Doctor James Reagles was a surgeon with a remarkable career in the Army. His military service included surgical duty with the Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac, during the Civil War, and postwar duty in the West, including the first survey and exploration of the Yellowstone Territory. He remained on active duty through the Spanish-American War, and was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt into the Army Medical Corps. When he retired in 1908, Dr. Reagles’ career in the military medical service was one of the longest on record.
Reagles was born in Schenectady, New York in 1842. He graduated from Union College in 1861 and then attended Columbia University and Bellevue Hospital, where he earned a Doctorate of Medicine on May 1, 1864. Two days later he was commissioned Assistant Surgeon in the 62nd New York Infantry (Anderson’s Zouaves) and was sent to Brandy Station to join the 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac.
With the 62nd New York, Reagles saw action at the battles of Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, and was at Appomattox when Lee surrendered. Dr. Reagles was present at the mortal wounding of Gen. Sedgwick, Commander of the 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac at Spotsylvania, Va., where the General was shot by a Confederate sharpshooter. Reagles mustered out at the close of the Civil War, but was bored with private practice, and rejoined as Assistant Surgeon in the regular army. Serving with the cavalry in 1866, he remained in the military until 1908.
Stationed in the West with the Indian-fighting army, Reagles was posted to various forts over the years, including Fort Verde, Arizona; Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and Fort Arbuckle. He served on General George Crook’s staff during the Apache wars with Geronimo in Arizona, and saw much field duty.
In 1872, Reagles served as surgeon on Dr. F.V. Hayden’s expedition to explore and chart the Yellowstone Territory. [Hayden, himself a surgeon, also was a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.] Reagles assisted in this first survey of the unchartered lands, and climbed the Grand Tetons with the expedition’s soon-to-be-famous photographer, William Henry Jackson.
Reagles’ military service included assignments to Fort Keogh, Montana; Fort Ontario and Plattsburg Barracks, New York; Fort Yellowstone, Montana; Fort Klamath and Fort Stevens, Oregon; Vancouver Barracks, Washington; and Fort Wrangel, Alaska. His last duty station was as Post Surgeon in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
James Reagles was commissioned a Captain in the Medical Corps of the Regular Army by special order of President Theodore Roosevelt in at his retirement in 1908. Pneumonia ended the long serving surgeon’s life at Schenectady, New York on February 10, 1913. Thus, he missed yet another war but undoubtedly he would have found some way of serving his country in that conflict, too, had he not answered a higher roll call.
Johnson, M.K. and Johnson, P.R. (2006). Collecting Civil War Surgeon’s Images & Photographs.
Johnson, P.R. (1999). “A Life in Uniform, II” in Military Images, May-June., pp.19-23