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William Reynolds

"In the administration of the duties committed to him, he did much to improve the personnel and efficiency of the enlisted men of the navy, and in the discharge of all the duties devolving on him, during a long career in the service, he exhibited zeal, intelligence, and ability, for all of which he was conspicuous." - Richard W. Thompson, Sec. of the Navy, announcing Reynolds death.

William Reynolds
Quick Facts
  • Born: December 10, 1815
  • Died: November 5, 1879
  • Parents: John & Lydia Moore Reynolds
  • 6th generation Ferree descendant
  • Descended through the Isaac Lefevre & Catherine Ferree line and also the Daniel Ferree & Anna Maria Leininger line.
  • Married Rebecca Krug.
  • U. S. Naval Officer.
  • One of the first Americans to view Antarctica and one of the first Americans to explore the Hawaiian Islands.

The Reynolds were a prominent family in the early days of Lancaster history. John Reynolds, the father of our subject, was the publisher of the Lancaster Journal from 1820 to 1836. Married to Lydia Moore, they were the parents of thirteen children and could boast of an admiral and two generals among them.

William Reynolds, second oldest, was born December 10, 1815, in Lancaster. At the age of sixteen he was appointed a midshipman in the US Navy by a family friend, Pennsylvania Congressman, James Buchanan (who later became President). During his distinguished career in the navy he served in a number of posts, toured many parts of the world, and in 1873 was promoted to Rear Admiral. However, his career was always overshadowed by his younger brother, General John Fulton Reynolds, hero of Gettysburg, and almost as much by another brother, General James Lefevre Reynolds, Quartermaster General of Pennsylvania.

William Reynolds Career Timeline
November 17, 1831 Appointed Midshipman/U.S. Navy. His first assignment was to the USS Boxer and toured Africa, Brazil, and the Malay Archipelago.
1836 - 1837 Attended naval school, Norfolk, VA.
June 15, 1837 Promoted to passed Midshipman.
1838 Worked at the U.S. Navy Depot of Charts & Instruments Washington, D. C.
1838 - 1842 Served as officer on the U.S. Exploring Expedition and was among the first to sight the Antarctic mainland.
September 1841 Commissioned as Lieutenant.
1842 Assigned to the USS Cumberland.
1852 - 1861 Leave of absence from the Navy, Kauai & Honolulu, HI.
September 24, 1855 Placed on Reserve List due to ill health.
February 23, 1857 Appointed, Naval Store Keeper, Honolulu, HI.
1861 Returned to active service.
June 9, 1862 Appointed Commander of U.S.S. Vermont, South Atlantic Blockading Station, Port Royal, SC.
July 25, 1866 Promoted to Captain. Stationed on the USS Lackawanna to Hawaii.
1867 Formally claimed possession of Midway Island for the U.S.
1869 Senior officer of the Ordinance Board.
1870 Appointed Commodore.
1870-1875 Chief of the Bureau of Equipment & Recruiting.
December 12, 1873 Appointed Rear Admiral.
1873 & 1874 Acting Secretary of the Navy (on two occasions)
1875 Commander of the naval forces at the "Asiatic Station" Flagship U.S.S. Tennessee, Japan, China, Siam.
December 10, 1877 Retired from active service due to failing health.
November 5, 1879 Died in Washington, D. C.

William Reynolds married Rebecca Krug on August 16, 1842, in the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster. As his naval career took him to different parts of the world, William and Becky kept in touch with family by letter. A collection of Reynolds Family Letters can be found in the Archives & Special Collections at Franklin & Marshall College (address below). Some of William's earlier letters can also be found on this website. (See "William Reynolds Letters" under the Family Letters Heading.)

In an letter written in 1858, Reynolds mentions a problem he was having with a leg tumor and treatment he was receiving. At that time he thought it would soon be healed but excerpts from a letter written to his sister in Philadelphia in 1860 indicates the problem had worsened.

Honolulu, May 18th 1860

. . . . . . The tumor has shown sufficiently its reproductive tenancy to indicate that it cannot be eradicated, but must continue as long as I have a leg for it to grow in.

Nothing else can be done but to watch and treat it as heretofore. Up to this time, the tumor has abstained, in a wonderfully accommodating manner from disturbing the arteries, altho it has burrowed deeply into the interior of the leg, and has been in their immediate neighborhood. At present, there are no indications of it approach to the arteries; but what it is actually doing inside, cannot be exactly ascertained.

If it should reach an artery, the leg must come off and further, that the disease has now become constitutional and if it had not this space, it would go somewhere else with worse consequences. Therefore this space must be kept open and not allowed to heal up, if it would.

If the growth of the tumor could be confined to near the surface, it would be well for me. I should be more or less lame and have to be more or less cut up as occasion required; but it is to be expected that it will not content itself with a superficial existence - and that it must have its own way. So you see that its future course is quite uncertain. . . . . . .

William Reynolds' younger brother, General John Fulton Reynolds, was killed during the Civil War at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. (Biography of John Fulton Reynolds) At that time William was the Commander of the U.S.S. Vermont, South Atlantic Blockading Station, Port Royal, South Carolina. He learned of his brother's death from an officer on one of the nearby ships who had read about it in the newspaper and had come aboard to give him the sad news. A few days later he received the news in letters from his sisters. Following is his reply.

Vermont, Port Royal
Friday, July 8th 10th 1863


My Dear Sisters,

We have just read Ellies and Jeannies letters, but we had on Tuesday evening learned, thru a kind and friendly source of poor John's sad fate. We, or rather I, read of it in the New York Post of the 2nd and the next morning told Rebecca.

Poor fellow!

A good soldier, a modest hero; an upright man; a faithful brother; and as we learn at last, a pure lover of a saint like woman. How can one write of his death, without tears for him, and for us all.

I had hoped fortune would befriend him to the end and that he would survive this awful war unharmed; but as he was to die upon the field, it is a comfort, so far as any consolation can attend his fate, that he fell upon the soil of his natal state defending it from the wretched rebels, who have brought all this horror upon the Country.

Take all the good qualities that Sam, Jim and I possess, and they would make 1/2 the good that was in John. I believe he never harmed any one. All his Army friends whom I have met with spoke of him as a man to be loved, and as one who was loved by all who knew him. I think his character must have been an exceptional one in the goodness of his nature, which seems to have so impressed his associates as to make them always speak of it, on occasions, while he lived. One whom I met today, so spoke of him; now that he is dead.

Poor fellow! Had Sam and Jim been killed and had I been fatally wounded and survived just long enough to know their fate and my own, I should not have been so shaken with grief, as I am and have been for this one brother whom we have lost. I do believe that so far as human infirmities ever allow, he was a man without guile, and without reproach. I am ashamed of myself in comparison with him. You dear souls who have been more with him will miss him greatly, and lament him ever.

I dare not venture to say a word as to her who was to have been his dear wife and our sister.

That he was quickly taken from the field - that his body was soon in the possession of his family - that so many of you could see him laid beside his father and mother and that no parade was made over his remains are all matters to be thankful for. I wish we could have been with you.




U.S.S. Vermont
U.S.S. New Hampshire

During his naval career these ships were commanded by William Reynolds.


U.S.S. Lackawanna
U.S.S. Tennessee




Due to failing health, William Reynolds retired from active service on November 10, 1877.

He died in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 1879, and is buried next to his brother, John F. Reynolds, in the Reynolds plot in the Lancaster Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Rebecca died April 15, 1885, in Hampton City, Virginia, and is also buried in the Reynolds plot.




  On January 2, 1884, The G.A.R. Admiral Reynolds Post #405 was organized in Lancaster and named in honor of William Reynolds. It was the second of three posts to be organized in Lancaster and original plans were to name it after his better known brother, General John Fulton Reynolds. However, Philadelphia beat them to it and named their new post in honor of the General. Lancaster then chose to name their post after the Admiral.


To view William Reynolds letters at the Franklin & Marshall College Archives & Special Collections go to: http://library.fandm.edu/archives/Reynolds/splash