Commanders-in-Chief Biographies

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock
Commander-in-Chief 1879 - 1886

by Robert G. Carroon, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock was the second Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the Untied States and served from 1879 through 1886. A native of Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania (just north of Norristown), Winfield Scott Hancock was the son of Benjamin Franklin Hancock and Elizabeth Hoxworth. Winfield Scott Hancock (named for the hero of the War of 1812) was born on February 14, 1824. He attended the Norristown Academy and entered West Point on July 1, 1840 at the age of 16. Among his contemporaries at the U.S. Military Academy were a number who later became Generals in the Civil War, including Grant, McClellan, Franklin, Armisted, W.F. Smith, Reynolds, Rosecrans, Longstreet, Pickett, and "Stonewall" Jackson. Ulysses S. Grant described him as tall, well-formed...young and fresh looking - he presented an appearance that would attract attention of an army as he passed.

Upon his graduation from West Point, Hancock was breveted a Second Lieutenant in the 6th U.S. Infantry. In the Mexican War, he was breveted First Lieutenant for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mexico. Hancock also took part in the assaults upon Molino Del Rey, and Chapultepec. Following the Mexican War, he took part in operations against the Seminoles in the Kansas War, in the Utah expedition against the Mormons. He was then assigned to duty in Los Angeles, California. He was promoted to the rank of Captain on November 7, 1855. In 1850, he married Almira Russell of St. Louis, Missouri. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Hancock was still stationed in California, but immediately left for Washington D. . and where he was made a Brigadier General of Volunteers on November 29, 1861.

Hancock was given command of a brigade in the II Army Corps consisting of the 49th Pennsylvania, 43rd New York, 5th Wisconsin, and 9th Maine Regiments. He served with his brigade in the Peninsular campaign (where he was termed "the Superb"), at Crampton's Pass, South Mountain and Antietam. At Antietam, he succeeded to command of the 1st Division of the II Corps and was promoted Major General on November 29, 1862. His leadership at the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1-4 1863, was so outstanding that he was promoted to the then vacant command of the II Corps, with whom he was forever after associated in Civil War history.

At Gettysburg, June 30 - July 4, 1863, Hancock showed the qualities which made him the hero of that great battle and established his reputation as the finest corps commander in the Civil War. On July 1, he selected, in concert with General Oliver Otis Howard, the position on Cemetery Hill which consolidated the Union position. On the second day of the battle, he commanded the left wing and frustrated the Confederate attempt to turn the flank of the Army of the Potomac. On July 3, it was Hancock, despite his being wounded, who, with the II Corps repulsed the charge of Pickett and Pettigrew in Lee's attempt to break the center of the Union line. After partially recovering from his wound, he again assumed command of the II Corps and led it in action at Wilderness and Spotsylvania. His wound continued to trouble him and he was assigned to staff duty in Washington D.C. on November 26, 1864.

On July 26, 1866, he was appointed a Major General in the Regular Army. The following year, while serving as commander of the Central Military Department, he led an expedition against the Indians. In 1867, he was made Commander of the Department of Louisiana and Texas. From 1870 to 1872, Hancock commanded the Department of Dakota and from 1872 to 1886 the Department of the Atlantic. His final assignment was the command of the Department of the East with headquarters at Governor's Island, New York. A member of the "War Democrat" wing of the Democratic Party during the Civil War, General Hancock was nominated for the presidency of the United States in 1880 as the Democratic standard bearer. He lost the election to James A. Garfield by a small plurality of the popular vote and 59 votes in the Electoral College.

On February 4, 1866, Winfield Scott Hancock wrote to S.B. Wylie Mitchell, Recorder of the Pennsylvania Commandery applying for membership in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Recorder Wylie replied at once that he would be happy to present the General's name for consideration and Hancock was elected a Companion of the First Class on February 12, 1866. He was assigned National Insignia Number 161. He was elected to the Council of the Pennsylvania Commandery on May 2, 1866 and served for three years. On June 5, 1879, Winfield Scott Hancock was elected Commander of the Pennsylvania Commandery and also Commander-in-Chief of the Order to succeed Major General George Cadwallader. General Hancock remained as Commander-in-Chief until his death at Governors Island, New York on February 9, 1886. Funeral services took place at Trinity Church, New York City on February 13, 1886 and internment was in the cemetery at Norristown, Pennsylvania on the same day. Winfield Scott Hancock was succeeded by Rutherford Birchard Hayes as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.



There are two letters in General Hanock's File in the papers of the Commandery-in-Chief are of historical interest. The first letter is from General Hanock to his father, Benjamin F. Hancock, in Norristown. It is interesting in that it suggests the possibility of the secession of California and other western territories from the Union. Hancock's use of the term "Revolution" for the secession of the Southern states is also of interest as that was a term often used by the Confederates themselves.

    Los Angeles, Cal.
    February 28, 1861

    Dear Father:

    We have to-day heard, by Poney, that a Southern Confederacy has been formed, and that Jefferson Davis is the President and Mr. Stevens the Vice President. That looks to me that they do not intend to come back under any circumstances. Mr. Stevens may not lend himself to that, but it is intended to make you acknowledge their right of entering themselves into another Government. It appears to complicate matters much.

    If there is a separation between the whole North and South, the States on the Pacific will secede from both, you may rely on it. There is a strong Union feeling yet, but the Southern element, desire for novelty and self interest to avoid taxation, will inevitably bring about the result I predict.

    I can but stand waiting for the future. I have Government property to protect and if there is any unlawful raid upon it, I intend to do my best to defend it. I am not free to go home now; I would not be permitted to do so if I desired it. If something is not done soon to sustain the Federal Union its defenders will become demoralized and the people too.

    If Lincoln thinks more of his country than his party he may yet do something. He will have to offer the olive branch in one hand and hold the sword in the other. I think it most likely that the Southern Confederacy will be recognized by European Governments, if something is not done promptly to put down the Revolution. We can expect nothing else.

    We are all pretty well. Allie, Russell and Ava send much love to you all.

    Truly and affectionately yours,
    Winfield S. Hancock
    Captain A.Q.M.

The second letter is from Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant to President Abraham Lincoln. This letter is of historical interest since it suggests that General Meade might be moved to a newly created command resulting from consolidation of four Departments and General Hancock would then be given command of the Army of the Potomac. The real purpose of the letter appears, despite the mention of Franklin as a candidate for the "military division," to be making a suggestion to President Lincoln that Meade be "kicked upstairs." Most historians have suggested that Grant was perfectly content with Meade as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, but this letter suggests that the General Commanding may have really felt otherwise and was seeing how the President would react to putting Hancock in command of the Army of the Potomac. In fact, of course, nothing came of Grant's suggestion (perhaps Lincoln did not like the idea of putting a Democrat such as Hancock in such a position) and Meade remained in command of the Army of the Potomac, but the letter raises an interesting point not previously mentioned by historians of the war or biographers of Meade, Grant, or Hanock; i.e., that Grant may have not been as accepting of Meade as Commander of the Army of the Potomac as has been supposed.

    City Point, Va., July 25th 1864
    Grant to Lincoln

    President A. Lincoln..

    After the late raid into Maryland had extended itself, seeing the necessity of having the four Departments of the "Susquehanna", the "Middle", "Western Va" and "Washington" under one head, I recommended that they be merged into one and named Gen'l Franklin as a suitable person to command the whole. I still think it highly essential that these four Departments should be in one command - I do not insist that the Departments should be broken up, nor do I insist upon Gen'l Franklin Com'd'g. All I ask is that one general officer, in whom I and yourself have confidence, should command the whole. Gen'l Franklin was named because he was available and I know him to be capable and believe him to be trustworthy. It would suit me equally as well to call the four Departments referred to as a "Military Division" and to have placed in command of it Gen'l Meade. In this case I would suggest Gen'l Hancock for the command of the Army of the Potomac, and Gen'l Gibbon for the command of the 2nd Corps. With Gen'l Meade in command of such a division, I would have every confidence that all the troops within the Military Division would be used to the very best advantage, from a personal examination of the ground and would adopt means of getting the earliest information of any advance of the enemy and would prepare to meet it.

    During the last raid the wires happened to be down between here and Fort Monroe and the cable broke between here and Cherrystone. This made it take from twelve to twenty four hours each way, for dispatches to pass. Under such circumstances it was difficult for me to give orders or directions because I could not tell how the conditions might change during the transit of dispatches. Many reasons might be assigned for the changes here suggested, some of which I would not care to commit to paper, but would not hesitate to give verbally.

    I send this by Brig. Gen'l Rawlins, Chief of Staff, who will be able to give more information of the situation here than I could give you in a letter. Hoping that you will see this matter in the light I do, I have the honor of subscribing myself, etc.

    U.S. Grant

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