Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Montgomery Square, Montgomery County
Civil war general and 1880 presidential candidate Winfield Scott Hancock was born in Montgomery Square.
Winfield Scott Hancock was born in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He attended West Point and graduated with the class of 1844. He served in the Mexican War, the Third Seminole War, Bleeding Kansas, and Utah. He performed well at Antietam and Fredericksburg, and assumed command of the Second Corps in 1863. While peaking in his career at the Battle of Gettysburg in the same year and at the Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, he reached an all time low at Cold Harbor in 1864. He was the popular Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1880, but lost narrowly to James Garfield. He died February 9, 1886, at Governors Island, New York, while in command of the Department of the East.
Winfield Scott Hancock was born on February 14, 1824, in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania. His family consisted of his twin brother, Hilary Baker Hancock, and parents Benjamin Franklin and Elizabeth Hoxwell Hancock. He was named after the hero of the War of 1812, perhaps suggesting his future profession. When he and his brother were about three-years-old, the family moved nine miles south of Montgomery Square to Norristown. There his father, an aspiring attorney who taught school, studied law and eventually passed the bar. His mother, Elizabeth, opened a millinery shop and Winfield Scott Hancock and his brother attended the local academy and eventually a public school. In 1830, a third boy was born into the family named John. Of the three children, Winfield showed the most interest in a military career, and at the age of 16, he enrolled at West Point Academy. Amongst Hancock’s classmates and contemporaries were several Civil War generals-to-be, including Alexander Hays, Ulysses S. Grant, Ambrose E. Burnside, and several other influential leaders who would come to set the course of history. Winfield Scott Hancock graduated 18th in his class of 25 from West Point in 1844. The newly commissioned second lieutenant reported to the first assignment of his military career at Fort Towson in the Indian Territory. After Hancock spent two years with the sixth Infantry at Fort Towson, the United States declared war on Mexico. Hancock was ordered to Kentucky where he received and trained troops only to find that he would not lead them into Mexico. The disappointed young officer lobbied many times to join the army in battle, but was unsuccessful. Luck came in 1847 when the man, from whom his own name was taken, General Winfield Scott, requested him to join his ranks in the campaign against Mexico City. Hancock first experienced combat while en route to Vera Cruz where he reported for duty on July 13. He successfully led a small regiment in the battle of Churubusco, was slightly wounded in the effort and was awarded a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for his leadership. Hancock’s actions in the Battle of Churubusco aided in the eventual capture of Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, a feat that won the war for America. On January 24, 1850, Winfield Scott Hancock married the daughter of a wealthy merchant from St. Louis named Almira Russel. In October of that year, their son Russell was born and seven years later they would have a daughter named Ada. Neither child would outlive their parents. Much of the next decade was spent moving about the country as Hancock received new orders. Hancock was promoted to captain on the fifth of November 1855. He saw combat in the third and last Seminole War, “Bleeding Kansas” (the conflict between pro- and anti-slavery forces in the Kansas Territory) and Utah. He then reported to Los Angeles in 1859 where he served as the chief quartermaster until after the Civil War began. Hancock held firm to his Democratic beliefs, and was sympathetic to his many southern friends who would oppose him in the Confederate Army. Though he did not agree with Abraham Lincoln’s Republican administration, he made very clear his belief that the Confederacy should be beaten in order to preserve the Union. Hancock returned with his family to the East to perform quartermaster duties in Washington, DC, but his stint as quartermaster there was short-lived as he was promoted to brigadier general of the Volunteer Corps on September 23, 1861. With his new rank, Hancock took command of a brigade in the Army of the Potomac with which he led in the Peninsula Campaign. His valiant leadership in the Battle of Williamsburg at Fort Magruder on May 5, 1862, was described by Major General George B. McClellan as “superb,” which earned him the nickname “Hancock the Superb.” Hancock went on to command the First Division, Second Corps, in the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862 and proved his abilities while suffering high casualties at “Bloody Lane.” On November 29, 1962, he was promoted to major general of the Volunteer Corps. The General led his division against Confederate forces in the Battle of Fredericksburg in the attack on Marye’s Heights, May 3, 1863, where he was wounded in the abdomen. After recovering, Hancock led his division in the Battle of Chancellorsville where he covered Major General Joseph Hooker’s withdrawal and was wounded once more. Hancock assumed control of the Second Corps when its commander at the time, Major General Darius N. Couch, disapproved of Major General Joseph Hooker’s leadership and transferred out of the unit. The new commander of the Second Corps, Winfield Scott Hancock, took his men to Gettysburg where his actions would become notorious and earn him a statue on Cemetery Hill. The three-day battle took place between the first and third of July in 1863. At this time the Army of the Potomac was being led by General George Meade who entrusted Hancock with the task of riding ahead to survey the battlefield and to report as to whether or not it was fit for a showdown with General Lee’s Confederate Army. This task required Hancock to assume temporary control of all troops already at or on their way to Gettysburg, which included the First, Third, Eleventh, and his own Second Corps. This order gave him authority over two higher ranking officers then him: General Howard and Major General Daniel E. Sickles who would not be happy about General Meade’s decision. Nonetheless, Hancock performed these duties and made the decision to resume at Gettysburg. Over the course of the following two days, he encouragingly led the Second Corps against the Confederates on horseback. Hancock’s confidence, sitting high on his horse, while under heavy artillery and gunfire was an inspiration to his men. His courage was unwavering even after a bullet shattered the pommel of his saddle puncturing his inner right thigh with a large nail and wood shrapnel. Hancock applied a field tourniquet and refused to leave his men until the battle had been decided. This wound would bother him for the duration of the war and later years of his life. Following Gettysburg, Hancock found success at the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, in May of 1864. He was brevetted to Major General of the Regular Army for his actions here. Unfortunately, his Second Corps lost heavy casualties at Cold Harbor in the following month. Shortly after this defeat, Hancock would fail again at the siege of Petersburg in mid-July. He entrusted the command to a superior who had more knowledge of the situation. As a result, there was a hesitation to attack the Confederates at their weakest moment. Had an attack been made earlier, it could have meant the end of the war. Hancock’s re-injured wound prevented him from leading troops in the field for a time. He returned to his troops having been promoted in the Regular Army to brigadier general, yet he was terribly defeated and humiliated at Reams’ Station in late August. At this time, Hancock was forced to give up all field command and he began recruiting duties. He went off to have command in Washington, DC; Maryland; West Virginia; and the Shenandoah Valley. After the collapse of the Confederacy, Hancock was discharged from the Volunteer Corps after a conflict with Grant who disagreed with his level of compassion for the South. Ironically, the day he was mustered out of the Volunteer Corps, July 26, 1866, was the same day he received a promotion to major general of the Regular Army. Winfield Scott Hancock continued his career in the army and in 1877, at the age of 43, assumed command of the Department of the East. His headquarters were at Governors Island, New York. He became involved in politics and in 1868 was a Democratic potential for the presidency. He was nominated in 1880 and ran for presidency, but was beaten by James Garfield. Winfield Scott Hancock, just weeks before his 62nd birthday and still in command of the Department of the East, died February 9, 1886, at Governors Island. He is buried in Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Hancock, Almira R. Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock. New York: Charles L. Webster and Company, 1887
Goodrich, Frederick E. Life and Public Services of Winfield Scott Hancock. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1880
Jamieson, Perry D. Winfield Scott Hancock: Gettysburg Hero. McMurray University: McWhiney Foundation P, 2003.
Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: a Soldier's Life. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1988.
Seitz, Carlos D. The Also Rans : Great Men Who Missed Making the Presidential Goal. Boston: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1928.
Tucker, Glenn. Hancock the Superb. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960.