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 Winfield Scott Hancock

Winfield Scott Hancock

Birth
Montgomeryville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 9 Feb 1886 (aged 61)
Governors Island, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial West Norriton , Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA
Memorial ID 4839 · View Source
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Civil War Union Major General. One of the Union Army’s ablest field commanders, his performance at the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania brought him lasting historical fame and renown. Born with an identical twin brother near present day Montgomeryville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in 1840 he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York by Congressman Joseph Fornance. He graduated in 18th out of 25 in 1844 in a class that included future Confederate Generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Daniel M. Frost, and future Union Generals Alexander Hays and Alfred Pleasonton. Posted to the 6th United States Infantry, he served on the western frontier until the Mexican War. During that conflict he saw his first combat at the August 1847 Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, where he was wounded. After the September 1847 Battle of Molino Del Rey he became prostrated with sickness, and missed being part of Major General Winfield Scott’s march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, the campaign that ended the war. In the late 1840s and in the 1850s he served first as a Regimental Adjutant, then as a Quartermaster stationed at various posts in the United States and frontier, including St. Louis, Missouri in 1850, where he met and married Almira Russell. Promoted to Captain, in the late 1850s he was stationed as Quartermaster of the then-small outpost of Los Angeles, California, where he became friends with fellow Army officer and future Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead. When the Civil War began, Armistead and other Southern-born officers resigned and left to join the Confederacy, with Captain Hancock leaving to help raise the growing Union Army. Commissioned Brigadier General, US Volunteers on September 23, 1861, he was assigned to command a brigade in the Army of the Potomac’s II Corps. In the opening stages of the 1862 Peninsular Campaign under Major General George B. McClellan, he led his brigade at the May 5, 1862 Battle of Williamstown, where, despite orders from Corps commander Major General Edwin V. Sumner Sr. to withdraw, he held his ground against an attack by the Confederates, then enacted a counterattack that cleared the area of the rebels. In his dispatches describing the engagement to Washington, DC, General McClellan described General Hancock’s performance as “superb”, which the press then gave him the appellation “Hancock the Superb”. He continued to command his brigade through the June-July 1862 Seven Days Battles and the August 1862 Second Bull Run Campaign. On September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam, Maryland he ascended to command his Division when Major General Israel B. Richardson was mortally wounded in the Army of the Potomac assaults on the “Bloody Lane”. At the December 13, 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, his three II Corp brigades constituted the second assault on impregnable Confederate positions along Marye’s Heights south of the town, and despite reaching farther than any other Union troops they failed to reach the position and were repulsed with great casualties. In the winter of 1862-1863 he did not participate in the revolt of the high command of the Army of the Potomac against Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, who was eventually replaced by Major General Joseph Hooker. When spring arrived General Hooker enacted a brilliant flank march on the Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville, but subsequently gave up the initiative to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, resulting in the defeat of the Union Army in the battle. General Hancock’s division covered the Army of the Potomac’s retreat over the Rappahannock River, and he was wounded in the withdrawal. II Corps commander Major General Darius N. Couch resigned in disgust after the battle, and General Hancock was elevated to command the Corps. On the opening day of the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, he was sent by new Army of the Potomac commander Major General George G. Meade to take charge of the Union troops after they had been sent in retreat after hard fighting north and west of the town, despite being junior to XI Corps commander Major General Oliver O. Howard (who he allegedly argued with upon arriving on the scene), the senior officer present. General Hancock organized the retreating troops on Cemetery Hill, and was responsible for selecting and posting the strong positions that the Army would subsequently fight on through the rest of the battle. On July 2, the Second Day of the Battle, he directed his Corps defense of Cemetery Ridge from Confederate assaults by troops under Lieutenant General James Longstreet, at one point famously directing the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry to make a suicidal charge into oncoming rebels to buy time for him to plug a critical weak hole in the Union lines. His Corps bore much of the brunt of repulsing Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, which they did successfully. He was wounded in the saddle and refused to leave the field until the Confederates were in retreat. The battle ended with the rebels defeated, due to a large part in General Hancock’s efforts and leadership, which he was eventually voted the Thanks of Congress for. He convalesced in his hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, and would not return to his command until 1864. Hobbled and weakened by his wounds, his performance in the subsequent battles of the 1864 Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia were uneven, as he frequently directed the fighting from an ambulance wagon. At the May 12, 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania, he directed his Corps as it smashed the Confederate “Mule Shoe” salient, although it had to eventually retreat as it success was unsupported. During the August 1864 Battle of Ream’s Station, despite his personal bravery on the field, his men were unable to resist Confederate counterattacks and were defeated. Finally, in November 1864, his health failing, he left field service to command the Veterans Reserve Corps, and later, the Middle Military Department, headquartered at Washington, DC, holding that position through the end of the war. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the trial and sentencing of the assassination conspirators, the duty fell to him to carry out their executions, doing so on July 7, 1865. He ended the war was a Brigadier General and Brevet Major General in the Regular Army. Post war he was assigned first to command the Department of Missouri, where he was involved in negotiations with various native American tribes on the western frontier, then the military district over seeing occupation and reconstruction in Texas and Louisiana, then finally the Department of the Dakotas, where he again was involved in peacekeeping and negotiations with Indian tribes. Having been promoted to Major General in the Regular Army in 1866, he became senior Army officer at that rank when General Meade died in November 1872, and succeeded General Meade as commander of the Department of the Atlantic. A lifelong Democrat, he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States in 1880. Running against fellow Civil War Union Army General James A. Garfield, General Hancock lost the popular vote by a slim margin, but the Electoral College loss was much wider. He finished out his remaining years in active duty, was named the head of a number of veteran organizations such as the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and, as Military Department chief of the area that included New York City, New York, presided over the massive public funeral afforded to President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885. Less than a year later he died due to complications of diabetes at his post on Governor’s Island in New York City Harbor, Today an equestrian statue stands for him on East Cemetery Hill in the Gettysburg National Military Park, and one stands for him on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. In 1995 the United States Post Office issued a commemorative stamp honoring him.

Bio by: Russ


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 21 Mar 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4839
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Winfield Scott Hancock (14 Feb 1824–9 Feb 1886), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4839, citing Montgomery Cemetery, West Norriton , Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .