Jesse Lee Reno
Reno was born in Wheeling, Virginia (present day West Virginia), the third-oldest of eight children of Lewis Thomas and Rebecca (Quinby) Reno. His ancestors changed the spelling of their surname "Renault" to the more Anglicized "Reno" when they arrived in America from France in 1770. His family moved to the Franklin, Pennsylvania, area in 1830, and Reno spent his childhood there.
Reno was admitted to the United States Military Academy 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.
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 Chapultepec, where he was seriously wounded while commanding a howitzer battery. During the occupation of Mexico City, Reno became an original member of the Aztec Club of 1847.
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. He was promoted to
first lieutenant, in 1853, and sent to conduct a road survey from the Big Sioux
River to Mendota, Minnesota. 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
Boston, Massachusetts, and Jesse W. Reno graduated from Lehigh University and
invented the first working escalator.
Reno's next assignment was as ordnance officer at the Frankford Arsenal, northeast of Philadelphia, where he spent the next few years. In 1857, Reno was assigned to go with Brig. Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston (later a senior Confederate general in the Western Theater) as chief of ordnance on a two-year expedition to the Utah Territory.
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 Arsenal near Mount Vernon, Alabama, 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 Leavenworth Arsenal until he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers in the fall of 1861. He transferred to Virginia, took command of the 2nd Brigade, Burnside Expeditionary Force, 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 Campaign, Reno actively opposed his friend and classmate Stonewall Jackson during the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Chantilly. Reno was appointed a major general on August 20, 1862. (This promotion was confirmed posthumously on March 9, 1863, with date of rank established as July 18, 1862.) 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, Maryland, as the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George McClellan advanced westward in pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Elements of Lee's army defended three low-lying "gaps" of South Mountain—Crampton's, Turner's, and Fox's—while concentrating at Sharpsburg, Maryland, to the west, the location of the subsequent Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862). In the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, Reno stopped directly in front of his troops as he reconnoitered the enemy's forces advancing up the road at Fox's Gap. He 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, a long-time acquaintance and fellow member of the West Point Class of 1846, 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, Confederate general 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's body was first taken to Boston, the home of his wife, and placed in a vault in Trinity Church. On April 9, 1867, his remains were reinterred in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
A memorial marking the location of his death was erected in 1889 by IX Corps veterans on present-day Reno Monument Road in Fox's Gap at the South Mountain State Battlefield Park. A monument for Confederate Brig. Gen. Samuel L. Garland, Jr. of Virginia also killed near here was erected nearby in 1993 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Central Maryland Heritage League along with a large stone and bronze sculpture to North Carolina soldiers defending the line in 2005.
The cities of Reno, Nevada, El Reno, Oklahoma, and Reno, Pennsylvania, are all named for the general. The first two contain monuments to him in their downtown areas. The one in Reno stands along Virginia Street; the one in El Reno stands in Youngheim Plaza on Sunset Drive.
The United States Army named three outposts after Reno: Fort Pennsylvania in present-day Washington, D.C., was renamed Fort Reno in 1862, Fort Reno was constructed near present-day El Reno, Oklahoma in 1874, the third Fort Reno was built in present-day Wyoming on the Bozeman Trail in 1865.
Reno County, Kansas is also named in his honor.