I’ve been editing our entry on the Maryland Campaign of 1862, which most famously culminated in the Battle of Antietam (the Bloodiest Day in American History, etc.), but which also included, three days earlier, the Battle of South Mountain. It was there that the Union general—and Virginia native—Jesse L. Reno was shot and killed. The West Virginia Encyclopedia has a short biography of Reno, for whom Reno, Nevada, was named, and it hints at a dramatic death scene: “In a last conversation with Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis, himself a member of the [West Point] Class of 1846, Reno said, ‘Hello Sam, I’m dead.'”
Stephen W. Sears, who loves a good anecdote, fills in the rest:
General Reno himself was up on the mountain by now, and he went forward to see what was holding up the advance. He reached Sturgis’s position about sunset and rode ahead to get a better view. He was near the spot where Rebel General Garland had fallen that morning when a Rebel sharpshooter put a bullet through his body. He was brought back to Sturgis’s command post on a stretcher. “Hallo, Sam, I’m dead!” he called out in a voice so natural that Sturgis thought he must be joking. He said he hoped it was not as bad as all that. “Yes, yes, I’m dead—good-by!” Reno repeated, and minutes later he died.
The vast majority of native Virginians (and yes, some non-natives, too!) supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, but it’s helpful to remember that there were others who made a different, and one expects a terribly difficult, choice: George H. Thomas, John Newton, William R. Terrill, Philip St. George Cooke, Winfield Scott, and Jesse L. Reno.
IMAGE: Engraving of Jesse L. Reno, frontispiece, History of the Twenty-First Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers in the War for the Preservation of the Union, 1861–1865 by Charles F. Walcott (1882)