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Jesse Lee Reno (April 20, 1823 – September 14, 1862) was a career United States Army officer who served in the Mexican-American War, the western frontier, and as a Union General during the American Civil War. Known as a "soldier's soldier" who fought alongside his men, he was killed while commanding a corps at Fox's Gap during the Battle of South Mountainmarker.

Early life

Reno was born in Wheelingmarker, Virginia marker, the third-oldest of eight children of Lewis Thomas and Rebecca (Quinby) Reno. His ancestors, who came from France in 1770, changed the spelling of their surname 'Renault' to the simpler 'Reno' when they arrived in America. His family moved to the Franklin, Pennsylvaniamarker, area in 1830, and Reno spent his childhood there.

Reno was admitted to the United States Military Academymarker in 1842 and graduated eighth in his class of 59 cadets in 1846, initially commissioned a brevet second lieutenant of Ordnance. Reno and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson became close friends while at West Point. Other classmates and friends included George B. McClellan, George Pickett, Darius N. Couch, A.P. Hill, and George Stoneman.

Mexican-American War

During the Mexican-American War in 1847, Reno commanded an artillery battery under General Winfield Scott and fought in the Siege of Vera Cruz and other battles in Mexico. Reno was brevetted twice during the war—once for "gallant and meritorious conduct" at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, and later for bravery at the Battle for Mexico City and the Battle of Chapultepecmarker, where he was seriously wounded while commanding a howitzer battery.

After the Mexican-American War ended, Reno served in several locations, including as a mathematics instructor at West Point, as the secretary of a group assigned to "create a system of instruction for heavy artillery, and at the Ordnance Board in Washington, D.C.marker He was promoted to first lieutenant, in 1853, and sent to conduct a road survey from the Big Sioux River to Mendota, Minnesotamarker. When he returned to Washington, he married Mary Blanes Cross, and the couple had five children, two of whom had notable achievements of their own: Conrad Reno became an attorney and writer of note in Bostonmarker, Massachusettsmarker, and Jesse W. Reno graduated from Lehigh Universitymarker and invented the first working escalator.

Reno's next assignment was as ordnance officer at the Frankford Arsenalmarker, northeast of Philadelphiamarker, where he spent the next few years. In 1857, Reno was assigned to go with Brig. Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston as chief of ordnance on a two-year expedition to the Utah Territory.

Civil War

When he returned from Utah in 1859, Reno was promoted to captain for fourteen years of continuous service. Captain Reno then took command of the Mount Vernon Arsenalmarker near Mount Vernon, Alabamamarker, in 1859. At dawn on January 4, 1861, Reno was forced to surrender the arsenal to troops from Alabama, a bloodless transfer ordered by the governor of Alabama, Andrew B. Moore. Alabama seceded from the Union a week later.

Upon leaving Alabama with his small force, Reno was temporarily assigned to command the Fort Leavenworthmarker Arsenal until he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers in the fall of 1861. He transferred to Virginia, took command of the 2nd Brigade, IX Corps, and soon had organized five regiments. The 2nd Brigade fought in Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina Expedition from February through July 1862. Reno became a division commander in the IX Corps, which had become part of the Army of the Potomac. In the Northern Virginia Campaignmarker, Reno actively opposed his friend and classmate Stonewall Jackson during the Second Battle of Bull Runmarker and the Battle of Chantillymarker. Burnside became commander of the Army of the Potomac's Right Wing for the start of the Maryland Campaign in September, elevating Reno to command of the IX Corps from September 3.

Reno had a reputation as a "soldier's soldier" and often was right beside his troops without a sword or any sign of rank. On September 12, 1862, Reno's IX Corps spent the day in Frederick, Marylandmarker. Two days later, while he was stopped directly in front of his troops as he reconnoitered the enemy's forces at Fox's Gap at the Battle of South Mountainmarker, Reno was hit in the chest by a Confederate sharpshooter's bullet. He was brought by stretcher to Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis's command post and said in a clear voice, "Hallo, Sam, I'm dead!" Sturgis thought that he sounded so natural that he must be joking and told Reno that he hoped it was not as bad as all that. Reno repeated, "Yes, yes, I'm dead—good-by!", dying a few minutes later. In his official report, D. H. Hill sarcastically remarked, "The Yankees on their side lost General Reno, a renegade Virginian, who was killed by a happy shot from the Twenty-third North Carolina."

Reno was posthumously promoted to major general, retroactive to July 18, 1862.

In memoriam

Reno's body was first taken to Boston, the home of his wife, and placed in a vault in Trinity Churchmarker. On April 9, 1867, his remains were reinterred in Oak Hill Cemeterymarker in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.marker. A memorial marking the location of his death was erected in 1889 by IX Corps veterans on present-day Reno Monument Road in the South Mountain State Battlefield.

The United States Army named three outposts after Reno: Fort Pennsylvania in present-day Washington, D.C., was renamed Fort Reno in 1862, Fort Renomarker was constructed near present-day El Reno, Oklahomamarker in 1874, the third Fort Renomarker was built in present-day Wyomingmarker on the Bozeman Trail in 1865. Reno, Nevadamarker, Reno, Pennsylvania, and Reno County, Kansas, are also named in his honor.

See also


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Houghton Mifflin, 1983, ISBN 0-89919-172-X.
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.


  1. Warner, p. 394.
  2. Eicher, p. 449.
  3. West Virginia Division of Culture & History
  4. Antietam on the Web
  5. West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
  6. Official Records, Series I, Vol. I, Chap. III, p. 327.
  7. Central Maryland Heritage League Land Trust
  8. Sears, p. 140.
  9. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XIX, Chap. XXXI, p. 1020.
  10. Warner, p. 395.

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