Major General Winfield Scott Hancock is one of the United States Army’s most distinguished officers. He was born on 14 February 1824 at Montgomery Square, Norristown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1844 and shortly thereafter served in the Mexican War where he was breveted First Lieutenant for gallantry in action. In 1885 he saw service in the Seminole War around Fort Myers, Florida.
In 1857-58 he was stationed in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, during the period of the so-called “Border War” between the pro-slavery and abolitionist factions. He arrived at Fort Leavenworth on 1 August 1857 and departed for Utah and California in the Spring of 1858.
His first assignment in the Civil War was at Williamsburg, where as a Brigadier General of Volunteers, he commanded the Brigade which turned the Confederate flank and carried the field. General McClellan, in his official report, stated that “Hancock was superb”. At Antietam, Hancock assumed command of the First Divission of II Corps, and led it in the bloody battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At Fredericksburg his Division distinguished itself in the fruitless assault which Burnside ordered on Marye’s Heights; and at Chancellorsville, they bore the full weight of Lee’s attack down the Plank Road, holding a salient which enabled Hooker to extricate himself from Jackson’s wide envelopment.
At Gettysburg, Hancock was ordered by Meade to select the ground for the Union dispositions, and Hancock commanded all Union forces the first day. Thereafter, as Commanding General of II Corps, he commanded the Union left wing, and his Corps repulsed Pickett’s famous charge. Hancock continued in command of the II Corps to the end of the war, distinguishing himself repeatedly at the Wilderness, Spottsylvania and Petersburg. He became renowned throughout the Army as “Hancock the Superb”.
After Lincoln’s assassination, Hancock was immediately ordered to command the District of Washington where he apprehended, tried and executed Booth’s accomplices.
On 6 August 1866, Major General Hancock returned to Fort Leavenworth to command the Department of Missouri. There he remained until September of 1867, when he was transferred to New Orleans. In 1880 Hancock was nominated by the Democratic party as their candidate for President of the United States; and in an election where over 9 million votes where cast, he lost to President Garfield by a scant 7,018 votes.
Major General Hancock received all three Masonic Degrees by special dispensation in Charity Lodge No. 190 of Norristown, Pennsylvania on 31 October 1860, while on leave. He was also a member of Norristown Chapter No. 190, Royal Arch Masons and Hutchinson Commandery No. 32, Knights Templar, both of Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Major General Hancock died at Governor’s Island, New York on 9 February 1886. For a more detailed history of MG Hancock battles and other links, please view this document.