Albert Sidney Johnston's Utah Expedition. He would also hold commands at the U.S. Arsenals at Mount Vernon, Alabama, and Leavenworth, Kansas.

In January of 1861, during the secession crisis, Reno was forced to surrender the Mount Vernon Arsenal to the State of Alabama. In April, war broke out and by November, Jesse Reno was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers and his first command was a brigade in the Carolina Coast expedition under Ambrose Burnside and fought in the fights on Roanoke Island, New Bern, and Camden, North Carolina. Following this expedition, Reno would command a division in the Federal Department of North Carolina until he was recalled to Washington, D.C. in August 1862.

He was appointed major general on August 20 with rank from July 18th, 1862. During the Second Manassas Campaign, he commanded Burnside's IX Corps while General Burnside was in command of the right wing of John Pope's Army of Virginia as it advanced north away from the Rappahannock River. Reno's command would fight well during the Battle of Second Manassas and in the Battle of Chantilly of September 1, 1862. As the Union force retreated into the defences of Washington, D.C., George McClellan was given command of the demoralized force and it was incorporated into the Army of the Potomac with Reno remaining in command of the IX Corps with Burnside given the overall command of the Right Wing of the Army. The Rebel Army crossed into Maryland between September 4-7, 1862 and by the 9th they were concentrated around the city of Frederick, Maryland. Their stay in Maryland would prove to be a short one. Reno's 9th Corp was ordered to move to Leesbourough, Maryland on September 5th and then onward through Damascus and New Market and the corps arrived in the vanguard of the Army of the Potomac at Frederick on September 12th fighting a brief skirmish in the outskirts and streets of Frederick before encamping on the banks of the Monocacy River. On the 13th, the IX Corps moved through Frederick towards Braddock Gap and after Union Cavalry under Alfred Pleasonton cleared the gap, Reno pushed his corps right up to the base of South Mountain. The evening, McClellan recalled Reno's troops back to Middletown where they would encamp for the night.

On the morning of the 14th, the Kanawha Divison under Jacob Cox moved out in a reconnaissance in force towards Turner's Gap along the National Pike. After recieving information that a sizable force of Confederate Infantry was at the gap, Cox filed his division off to the left of the pike and moved up the Old Sharpsburg Road in an attempt to outflank the Turner's Gap position. The lead elements of Cox's men ran into the brigade of General Samuel Garland around 9 in the morning near Fox's Gap and fighting became rather intense with General Garland being mortally wounded. Reno pushed forward the remainder of the IX Corps to the support of Cox at Fox's Gap. The Confederates attempted a counterattack in the afternoon but it was stopped cold and Reno ordered the entire IX Corps to push towards the gap. Reno's men gained possession of the gap before being pushed back by reinforcements from John Bell Hood's division of Confederates.

As light was fading, General Reno moved up the Old Sharpsburg Road with his staff to get a handle on the situation himself and issue orders as needed. As he got close to the gap, picket's from both sides were firing and a volley from the woods was unleashed upon the group. General Reno was struck in the chest of and Major Charles Goodwin assisted the General back down the mountain until the general could be placed on a stretcher. As orderlies carried the general on the stretcher, Reno saw his old friend, one of his brigade commanders, Samuel Sturgis and cried out, "Hallo Sam! I'm Dead". Sturgis heard the voice in such a way that he would not believe that Reno was going to die. Reno also came across one of his division commanders, Orlando Willcox, who Reno confided in that he believed the he had been shot by his own men. Major General Jesse Reno would die of his wounds within an hour underneath a large Oak tree.

The general's body was taken to Boston to his wife and placed within a vault at Trinity Church. His remains would be removed to Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown in April 1867. General Reno is memorialized by a monument within a gated area near that site of his wounding on the Fox's Gap Battlefield (above, right). He is also memorialized by the City of Reno, Nevada. The city sprouted up near a silver mine and the settlers of the town voted to name in Reno, in honor of the general. This act caught the notice of President Lincoln who would make Nevada a state in October 1864. Today, Reno memorializes its name sake with a large wooden statue of the general. He is also memorialized by various other places and communities throughout the country including his birthplace of Wheeling, West Virginia.

(Monument in Wheeling, WV)

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