Major General John Reynolds served as commander of the Union I, III and XI Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg. Brigadier General John Buford's cavalry also under the command of Reynolds, would be the first to reach Gettysburg on June 30, 1863.
Buford, realizing the strategic importance in protecting the heights south of Gettysburg, set up defensive lines north and west of town. He sent note to Reynolds that he would defend the heights from the approaching Confederates until the infantry could arrive. As the Confederates attacked on July 1, Buford and his men fought valiantly until Reynolds arrived with infantry support hours later.
As the ranking officer, Reynolds quickly assumed command and was able to position his troops hastily to defend against the attacks. The Confederates boldly attacked not realizing the Union lines had been reinforced and suffered heavy casualties. Around 10:30am while positioning troops from the Iron Brigade, Reynolds was shot through the neck by and died instantly. There is debate as to how Reynolds died and by what hands, but it is generally believed he was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter.
Confusion set in after Reynolds fell and the Union lines began to break as they were pushed back through the town. By choosing to engage the Confederates at Gettysburg, Reynolds effectively determined the battle would be fought there. One of the Union army's best field commanders, John Reynolds death dealt a severe blow to the Union. The Union would however go on to win the Battle of Gettysburg and Reynolds had made the supreme sacrifice for the cause.
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