General John Reynolds was a great man, a fantastic leader, and all the characteristics of a fine and able-bodied leader, meant nothing. He was a leader determined to fail. And fail he did. From falling asleep at the most pivotal time of a battle to walking into a Confederates bullet, the leader experienced failure at the highest degree. Such was the timing of the war, people were either victors or defeated.
He did not intend on failing, timing and bad choices plagued the Pennsylvania-born man from the very start of the Civil War until his quick demise on the battlefield. Timing is everything. Adored by the troops and the men he fought along side with, the sadness that his death cast upon the battlefield was testament to the affable character displayed by Reynolds.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1820, John Reynolds was on his way to becoming one of the most promising leaders of the Union forces since Grant. The future was a bright one and as he exited the hallowed halls of West Point in the fall of 1841, General Reynolds was sent to fend off the Mexican advance in Texas.
Showing his mettle in that dusty war, General Reynolds earned two brevets for bravery and honor after the failed attack by the Mexican forces. Returning to a heroes welcome he took a position as instructor at his alma mater, West Point until the start of the Civil War.
Fighting in The Seven Days Battle, General Reynolds seemed to be in his element, the field of battle. That would change drastically as the very next morning, exhausted from the fight; Reynolds fell asleep and was captured by the advancing Rebel army. He would later be traded in a prisoner exchange.
The tide had changed for the once promising leader and it would only get worse for the man from Pennsylvania. Fortune smiles on some and frowns on others. The frowning face of fate looked down on General Reynolds, and grimaced.
Fredericksburg would offer the general a bit of optimism, as his brigade was the only unit to breach the Confederate lines there. The breach was quickly defeated and that was the final straw for General Reynolds. They say that he focused his attention on repairing the Union chain of command from the inside out and this would lead to his eventual downfall.
The general anticipated the announcement that he would be commanding the famed Army of the Potomac and rushed to Washington. The reason for his hastiness to the capital city was not for the “pomp and circumstance” that followed an announcement of such magnitude but to confront the president and explain his views on Union leadership.
The plan backfired as President Lincoln refused to reward General Reynolds with the mighty post and instead gave the reigns of the Unions finest army over to General Meade.
Shipped off to Gettysburg to fight the Rebels there, General Reynolds was shot in the back of the neck on the first day of battle by a rebel sharpshooter. He was the highest-ranking officer killed during the battle of Gettysburg.