Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Give Us A Man Whose Heart Is In The War"

Gen. John Reynolds

By September 11, 1862, Pennsylvania was scrambling to organize the many Emergency Militia companies that were starting to stream into Harrisburg in response to Gov. Curtin's call for troops on September 10.  However, there was still one very important thing that was not on it's way to Harrisburg at that time, and that was a commander to lead this new Pennsylvania force.  Well connected Philadelphia citizens wrote directly to Washington, pleading for a competent officer.  "We implore you to give us one who combines the sagacity of the statesman with the acuteness and skill of the soldier.  Give us a man whose heart is in the war."  Their recommendation was Philadelphia native, George Meade.  When it became clear that the war department was not going to give them Meade, Pennsylvania regrouped.  This time Harrisburg sent word to Washington requesting another officer, this time from Lancaster, "We want an active, energetic officer to command the forces in the field, and on that could rally Pennsylvanians around him.  It is believed that General Reynolds would be most useful, and I hope you will arrange to send him..." 
General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, tried to thwart the loss of one of his experienced and able generals.  "General Reynolds," wrote McClellan, "is now engaged on important service, supporting with his division an attack on New Market [MD].  He has one of the best divisions [the Pennsylvania Reserves] and is well aquainted with it.  I cannot see how his services can be spared at the present time."  1st Corps commander 'Fighting' Joe Hooker, whose Corps included Reynolds and the Reserve Division, had much more forceful words for Pennsylvania's request:

I have been shown an order relieving Brigadier-General Reynolds from the command of a division in my corps.  I request that the Major-general commanding will not heed this order; a scared Governor ought not to be permitted to destroy the usefulness of an entire division of the army, on the eve of important operations.  General Reynolds command a division of Pennsylvania troop not of the best character; is well known to them, and I have no officer to fill his place.  It is satisfactory to my mind that the rebels have no more intention of going to Harrisburg than they have going to heaven.  It is only in the United States that atrocites like this are entertained.
Reynolds too was upset.  Here he was, with his Division chasing Lee through Maryland, on the verge of another great battle.  He was sure that another capable showing by him and his battle hardened Pennsylvania Reserve Division would earn him a promotion to Major General.  He soon was ordered from his command, and by September 14, Reynolds was in Harrisburg struggling to bring the large, untested, and untrained Pennsylvania Emergency Militia toward the seat of war.  He realized it would be an arduous and thankless task, but at the end of the day, Reynolds was a soldier and he did his duty.  He felt he had lost a great opportunity, and that the war would pass him by, robbing him of a prominent place in history.  Two weeks later, having missed the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, and with the threat of invasion passed, Reynolds disbanded the Militia, and was on his way back to the Army.  It would be George Meade who had won acclaim at the head of the Pennsylvania Reserves, not Reynolds.  However, nine months later, this time chasing Lee through Pennsylvania, toward the town of Gettysburg, Reynolds' name would forever after be remembered by history in stone and bronze.

Nichols, Edward J. Toward Gettysburg: A Biography of General John F. Reynolds. State College: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1958.

United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. XIX, Part II. US Government Printing Office, 1887.

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