Winfield Scott Hancock

February 14, 1824–February 9, 1886

Winfield Scott Hancock (1824–1886) was one of the more successful Union commanders during the American Civil War and is most well-known for the role he played in the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1880, he also was the Democratic Party's candidate for President of the United States of America against Republican James Garfield.

Winfield Scott Hancock, Civil War General

Besides being a highly successful Union commander during the American Civil War, Winfield Scott Hancock was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 1880. Image Source: Library of Congress.

General Winfield Scott Hancock Overview

When the Civil War started, the War Department commissioned Winfield Scott Hancock as a brigadier general of volunteers and placed him in command of an infantry brigade in the Army of the Potomac. At the Battle of Williamsburg, Hancock earned the nickname “Superb, by leading a critical counterattack. 

Hancock became a divisional commander after the Battle of Antietam. Soon, the War Department promoted him to major general of volunteers. Hancock received a wound in the abdomen during the Battle of Fredericksburg and he was wounded again during the Battle of Chancellorsville. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Hancock made the crucial command decision to defend Cemetery Ridge, withstanding Major General George Pickett’s unsuccessful charge. Hancock was seriously injured in the thigh during the battle and suffered lingering effects for the rest of his life.

Battle of Gettysburg, Pickett's Charge
Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Following Gettysburg, Hancock continued to serve as a field commander during the Overland Campaign. During the Petersburg Campaign, Hancock suffered the only significant defeat of his military career when Rebel troops routed his command at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station on August 24, 1864. Because of the lingering effects of his Gettysburg wound, Hancock resigned his field command in November but he remained on active duty.

After the Civil War, Hancock commanded the Middle Military Department, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. While there, he supervised the execution of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination conspirators. In 1866, the War Department promoted Hancock to major general. The next year, while serving in New Orleans, Hancock came into disfavor with Congressional Republicans when he issued an order that eased military oversight and restored civil liberties to white Southerners in the district. When Ulysses S. Grant became U.S. President in 1869, officials relieved Hancock of his Reconstruction responsibilities and transferred him to the relative obscurity of the Department of Dakota in the West. 

In 1880, the Democratic Party nominated Hancock to run against Republican James A. Garfield in that year’s presidential election. Garfield defeated Hancock by fewer than 10,000 votes, the closest popular vote in presidential electoral history. After Garfield’s victory, Hancock continued to serve as an army commander until his death. Hancock died on February 9, 1886, at Governors Island, New York. He is buried in Montgomery Cemetery in West Norton Township, Pennsylvania.

Winfield Scott Hancock Quick Facts

  • Date of Birth: He was born on February 14, 1824.
  • Birthplace: He was born in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania.
  • Parents: His parents were Franklin and Elizabeth (Hoxworth) Hancock.
  • Spouse: His spouse was Almira (“Allie”) Russell. They were married in 1850.
  • Death: He died on February 9, 1886.
  • Place of Death: He died on Governors Island, New York.
  • Burial: He is buried at Montgomery Cemetery, West Norton Township, Pennsylvania.
  • Nickname: Scott was known as “Superb.”

Early Life of Winfield Scott Hancock

Winfield Scott Hancock and his identical twin brother, Hilary, were born on February 14, 1824, in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. He was named for General Winfield Scott, a prominent American army officer who served in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War. Hancock’s parents were Benjamin Franklin Hancock and Elizabeth Hoxworth Hancock. Hancock received his early education at the Norristown Academy in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and in the Norristown public schools. He entered the United States Military in 1840 and graduated in 1844, 18th in his class of 25.

Winfield Scott, Painting,Facebook
General Winfield Scott. Image Source: Facebook.

U.S. Army Officer

After graduating, army officials commissioned Hancock as a second lieutenant and stationed him in Indian Territory. He later served in Mexico during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). During that war, he was wounded at the Battle of Churubusco on August 20, 1847, and he received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for his gallant and meritorious service. After the Mexican-American War, Hancock remained in the army, serving at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri. While serving in St. Louis, Hancock met Almira “Allie” Russell, and they married on January 24, 1850. On November 5, 1855, army officials promoted Hancock to captain and reassigned him to Ft. Myers, Florida. Thereafter, he served in Utah and California until the beginning of the Civil War.

Winfield Scott Hancock in the Civil War

When the Civil War started, the War Department commissioned Hancock as a brigadier general of volunteers and placed him in command of an infantry brigade in the Army of the Potomac on September 23, 1861. At the Battle of Williamsburg (May 5, 1862), Hancock earned the nickname “Superb, by leading a critical counterattack. General George B. McClellan telegraphed to Washington that “Hancock was superb today,” and the” name stuck.

Hancock became a divisional commander following the mortal wounding of Major General Israel B. Richardson during the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862). Soon thereafter, the War Department promoted him to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862. Hancock received a wound in the abdomen during the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862), and he was wounded again during the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30–May 6, 1863).

Battle of Antietam, Union Soldiers Marching into Battle, Painting
This painting depicts Union soldiers in combat during the Battle of Antietam. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Hancock’s most famous service was as a corps commander at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–July 3, 1863), where he made the command decision to defend Cemetery Ridge, withstanding Major General George Pickett’s unsuccessful charge on July 3rd. Hancock received a serious wound in the thigh during the Battle of Gettysburg and suffered lingering effects for the rest of his life.

On January 28, 1864, Congress awarded Hancock the “Thanks of Congress” for his service at Gettysburg. Following Gettysburg, Hancock continued to serve as a field commander during the Overland Campaign (May-June 1864). In 1864, Hancock suffered the only significant defeat of his military career when Rebel troops routed his command at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station (August 24, 1864).

Because of the lingering effects of his Gettysburg wound, Hancock resigned his field command in November 1864. Nevertheless, he remained on active duty, and he received a promotion to brevet major general in the regular army for his service at Spotsylvania, effective March 13, 1865.

Post-War Career

After the Civil War, army officials assigned Hancock to command the Middle Military Department, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. While there, he supervised the execution of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination conspirators (July 7, 1865).

In 1866, the War Department promoted Hancock to major general and transferred him to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he briefly commanded the Military Department of the Missouri. In 1867, the army reassigned Hancock to New Orleans, in charge of the Fifth Military District.

While serving in New Orleans, Hancock came into disfavor with Congressional Republicans when he issued General Order No. 40 on November 29, 1867. That order eased military oversight and restored civil liberties to white Southerners in the district. The order alarmed blacks and strict Reconstructionists, but it was so popular among Southern Democrats that Hancock received serious consideration for that party’s presidential nomination in 1868.

When Ulysses S. Grant succeeded President Andrew Johnson in 1869, officials relieved Hancock of his Reconstruction responsibilities and transferred to the relative obscurity of the Department of Dakota in the West. Hancock re-emerged in 1872, when he assumed command of the Department of the Atlantic, following the death of General George Meade.

Winfield Scott Hancock and the Election of 1880

In 1880, the Democratic Party nominated Hancock to run against Republican James A. Garfield in that year’s presidential election. Garfield defeated Hancock by fewer than 10,000 votes, the closest popular vote in presidential electoral history. After Garfield’s victory, Hancock continued to serve as commander of the Atlantic Division until his death in 1886.

Death of Winfield Scott Hancock

Hancock died on February 9, 1886, at Governors Island, New York. He is buried in Montgomery Cemetery in West Norton Township, Pennsylvania.

Winfield Scott Hancock Facts and Accomplishments

Childhood and Family

  • Hancock had an identical twin brother named Hilary Baker Hancock.
  • His parents were Benjamin Franklin Hancock and Elizabeth Hoxworth Hancock.
  • He was named after General Winfield Scott.

Education

  • Hancock’s early education was at the Norristown Academy in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and in the Norristown public schools.
  • He entered the United States Military Academy in 1840.
  • In 1844, he graduated from the United States Military Academy, placing 18th in his class of 25.

Service in the Mexican-American War

  • After graduating from West Point, Hancock was commissioned as a second lieutenant and stationed in Indian Territory.
  • During the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), he served in the army led by his namesake, General Winfield Scott.
  • He was wounded in the knee at the Battle of Churubusco on August 20, 1847.
  • Following the war, he was brevetted to first lieutenant for his gallant and meritorious service.

Military Service from 1848 to 1858

  • Hancock remained in the army, serving at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • While serving in St. Louis, Hancock met Almira “Allie” Russell and they married on January 24, 1850.
  • On November 5, 1855, Hancock was promoted to captain and reassigned to Ft. Myers, Florida.
  • In 1856, Hancock was assigned to duty in the United States quartermaster general’s department, for the Western District, in Utah Territory, and accompanied General William S. Harney on his expedition to Kansas, and the regions beyond.
  • In November 1858, Hancock was reassigned to California, where he served until the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Service During the Civil War

  • When the Civil War started, Hancock was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of an infantry brigade in the Army of the Potomac on September 23, 1861.
  • He earned the nickname “Superb” during the Peninsula Campaign, in 1862, by leading a critical counterattack in the Battle of Williamsburg. General George B. McClellan telegraphed to Washington that “Hancock was superb today” and the name stuck.
  • Hancock assumed command of a division following the mortal wounding of Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson during the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862).
  • Hancock was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862.
  • He was wounded in the abdomen after the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11 – 15, 1862) and he was wounded again during the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6, 1863).
  • Hancock’s most famous service was as a corps commander at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 – July 3, 1863), where he made the command decision to defend Cemetery Ridge, bearing the brunt of Major General George Pickett’s unsuccessful charge on July 3rd.
  • Hancock was seriously wounded in the thigh during the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • On January 28, 1864 , Hancock was voted the Thanks of Congress for his service at Gettysburg.
  • Following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 – July 3, 1863), Hancock continued to serve as a field commander during the Wilderness Campaign (May – June 1864), despite the lingering effects of his wound at Gettysburg.
  • Hancock’s only significant military defeat occurred when his troops were routed at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station (August 24, 1864) during the Siege of Petersburg.
  • Due to the lingering effects of his Gettysburg wound, Hancock resigned his field command in November 1864.
  • Continuing to serve in the army, Hancock was promoted to brevet major general in the regular army for his service at Spotsylvania, effective March 13, 1865.

Service After the Civil War

  • After the end of the Civil War, Hancock was assigned to the command of the Middle Military Department, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • While commanding the Middle Military Department, Hancock supervised the execution of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination conspirators (July 7, 1865).
  • In 1866, Hancock was promoted to major general and was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to command of the Military Department of the Missouri.
  • In 1867, Hancock was reassigned to New Orleans in charge of the Fifth Military District during Reconstruction.
  • While serving in New Orleans, Hancock issued General Order Number 40, which alarmed blacks and Republicans in the South who feared a return to the antebellum ways of conservative white dominance.
James Garfield, 20th President of the United States, Portrait
James A. Garfield. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Political Career

  • Because of Hancock’s popularity among Southern Democrats, he was considered a presidential candidate in 1868.
  • Hancock’s lenient Reconstruction practices and his rising popularity in the Democratic Party led Republicans in Washington to have him transferred to the Dakota Territory in 1869.
  • In 1872, following the death of General George Meade, Hancock assumed command of the Department of the Atlantic, headquartered at Governors Island, New York.
  • In 1880, the Democratic Party nominated Hancock to run against Republican James A. Garfield in the presidential election. Garfield defeated Hancock by fewer than 10,000 votes, the closest popular vote in presidential electoral history.
  • After his defeat in the presidential election of 1880, Hancock continued to serve as commander of the Atlantic Division until his death in 1886.
  • In 1881, Hancock was elected president of the National Rifle Association.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Winfield Scott Hancock
  • Date February 14, 1824–February 9, 1886
  • Author
  • Keywords winfield scott hancock
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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