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Winfield Scott Hancock
Gen. Winfield S. Hancock - NARA - 529369.jpg
Personal details
Born (1824-02-14)February 14, 1824
Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died February 9, 1886(1886-02-09) (aged 61)
New York City, U.S.
Resting place Montgomery Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Almira Russell
(m. 1850)
Children 2
Education United States Military Academy (BS)
Nickname Hancock the Superb
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Branch/service Seal of the United States Department of War.png U.S. Army (Union Army)
Years of service 1844–1886
Rank Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Major general
Commands II Corps
Battles/wars Mexican-American War
American Civil War

Winfield Scott Hancock (February 14, 1824 – February 9, 1886) was a United States Army officer and the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. He served in the army for forty years in the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, the Reconstruction of the South and the Army's presence at the Western frontier.

Hancock's reputation as a war hero at Gettysburg, Unionist, and supporter of states' rights caused the Democrats to nominate him for President in 1880. He was narrowly defeated by Republican James A. Garfield.

Early life and career

Winfield Scott Hancock and his twin brother Hilary Baker Hancock were born in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania, sons of Benjamin and Elizabeth Hancock. Winfield was named after Winfield Scott, a general in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the beginning of the Civil War.

Hancock graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1844 and served under General Scott in the Mexican-American War. He fought in the Contreras and Churubusco.

Hancock served in several assignments as an army quartermaster and adjutant, mostly in St. Louis, Missouri. It was there that he met Almira ("Allie") Russell, and they married on January 24, 1850. Ally gave birth to two children, Russell in 1850 and Ada in 1857, but both children died before their parents did.

Hancock also served in Florida for the Third Seminole War, during the partisan warfare of "Bleeding Kansas," in the Utah Territory, and in California until the Civil War broke out.

Civil War

Winfield Scott Hancock - Brady-Handy
Postbellum portrait

In 1861, Hancock was assigned to serve under William F. "Baldy" Smith, Army of the Potomac. He earned the nickname "Hancock the Superb" in the Peninsula Campaign by leading a critical counterattack in the Battle of Williamsburg. He served in the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg before being assigned as a new corps commander in July of 1863 at Gettysburg.


Winfield S. Hancock Gettysburg statue
Monument to General Hancock on Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg

Hancock's most famous service was as a new corps commander at the Battle of Gettysburg. Major General George G. Meade, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac received news that his friend, Major General John F. Reynolds, was killed early on July 1, and sent Hancock ahead to take command of the units on the field and assess the situation. Hancock organized the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill as superior Confederate forces drove Union troops back through the town. He had the authority from Meade to withdraw the forces, so he was responsible for the decision to stand and fight at Gettysburg.

On July 2, Hancock and some troops were positioned on Cemetery Ridge while Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fought on both ends of the line. As more Confederate troops attacked the Union army, Hancock rallied the defenses and rushed units to the critical spots. He made the difficult decision to order a regiment to advance and attack a Confederate brigade four times its size, causing the regiment to suffer 87% casualties. This sacrifice bought time to organize the defensive line and saved the day for the Union army.

On July 3, Hancock continued in his position on Cemetery Ridge, where he suffered the most from Pickett's Charge. During the charge, he was shot, yet he refused to move to the rear until the battle was resolved. He was an inspiration to his troops, and later the U.S. Congress thanked him for "... his gallant, meritorious, and conspicuous share in that great and decisive victory."

Virginia and the end of the war

Hancock suffered from the effects of his Gettysburg wound for the rest of the war. Although he never regained the ability to move as he had before he was shot, he commanded in the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the First Battle of Deep Bottom, the Siege of Petersburg, the Second Battle of Ream's Station, and the Battle of Hatcher's Run. He was promoted to brevet major general in the Regular Army for his service at Spotsylvania, effective March 13, 1865.

After the war, Hancock continued to participate in important events.

  • He supervised the execution of the people who planned the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
  • He commanded the Department of the East, headquartered at Governors Island, New York.
  • He took part in the Reconstruction, as commander of the Fifth Military District. Some people thought he was too easy on the defeated Confederates by ordering that military power should allow the people to resume their lives. This was called General Order number 40. The South appreciated his view.

Politics and later life

Hancock was chosen as the Democratic opponent to James A. Garfield in the U.S. election of 1880. Because of General Order number 40, much of the Solid South voted for him. However, he was narrowly defeated in the election.

Hancock was elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1881. He was commander-in-chief of the MOLLUS veterans organization from 1879 until his death in 1886.

Hancock the Superb died while commanding the Military division of the Atlantic. He had an infected carbuncle (a boil on the skin that is usually infected) that was complicated by diabetes. He is buried in Montgomery Cemetery in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

In memorial

Winfield Scott Hancock is memorialized in several statues:

  • An equestriann statue on East Cemetery Hill on the Gettysburg Battlefield
  • A portrait statue as part of the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg
  • An alto-relievo representing Hancock's wounding during Pickett's Charge, on the New York State Monument at Gettysburg
  • An equestrian statue in Market Square (Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street) in Washington, D.C.
  • An equestrian statue atop the Smith Civil War Memorial in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • A monumental bronze bust in Hancock Square, New York City, by sculptor James Wilson Alexander MacDonald

Winfield Scott Hancock quotes

  • "Honor, duty, and integrity are the backbone of a strong and just society."
  • "The true measure of a leader is not in the strength of their army, but in their ability to unite and inspire."
  • "We must unite as a nation, putting aside our differences, to achieve the common goal of liberty and justice for all."
  • "Great sacrifices are made for great causes, and the cause of freedom is worth every sacrifice."

Interesting facts about Winfield Scott Hancock

See also

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