I’ve already mentioned in these columns the bold self-promoter Lansford Hastings, who received a general’s commission in the Confederate Army mainly to encourage his long-shot scheme of raising an army in the west to take over California and make it a Confederate state.
But Knox County also had the real deal: a genuine soldier who worked his way up through the ranks to become a brigadier general fighting for the South in the Civil War. His name was Daniel Harris Reynolds and he was born on a farm at the Houck Settlement three miles west of Centerburg late in 1832.
His father, Amos Reynolds, came from Loudon County in northern Virginia, while his mother Sophia Houck was born in Muskingum County, Ohio, though the Houcks soon moved to Knox County, where they were among the founding settlers of what is now Hilliar Township.
Amos and Sophia met in Knox County and were married here in 1824. Not a lot is known about the family’s life, other than the fact that they had at least nine children (some sources claim 10), three of whom died young. Daniel’s brother Sylvester grew up to become a physician, while his brother Burr worked variously as a carpenter, salesman, and even spent a spell in California during the gold rush.
A family tragedy
But if you take a trip to the Houck Cemetery on US 36, about a mile past Centerburg High School, you’ll find the traces of a family tragedy. Sophia died on Sept. 8, 1849, at age 41, and the couple’s daughter Mary, just over a year old, followed about a month later. Records indicate that Amos got remarried in March of the following year, to Mary Ann Wier, but then died himself just a couple weeks later, on March 26, 1850, only 48 years old.
What all happened to this family in this period of upheaval we may never know. It is known that Burr left in 1849 to join the gold rush, though it isn’t known exactly when he left. Sylvester had moved out by 1850 and was living with his aunt and uncle a few miles south at Hartford, in Licking County.
With both his parents dead, Daniel himself left in the fall of 1850, enrolling in Ohio Wesleyan University in town Delaware.
At the school, Daniel met another Ohioan by the name of Otho Strahl. The two became best friends and enrolled together in the university’s law program. One wonders if the two of them discussed politics and the issue of slavery, because the two were to end up becoming the only Ohioans to later become Confederate generals during the Civil War.
Though many years have passed, resentment remains. As recently as 2003, a history of Centerburg was published that made no mention of Reynolds whatsoever.
Off to become a Southern gentleman
The cold shoulder seems to have been mutual. Evidently feeling no sentimental attachment to his family or to central Ohio, Reynolds moved to Iowa after graduation, but when Strahl invited him to come to Tennessee for some advanced law studies, he relocated.
After becoming a very accomplished lawyer, Reynolds moved across the Mississippi River in 1858 and settled in the town of Lake Village, Arkansas. He started practicing law immediately and purchased as much land as he could afford.
Though he owned no slaves, Reynolds clearly identified himself as a Southerner. When the political situation deteriorated and Southern states began to secede, Reynolds threw himself behind the rebellion and immediately started forming a volunteer force in Lake Village, the Chicot Rangers, named after the county.
The troops soon went into training and saw their first battle action in the summer of 1861. Reynolds’ first battle command was not auspicious, for he fell off his horse and missed most of the action. But that was a fluke. For the next four years, Reynolds proved an able field commander, albeit a hot-headed one, sometimes openly disagreeing with his top brass.
Nonetheless, his record was distinguished: He rose to the rank of Brigadier General, leading what became known as Reynolds’ Arkansas Brigade. Just weeks before General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865, General Reynolds got his leg destroyed by a cannon ball in the Battle of Bentonville, the last major engagement of the war.
A Civil War diary
Anyone with an interest in Civil War battlefield tactics might want to read Reynolds’ Civil War diary, “Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight,” published in 2011 by the University of Arkansas Press. But don’t read it looking for a lot of personal insight into the man.
In this diary, he recorded battle activity and tactics more than he discussed his views on things. He never once mentions his youth in Ohio. In fact, he never mentions Ohio at all outside of references to enemy troops. This is an interesting omission, considering that his brother Sylvester enrolled in the Union Army and fought as a private.
It is only at the very end of the war that Reynolds’ armor cracks a little. His description of his wounding is vivid:
"[W]e were just in the act of going into position in line of battle when I was wounded by a cannon shot. It entered my horse’s breast and came out under my left leg, cutting away my stirrup and breaking my leg just below the knee and tearing off a great part of the calf of the leg, and then killed a horse standing next to mine.
My horse reared up, and taking my right foot out of the stirrup, with my hands I threw myself out of the saddle, falling on the dead horse, the blood from my horse’s side spurting over me, and fearing my horse would fall on me, I, by aid of a bush, got out in front of him, the noble animal still standing though a stream of blood larger than my arm was gushing from his breast."
The general’s leg was amputated at the knee at the Southern field hospital.
“The war is over and we failed.”
After describing the rumors flying after the South’s surrender, and curtly noting Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Reynolds ended his diary when he returned to Arkansas on June 15:
"The war is over and we failed. I have many things to regret and many things to be proud of, but of none am I prouder than that of having commanded 'Reynolds’s Arkansas Brigade' and nothing do I regret so much as the loss of our cause. We lost many noble men, but those who did their duty like men will ever be held in grateful remembrance by their relatives and friends, and by the friends of constitutional liberty everywhere.
"Peace to their ashes."
Reynolds eventually received a presidential pardon and lived out the rest of his life as a prominent citizen of Lake Village, Arkansas, where at the height of his success, around 1880, he owned over 60,000 acres of land. In later years, he became completely invalid and passed away at age 69 in 1902.
It is not known if he ever spoke to anyone else in his Ohio family ever again.