"Hallo, Sam, I'm Dead!"

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)


2 thoughts

  1. We appreciate Stephen Sears’s explication of Jesse Reno’s dying words. As an editor, that “Hello Sam, I’m dead” was too good to pass up, and I’m afraid we left it hanging as mini-mystery.
    As for Reno’s nativity, he was a Wheeling boy, so better call him a Western Virginian. Among the namesakes of famous places in the West, he shares top honors with another Western Virginian, David Jackson, who was the uncle of Stonewall and for whom Jackson Hole and the Jackson River were named. Jackson was a partner of Jedediah Smith in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. (Stonewall had a cousin Mudwall, by the way, also a Confederate general. Considerably less resolute, but he survived the war by a good 35 years.)
    All of which reminds me of my suggestion awhile back that we ought to pool content from Encyclopedia Virginia and e-WV:The West Virginia Encyclopedia in so far as it pertains to the period during which West Virginia was still part of the Old Dominion. We are reinventing a lot of the same wheels!
    Ken Sullivan, editor, West Virginia Encyclopedia

  2. Thanks for checking in, Ken. Let me ask you about ol’ Mudwall. I’m having trouble figuring out what the historical consensus is on his identity. Like you, many folks (including Wikipedia) say he was William Lowther Jackson, Stonewall’s second cousin.
    But this article argues that’s a mistake, and that Mudwall really is Alfred Eugene Jackson:
    On the other hand, Peter Cozzens, who has written a couple entries for us, writes that he is John Jackson:
    Wiley Sword seems to agree:
    I’m curious to know what you think. I’m also curious to know — so many questions, so little time! — what Sears’s sourcing is on that great death scene for Reno. If I recall correctly, Sears says Reno died quickly, while the regimental biography (from which comes that picture at the top of the post) says he died more slowly.
    Thanks again …


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