Winfield Scott, soldier, born in Montgomery Square, Montgomery co.,
Pa., 14 Feb., 1824 ; died on Governor's Island, New York harbor, 9 Feb., 1886.
His grandfather, Richard Hancock, of Scottish birth, was one of the impressed
American seamen of the war of 1812 who were incarcerated in Dartmoor prison in
England. His father, Benjamin Franklin Hancock, was born in Philadelphia, and
when quite a young man was thrown upon his own resources, having displeased
his guardian by not marrying in the Society of Friends. He supported himself
and wife by teaching while studying law, was admitted to the bar in 1828, and
removed to Norristown, where he practiced his profession forty years, earning
the reputation of a well read, judicious, and successful lawyer.
Winfield S. Hancock possessed the combined advantages of home instruction and
a course in the Norristown academy and the public high school. He early
evinced a taste for military exercises, and at the age of sixteen entered the
U. S. military academy, where he was graduated, 1 July, 1844. He was at once
brevetted 2d lieutenant in the 6th infantry, and assigned to duty at Fort
Towson, Indian territory. He received his commission as 2d lieutenant while
his regiment was stationed on the frontier of Mexico, where the difficulties
that resulted in the Mexican war had already begun. He was ordered to active
service in the summer of 1847, joined the army of General Scott in its advance
upon the Mexican capital, participated in the four principal battles of the
campaign, and was brevetted 1st lieutenant for gallant and meritorious conduct
in those of Contreras and Churubusco. From 1848 till 1855 he served as
regimental quartermaster and adjutant, being most of the time stationed at St.
Louis. On 7 Nov., 1855, he was appointed assistant quartermaster with the rank
of captain, and ordered to Fort Myers, Fla., where General William S. Harney
was in command of the military forces operating against the Seminoles.
under this officer during the troubles in Kansas in 1857 - 8, and afterward
accompanied his expedition to Utah, where serious complications had arisen
between the Gentiles and the Mormons. From 1859 till 1861 Capt. Hancock was
chief quartermaster of the southern district of California. At the beginning
of the civil war in 1861 he asked to be relieved from duty on the Pacific
coast, and was transferred to more active service at the seat of war. In a
letter to a friend at this time he said : "My politics are of a
practical kind the integrity of the country, the supremacy of the Federal
government, an honorable peace, or none at all."
commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers by President Lincoln, 23 Sept.,
1861, and at once bent all his energies to aid in the organization of the Army
of the Potomac. During the peninsular campaign under General McClellan he was
especially conspicuous at the battles of Williamsburg and Frazier's Farm. He
took an active part in the subsequent campaign in Maryland, at the battles of
South Mountain and Antietam, and was assigned to the command of the 1st
division of the 2d army corps, on the battlefield, during the second day's
fight at Antietam, 17 Sept., 1862.
He was soon
afterward made a major general of volunteers, and commanded the same division
in the attempt to storm Marye's Heights, at the battle of Fredericksburg, 13
Dec., 1862. In this assault General Hancock led his men through such a fire as
has rarely been encountered in warfare. He commanded 5,006 men, and left 2,013
of them on the field. In the three days' fight at Chancellorsville, in May,
1863, Hancock's division took a prominent part. While on the march through
western Maryland in pursuit of the invading army of General Lee, on 25 June,
he was ordered by the president to assume command of the 2d army corps. On the
27th General Hooker asked to be relieved from the command of the Army of the
Potomac; and orders from the war department reached his headquarters near
Frederick, Md., assigning Major General George G. Meade to its command.
On 1 July
the report reached General Meade, who was fifteen miles distant, that there
was fighting at Gettysburg, and that General Reynolds had been killed. General
Meade, who knew nothing of Gettysburg, sent General Hancock with orders to
take immediate command of the forces and report what should be done; whether
to give the enemy battle there, or fall back to another proposed line. Hancock
reported that he considered Gettysburg the place to fight the coming battle,
and continued in command until the arrival of Meade. In the decisive action of
3 July he commanded on the left center, which was the main point assailed by
the Confederates, and was shot from his horse. Though dangerously wounded, he
remained on the field till he saw that the enemy's assault was broken, when he
dispatched his aide-de-camp, Major W. O. Mitchell, with the following message
: "Tell General Meade that the troops under my command have repulsed
the enemy's assault, and that we have gained a great victory. The enemy is now
flying in all directions in my front." General Meade returned this
reply : " Say to General Hancock that I regret exceedingly that
he is wounded, and that I thank him in the name of the country and for myself
for the service he has rendered today."
In a report
to General Meade, after he had been carried from the field, he says that, when
he left the line of battle, " not a rebel is in sight upright, and if
the 5th and 6th corps are pressed up, the enemy will be destroyed." Out
of fewer than 10,000 men the 2d corps lost at Gettysburg about 4,000 killed or
wounded. I captured 4,500 prisoners and about thirty colors. General Hancock
at first received but slight credit for the part he took in this battle, his
name not being mentioned in the joint resolution passed by Congress, 28 Jan.,
1864, which thanked Meade, Hooker, Howard, and the officers and soldiers of
the Army of the Potomac generally. But justice was only delayed, as, on 21
April, 1866, Congress passed a resolution thanking him for his services in the
campaign of 1863.
his wound, he was not again employed on active duty until March, 1864. being
meanwhile engaged in recruiting the 2d army corps, of which he resumed command
at the opening of the spring campaign of that year, and bore a prominent part
in the battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, where the fighting was
almost continuous from the 5th to the 26th of May. In the engagement at
Spottsylvania Court House, General Hancock, on the night of the 11th, moved to
a position within 1,200 yards of General Lee's right center, where it formed a
sharp salient since known as "the bloody angle," and early on
the morning of the 12th he gave the order to advance. His heavy column overran
the Confederate pickets without firing a shot, burst through the abates, and
after a short hand-to-hand conflict inside the entrenchments, captured "nearly
4,000 prisoners, twenty pieces of artillery, with horses, caissons, and
materim complete, several thousand stand of small arms, and upward of thirty
at this point was as fierce as any during the war, the battle raging furiously
and incessantly along the whole line throughout the day and late into the
night. General Lee made five separate assaults to retake the works, but
without success. In the subsequent operations of the army, at the crossing of
the North Anna, the second battle of Cold Harbor, and the assault on the lines
in front of Petersburg, General Hancock was active and indefatigable till 17
June, when his Gettysburg wound, breaking out afresh, became so dangerous that
he was compelled to go on sick leave, but resumed his command again in ten
days. He was appointed a brigadier general in the regular army, 12 Aug., 1864,
"for gallant and distinguished services in the battles of the
Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor, and in all the operations of the
army in Virginia under Lieut. General Grant."
On 21 Aug.
the 2nd corps was brought to Petersburg by a long night march, and on the 25th
occurred the only notable disaster in Hancock's career. While he was entrenched
at Ream's Station on the Weldon railroad, which the corps had torn up, his
lines were carried by a powerful force of the enemy, and many of his men
captured. The troops forming the remnants of his corps refused to bestir
themselves, and even the few veterans left seemed disheartened by the
slaughter they had seen and the fatigues they had undergone. General Morgan's
account of the battle describes the commander, covered with dust, begrimed
with powder and smoke, laying his hand upon a staff officer's shoulder and
saying: "Colonel, I do not care to die, but I pray to God 1 may never
leave this field."
movement against the South Side railroad, which began 26 October, General
Hancock took a leading part and although the expedition failed, his share in
it was brilliant and successful. This was his last action. On 26 Nov. he was
called to Washington to organize a veteran corps of 50,000 men, and continued
in the discharge of that duty till 26 Feb., 1865, when he was assigned to the
command of the Middle military division, and ordered to Winchester, Va., to
relieve General Sheridan from the command of the Army of the Shenandoah. The
latter set out the next morning with a large force of cavalry on his
expedition down the Shenandoah valley.
Hancock now devoted himself to organizing and equipping a force as powerful as
possible from the mass at his command; and his success was acknowledged in a dispatch
from the secretary of war. After the assassination of President Lincoln, General
Hancock's headquarters were transferred to Washington, and he was placed in
command of the defenses of the capital. On 26 July, 1866, he was appointed a.
major general in the regular army, and on the 10th of the following month he
was assigned to the command of the Department of the Missouri, where he
conducted a successful warfare against the Indians on the plains, until
relieved by General Sheridan. He was transferred to the command of the 5th
military district, comprising Texas and Louisiana, 26 Aug., 1867, with
headquarters at New Orleans. At this time he issued his " General
Order No. 40," which made it plain that his opinion as to the duties
of a military commander in time of peace, and as to the rights of the southern
states, were not consistent with the reconstruction policy determined upon by
congress. He was therefore relieved at his own request, 28 March, 1868, and
given the command of the Division of the Atlantic, with headquarters in New
accession of General Grant to the presidency, he was sent, 5 March, 1869, to
the Department of Dakota; but on the death of General Meade, 6 Nov., 1872, he
was again assigned to the Division of the Atlantic. General Hancock's name was
favorably mentioned in 1868 and 1872 as a candidate for presidential honors,
and he was nominated the candidate of the Democratic party in the Cincinnati
convention, 24 June, 1880. On the first ballot he received 171 votes, in a
convention containing 738 members, and Senator Bayard, of Delaware, 1531. The
remainder of the votes were scattered among twelve candidates. On the second
ban lot General Hancock received 320 votes, Senator Thomas F. Bayard 111, and
Speaker Samuel J. Randall of the House of Representatives, advanced from 6 to
128½ votes. On the next ballot General Hancock received 705 votes, and the
nomination was made unanimous. The election in November resulted in the following
popular vote : James A. Garfield, Republican, 4,454,416; Winfield S. Hancock,
Democrat, 4,444,952: James B. Weaver, Greenback, 308,578 ; Meal Dew,
conclusion of tile canvass General Hancock continued in the discharge of
official duty. His last notable appearance in public was at General Grant s
funeral, all the arrangements for which were carried out under his
supervision. The esteem in which he was held as a citizen and a sodlier was
perhaps never greater than at the time of his death, he had outlived the
political slanders to which his candidacy had given rise, and his achievements
in the field during the civil war had become historic. His place as a general
is doubtless foremost among those who never fought an independent campaign, he
was not only brave himself, but he had the ability to inspire masses of men
with courage. He was quick to perceive opportunities amid the dust and smoke
of battle, and was equally quick to seize them ; and although impulsive, he
was at the same time tenacious, tie had the bravery that goes forward rapidly,
and the bravery that gives way slowly.
Grant says: " Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the
general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps
longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having
committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of
very conspicuous personal appearance. Tall, well formed, and, at the time of
which i now write, young and fresh looking, he presented an appearance that
would attract the attention of an army as he passed. His genial disposition
made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command
in tile thickest of tile fight won him the confidence of troops serving under
him." To a reporter in search of adverse criticism during the
presidential canvass of 1880, General Sherman said : "If you will sit
down and write the best thing that can be put in language about General Hancock
as an officer and a gentleman, I will sign it without hesitation." See
" Life of General W. S. Hancock," by Junkin and Norton (New
York, 1880) ; "Addresses at a Meeting of the Military Service
Institution in Memory of Hancock" (1886)" Francis A. Walker's "Ilisto@
of the Second Corps" (1887) and "In Memoriam : Military
Order of the Loyal Legion" (1887). Edited
Appleton's American Biography Copyright©
2001 by VirtualologyTM
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