Dictionary of American Biography
Charles Scribner & Sons, 1938
Vol. XV, p. 504
RENO, JESSE LEE (June 20, 1823-Sept. 14, 1862), soldier, was born at Wheeling, Va., (now W. Va.), the son of Louis and Rebecca (Quinby) Reno. He was of French descent, the family name having been originally Renault. His parents moved to Pennsylvania and he was appointed to the United States Military Academy from that state, graduating as a brevet second lieutenant of ordnance in 1846. He served in the Mexican War, being brevetted for gallant and meritorious conduct at Cerro Gordo, and captain for actions at Chapultepec. Following the war he served as assistant professor of mathematics at West Point in 1849, secretary of a board on heavy artillery techniques in 1849-50, assistant to the ordnance board at the Washington arsenal in 1851-52, was on border and coast surveys in 1853-54, and in command of the arsenal at Mount Vernon, Ala., from 1859 until its seizure by the Confederates in January 1861. He then commanded the arsenal at Leavenworth, Kan., until the fall of 1961. He became permanent first lieutenant in 1853 and captain in 1860. Already of ripe experience when the Civil War commenced, he was commissioned a brigadier-general of volunteers in November 1861. He was given a brigade in Burnside's expedition into North Carolina the winter of 1861 and the spring of 1862, and from April to August commanded a division in the Department of North Carolina, taking part in the movement to Newport News, Va., and the Rappahannock in August. He was commissioned major-general on July 18, 1862. In the August campaign in Northern Virginia, Reno commanded the IX Corps of Burnside's right wing and took part in the Battle of Manassas, Aug. 29-30, and Chantilly on the first of September. In the Maryland campaign, still commanding the IX Corps, he entered Frederick, MD., with his troops in pursuit of Jackson and stayed in that city until the morning of Sept. 13.
Stories of a certain Barbara Fritchie, who had, it was said, kept a Union flag waving from her dormer window while Frederick was occupied by the Confederates, interested Colonel Reno and he stopped at her house while his troops were marching out, talked with the aged widow and offered to buy the flag she had kept waving. She refused to sell or give away the flag made famous later by Whittier's poem, but presented a home-made bunting flag to Reno which he placed in his saddle pocket. The following day he was killed "while gallantly leading his men" at South Mountain. In an order published on Sept. 20, Burnside eulogized him as "one of hte country's best defenders" (War of the Rebellion; Official Records, Army I Ser., vol. XIX, pt. 1, p. 423). His body was taken to Baltimore by his brother and sent to Boston, where Mrs. Reno was then living. He was buried at Trinity Church, Boston, on Sept. 20. The "Barbara Fritchie" flag, which had covered his casket, was given to his wife and was kept by her in his military chest for several years, and was then presented to the Boston Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. On Nov. 1, 1853, he had married Mary Blanes Cross of Washington, D.C. The city of Reno, Nevada (Washoe County), was named in his honor.
(G. W.Collum, Biog. Reg....U. S. Military Acad. (1891); H. C. Quinby, Geneal. Hist. of the Quinby (Quimby) Family, vol. 1 (1915); E. D. Abbott, A Sketch of Barbara Fritchie (1928); Henry Gannett, Origin of Certain Place Names in the U. S. Dept. of the Interior, Bull. of the U. S. Geol. Survey, no. 197 (1902); H. H. Bancroft, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming, in Hist. of the Pacific States of N. America, vol. XX (1890); Daily Nat. Intelligencer (Wash. D. C. ), Nov. 4, 1853; Daily Intelligencer (Wheeling, Va.), Boston Daily Advertiser, Sept. 6, 1862) D.Y.
(Ed. note: This biographical sketch is transcribed as it was published. All facts, dates and places are subject to verification and revision based on subsequent research. No guarantees of the accuracy of the information transcribed are expressed or implied by the contributor thereof.)