Charles Ranson Reynolds – Major General, United States Army

Charles Ransom Reynolds

(28 July 1877 – 2 December 1961)
The Surgeon General, 1 June 1935 – 31 May 1939


Born in Elmira, New York, he was educated in local schools before attending the medical department of the University of Michigan in 1895. He left Michigan in 1897 to complete his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania from which he graduated with the MD degree in 1899. Dr. Reynolds then underwent internships at Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and at Philadelphia General Hospital (Blockley) before he entered the army as a contract surgeon on 1 September 1900. His elder brother, Captain Frederick P. Reynolds, had been in the Medical Corps since 1892 and a younger brother, Royal Reynolds, would enter the army as a physician later.  His newphew, Royal Reynolds, Jr., Brigadier General, United States Army, graduated from West Point and served in both World War II and the Korean War.

Charles Reynolds immediately left for the Philippines after signing his contract where he served first with the Second Reserve Hospital in Manila and later at Ormoc, Leyte Island until 1 June 1901. In the meantime, he successfully completed the army medical entrance examination and received a commission as first lieutenant on 11 February 1901. While on Leyte he participated in two engagements with the Insurrectos. He transferred from Ormoc to the military hospital at Cebu on Cebu Island where he served until September 1902. Ordered next to Manila, he assumed the duties of transport surgeon on the USAT Thomas during its homeward sailing on 6 November 1902 and continued doing this until January 1903. He stayed in the U.S. that month to begin an assignment at Ft. Washington, Maryland. This service included temporary duty at Washington Barracks, D.C. from September to November 1903 during which he made brief tours to West Point, Kentucky (the future Ft. Knox) and Ft. Riley, Kansas with Hospital Company No. 1 from the Barracks. The maneuvers at West Point, Kentucky were the first in which the Regular Army and National Guard jointly took part and aroused Reynolds's life-long interest in field medicine. Transferred to Washington Barracks in July 1904, his duties were largely with the hospital company which he took to camps at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Manassas, Virginia.

Ordered again to the Philippines Department, he arrived there in December 1905 for assignment to duty at Jolo. The following six months consisted of almost constant hazardous field duty in which Reynolds, a captain since 11 February 1906, took an active part. He was later awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action against the Moros at Mt. Dajo when he cared for the wounded despite enemy fire and close hand-to-hand fighting. In August 1906 he was transferred to Cuartel de Espana in Manila and in March 1907 to Ft. William McKinley in the city's outskirts.

He sailed for the U.S. in January 1908 by way of Europe and reached New York in June after spending time studying at the Vienna Hospital. Again, he was assigned to the Army General Hospital at Washington Barracks where he took charge of Company C, Hospital Corps which he led to camps at Chickamauga Park, Georgia; Ft. Riley, Kansas; and St. Joseph, Missouri during the summer of 1908. When Walter Reed General Hospital opened in April 1909, Reynolds, a major since 13 March, became its first adjutant until August when he returned to Washington Barracks. There a post hospital replaced the old general hospital and he worked in it while also serving until August 1913 as instructor in Medical Department administration at the Army Medical School, Walter Reed, an additional duty he had begun in October 1908.

Major Reynolds transferred to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas in October 1913 where the base hospital was functioning to capacity because of the troop build-up along the Mexican border. He commanded the hospital and conducted its surgical service until June 1915 when he was ordered to Hawaii to become chief of the surgical service at the Department Hospital in Honolulu. He returned to the U.S. after the April 1917 declaration of war against Germany for assignment to Ft. Riley, Kansas as instructor at a medical officers’ training camp. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 15 May and was assigned in August to Camp Upton, Yaphank, New York to become surgeon of the 77th Division. After a period of stateside training, the division reached Calais, France by way of Liverpool, England in April 1918. The next month, Reynolds learned of his temporary promotion to colonel with a date of rank from 29 November 1917, a grade which he held until 1919. He participated with the division in training with the British then moved with it to a quiet sector near Baccarat, Lorraine. On 3 August he again moved with the division to the Chateau-Thierry area but then was reassigned to serve briefly as VI Corps surgeon beginning on 14 August. On 24 September he joined as chief surgeon the staff being assembled at Toul to become the headquarters of the U.S. Second Army activated on 12 October. The army directed units in the final phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that month and until the 11 November Armistice. Reynolds worked effectively throughout the period to solve problems of front line treatment and medical evacuation and later was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his wartime efforts.

Second Army functioned as a training and administrative headquarters until it was inactivated on 15 April 1919. That month Colonel Reynolds left Toul for Tours and then Bordeaux to serve as surgeon of Base Section No. 2, the principal post-war American cargo port. He supervised the medical processing of the large numbers of troops returning to the U.S. and the closing of the numerous hospitals located in the Base Section. Reynolds returned to the U.S. in July 1919 for an assignment to the Surgeon General's Office where he first became head of its Personnel Division then later served as its executive officer. After four years in Washington, he was assigned in 1923 to command the new Medical Field Service School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Promoted to colonel on 28 February 1927, he served eight years in Carlisle during which the school became an important element in the training of all medical personnel. He left the school in 1931 for Governor's Island, New York to become surgeon of the Second Corps Area where he particularly distinguished himself providing medical support during the explosive early growth of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.

His prominent, distinguished service led to his appointment as The Surgeon General on 1 June 1935 and his assumption of his duties in Washington two days later. Very quickly he reorganized The Surgeon General's Office to reduce centralization and provide for independent dental, veterinary, nursing, statistical and Army Medical Library divisions. Concern over increasingly hostile situations in Europe and Asia eased War Department restrictions despite the Great Depression and the Army Medical Department was able to add 200 medical and 100 dental officers. One additional medical brigadier general and one dental brigadier general also were added. A 24 June 1936 Act of Congress increased the Army Nurse Corps from 600 to 700 and reorganized the Medical Administration Corps by adding 16 pharmacists. In 1939 Congress authorized further incremental growth of the Medical and Dental Corps and increased the medical enlisted force from 6,500 to 8,600 with corresponding increases in grades and ratings for NCO's and privates. Medical Department reserves rose from 20,685 in 1935 to 23,365 in the spring of 1939. In addition to the prescribed active duty training, medico-military courses were held at the Mayo Clinic and other institutions for those on inactive duty status. The Secretary of War approved in 1939 a policy of promoting public contacts to increase Medical Department visibility and presence at professional and scientific conferences and to achieve closer individual and institutional cooperation with the army.

Medical internships were re-established in 1939 after a hiatus and dental internships were begun at army general hospitals for the first time. The number of medical officers on duty with the Air Corps increased to 93 and an Act of 26 April 1939 increased from five to 36 the number of medical officers entitled to flight pay. The physiological aero medical laboratory at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio made substantial studies in cooperation with the Air Corps Materiel Division on the problems of flying at great speeds and high altitudes.

General Reynolds also achieved some changes in the area of education and training. The Army Medical School graduate or basic course was re-established in 1935 to provide adequate instruction on auxiliary medical subjects of military value. The advanced course could then focus almost entirely on preventive medicine and health administration. In 1936 the medical reserve officers’ training corps units, abolished the year before by Congress, were reinstituted and changes were made in the Medical Field Service School curriculum to include topics of greater value to reserve component advisors. Greater field training for all medical personnel became routine.

The program begun in 1933 to modernize equipment in general and station hospitals continued. Some successes were made as well in procuring and distributing more modern field equipment to tactical units. Congressional appropriations also allowed rebuilding and modernizing the hospitals at Ft. Sam Houston and Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver as well as at numerous smaller posts. The biological laboratories at the Army Medical Center were reorganized and refurnished in 1935, allowing progress in research on typhoid vaccines and pneumonia prophylaxis. In 1939 the Army Veterinary School completed vaccine manufacture and distribution against equine encephalomyelitis, a major achievement. The establishment in 1938 of five central dental laboratories at various locations greatly expanded the ability to produce prosthetic devices for army patients. On 16 November 1936 the Army Medical Library celebrated its 100th anniversary with fitting ceremonies. Later, on 15 June 1938, Congress authorized new construction for the Library and Museum which allowed acquisition of several important anatomical and pathological collections.

The Surgeon General's Office supervised medical support for the 75th anniversary observances of the Battle of Gettysburg held from 29 June to 6 July 1936. This included care for 1,900 Civil War veterans who had an average age of 94. Upgrades continued in providing health care support to the Civilian Conservation Corps and in revising clinical records used throughout the army. General Reynolds's long experience in training and in dealing with citizen soldiers made him particularly effective in his relations with Congress and the civilian medical community during this period of great change and restructuring. He ended his term as Surgeon General on 1 June 1939 and reverted to his permanent grade of colonel until retiring in the grade of major general on 1 September.

He was a member of the American Medical Association and the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States of which he was president in 1939 and 1940. He was an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He also was an Honorary member of the Academy of Medicine of Washington, the Association of Military Surgeons of Mexico and the Society of German Army Medical Officers. On 8 June 1936 Dickinson College awarded him the degree of Doctor of Science. In addition to his U.S. awards, he was an officer of the French Legion of Honor and a Commander of the French Order of Public Health. From 1939 to 1941 he was president of the Tenth International Congress of Medicine and Pharmacy.

After his retirement General Reynolds became an executive, first, with the Pennsylvania State Board of Health, then, later, with the American College of Surgeons. He died at Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., on 2 December 1961.



  • DATE OF BIRTH: 07/28/1877
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/02/1961

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