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Winfield Scott Hancock was born in Montgomery County, on 14th February, 1824. He joined the United States Army and fought in the Seminole War and the Mexican War (1846-48).
On the outbreak of the American Civil War Howe served with the Union Army. He fought at Antietam before being badly wounded at Gettysburg. Promoted to the rank of major general, he recovered to take part in the Wilderness campaign.
A close friend of Andrew Johnson, he worked as a presidential adviser until 1867 when he replaced General Philip Sheridan as military governor of Louisiana and Texas.
Hancock was active in politics and in 1880 he was selected by the Democratic Party as its presidential candidate. After losing the election to the Republican candidate, James A. Garfield, he returned to military life. Winfield Scott Hancock died in 1886.
Winfield Scott Hancock
“General Hancock is one of the handsomest men in the United States Army,” wrote Regis de Trobiand in July 1864. “He is tall in stature, robust in figure, with movements of easy dignity … In action … dignity gives way to activity his features become animated, his voice loud, his eyes are on fire, his blood kindles, and his bearing is that of a man carried away by passion – the character of his bravery” (Tucker 246-247). Winfield Scott Hancock impressed his superiors and his soldiers alike. After the Battle of Williamsburg, General George B. McClellan wrote to his wife, “Hancock was superb today.” “Superb” stuck with him throughout the war. However, like many other great Civil War leaders, the public’s high regard disintegrated after the war. Today he is highly esteemed again, with memorials such as the renaming of the courthouse square in his old home town, “General Winfield Scott Hancock Square.”
Hancock graduated from West Point in 1844, 18th in a class of 25. He served in the Mexican War and was honored for his bravery at the battle of Churubusco. When the war began he was serving at Los Angeles, struggling to keep Union ammunition from Southern sympathizers. He was assigned to be General Robert Anderson’s quartermaster in Kentucky. Thankfully for the Union, Gen. McClellan recognized Hancock’s potential and made him a Brigadier General in William “Baldy” Smith’s Division.
On May 5, 1862, Hancock took the initiative in the Battle of Williamsburg and occupied two abandoned redoubts. Despite an overall Union loss, Hancock’s reputation skyrocketed because of this battle. During the September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam, Hancock was ordered to command mortally wounded Gen. Israel Richardson’s division at the sunken Road. In November he was promoted to Major General.
At Chancellorsville, May 1-3, 1863 Hancock’s division was the last on the field, holding on long enough for the Federals to withdraw. General Darius Couch, commander of the Union Second Corps, had been extremely disgusted with the performance of Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker. Couch left the corps and Hancock became its new commander. By the July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, George Gordon Meade was the new commanding general. After learning that the armies were engaged at Gettysburg and Gen. John Reynolds was killed, Meade sent Hancock to command the 1st, 3rd and 11th corps and decide if this was a good battle position. On July 2nd Hancock helped fix Gen. Daniel Sickle’s blunder at the Peach Orchard, he also sent the 1st Minnesota to halt Gen. A.P. Hill’s corps at Cemetery Ridge. On the 3rd, his men helped beat back “Pickett’s Charge” Hancock was seriously wounded in the thigh during the battle, and General Gouverneur Warren took command of the Second Corps. Hancock spent months in excruciating pain while several doctors attempted to remove the minié ball. A Joint Resolution of Congress was passed on January 28, 1864 thanking Generals Meade, Hooker and Howard for their roles at Gettysburg. Hancock’s name was absent.
By the time Hancock rejoined the Second Corps in March, Ulysses S. Grant was the commander of all Union forces. Under Grant the Union’s style of fighting had changed significantly. Even though the Federals lost the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5-7, 1864 they did not retreat. Hancock’s Second Corps attacked A.P. Hill’s corps at the Plank Road, driving the Confederates back in confusion. Gen. James Longstreet’s arrival prevented the Confederate right flank from collapsing.
At Spotsylvania Courthouse, Hancock’s men successfully attacked the “Mule Shoe Salient” on May 12, 1864 and captured approximately 2800 prisoners. Hancock’s men also took part in the infamous June 3rd attacks at Cold Harbor, in which thousands of men were lost in minutes. By June 10th, his Gettysburg wound had left him immobilized. A tremendous opportunity was lost at Petersburg, July 15-18, 1864. On June 15th, General “Baldy” Smith’s forces defeated a small Confederate force three miles east of the primary defensive line. Had Hancock taken command as the ranking officer, and ordered another charge, Union forces might have prevailed.
On July 27th, Hancock’s Second Corps coordinated with Philip Sheridan’s cavalry, crossing north of the James River at Deep Bottom in an attempt to sever the railroad lines linking Lee and Jubal Early (in the Shenandoah Valley). He fell short of his goal, breaking only the outer Confederate lines. There was a second fight at Deep Bottom however, due to the heat and the high number of new recruits, the battle was lost. This loss was followed by a humiliating defeat at Reams Station, August 24, 1864. Hancock’s adjutant recalled that “the agony of that day never passed away from the proud soldier” (Jordan 163). At Burgess Mill, October 27-28, 1864, the Second Corps performed well, but gained and then lost the Boydton Plank Road. This was Hancock’s last battle. He went on to head the Department of West Virginia until war’s end, and also organized the 1st Veterans Corp.
After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Hancock received criticism for his role in the execution of Mary Surratt, one of the conspirators. He did not want Surratt to be executed. He also received criticism while commander of the Fifth Military District during Reconstruction. He had issued “General Orders No. 40”, declaring that a state of peace existed in the district so he would not interfere with civil authorities. This also meant that no soldiers would appear at polling places.
When Ulysses S. Grant was i naugurated as the 18th president, Hancock was sent to the Department of Dakota. When George Meade died in November 1872, Hancock became the new Commander of the Division of the Atlantic, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1880, Hancock was the Democratic presidential candidate. He was defeated by James A. Garfield. On February 9th 1886, Winfield Hancock died due to complications from diabetes. He was laid to rest at Norristown, PA.
J ordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life. Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1988.
Tucker, Glenn. Hancock the Superb. Morningside Books, Dayton, OH: 1980.
Winfield Scott Hancock
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Winfield Scott Hancock, (born Feb. 14, 1824, Montgomery County, Pa., U.S.—died Feb. 9, 1886, Governor’s Island, N.Y.), Union general during the American Civil War (1861–65), whose policies during Reconstruction military service in Louisiana and Texas so endeared him to the Democratic Party that he became the party’s presidential candidate in 1880.
A West Point graduate (1844), he served with distinction in the Mexican War (1846–48). Hancock was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers on the outbreak of the Civil War and served in the Peninsular campaign of 1862. In May 1863 he was made head of the II Corps, Army of the Potomac, which he led for most of the remaining two years of the war. He served with distinction at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863) and participated in the drive on Richmond, Va., the following spring. As a major general after the war, he commanded (1866–68) various army departments, including the military division composed of Louisiana and Texas. Although great discretionary power had been conferred upon him, Hancock insisted on the maintenance of the civil authorities in their “natural and rightful dominion.” This stand enraged some Republicans, who were counting on military power to protect black and white Republicans in the South, but his policy won him the support of the Democrats, who nominated him for the presidency in 1880. After narrowly losing the election to the Republican candidate, James A. Garfield, he returned to military life.
WINFIELD SCOTT HANCOCK I
In his Personal Memoirs of 1885, Ulysses S. Grant gave what may be the most comprehensive concise evaluation of Winfield Scott Hancock. He stands, Grant wrote, as “the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate [that is, army-level] command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance. . . . His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”
Hancock always fought under the command of others, and no field officer was more universally admired than he, who emerged from the Civil War as perhaps the model soldier-general. He is deservedly most celebrated for the leading role he took at Gettysburg, where his command decisions and personal presence on days one and two made Union victory possible, and his sacrifices on day three ensured the defeat of Lee.
On February 14, 1824, Elizabeth Hoxworth Hancock of Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania, gave birth to identical twin boys. One was given the name Hilary Baker and the other Winfield Scott. That a boy should be named for family relations, in the case of Hilary Baker, was hardly unusual, but to name his twin brother not after relatives but a soldier—a hero of the War of 1812 who was just entering mid-career by 1824—was rare in early nineteenth-century America. Most Americans had an innate dislike of standing armies and professional military men (the quartering of troops had played a big part in triggering the American Revolution). What is more, the Hancocks were hardly a military family. Father Benjamin was a schoolteacher who studied law and would soon become a lawyer, while Mother Elizabeth worked as a milliner. It was, therefore, almost as if, in naming their son, the Hancocks had inadvertently predicted his destiny. From childhood, he would exhibit an early fascination with things military, and, as an adult, he would prove to be a kind of natural and instinctive soldier and leader of soldiers. In the U.S.-Mexican War, his first experience of battle, he would even serve directly under his namesake. And in the Civil War, he would earn the romantic warrior sobriquet of “Hancock the Superb.”
EARLY LIFE AND WEST POINT
A few years after the Hancock twins were born, the family moved from Montgomery Square, outside of Lansdale, to Norristown, where Benjamin Hancock began practicing law. He also became increasingly prominent in local Democratic politics and served with great devotion as a deacon in the Baptist church. The twins were educated at Norristown Academy until a public school opened up in town late in the 1830s. As boys, they were inseparable, yet identical only in physical appearance. While Hilary was quiet and well-behaved, the boisterous Winfield often got into trouble of the boys-will-be-boys variety. His conduct, however, was not so naughty as to disqualify him from the dose of higher education his school grades merited, and his rapidly developing interest in the military—he organized a military company among his classmates—prompted his father to call in a political favor from the local congressman, Joseph Fornance.
In 1840, Fornance obliged Benjamin by nominating Winfield to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Already tall—he was six-foot-two in an era when five-foot-seven was average for a man—handsome, and soldierly in appearance, Winfield Scott Hancock was also a genial and popular cadet. His academic performance was, however, on the lower end of average. Graduating eighteenth in the twenty-five-cadet Class of 1844, he was automatically sent to the infantry and commissioned in the 6th Regiment, assigned to serve in Indian Territory.
INDIAN TERRITORY, RECRUITING DUTY, AND THE U.S.-MEXICAN WAR
For the next two years, little happened in the Red River Valley, Hancock’s corner of Indian Territory, and he saw nothing of combat before he was sent back east to recruiting duty in Cincinnati, Ohio, and across the river in Kentucky. While he was there, the U.S.-Mexican War began in Texas and California, prompting Hancock to request his immediate return to the 6th Regiment, which was stationed in the thick of the developing action. The problem was that the good-looking and genial Hancock had proved to be a talented recruiter, not only signing up more than his quota of men, but also knowing which men to reject. He was just too good at his job, and the army wanted him to continue in it as long as possible. Orders to rejoin his regiment did not come until May 31, 1847.
To Second Lieutenant Hancock’s vast relief, there was still plenty of war to be fought when he rejoined the 6th at Puebla, Mexico, as it served in the invading army led by his namesake, Major General Winfield Scott.
From Puebla, the army advanced to Contreras, which became Winfield Scott Hancock’s maiden battle on August 19 and 20, 1847. By the afternoon of August 20, the battle had moved to Churubusco. Here Hancock suffered his first wound—a shallow musket ball penetration below the knee—yet he not only kept fighting, but took over command of his company after its commander was felled by a more grievous wound. Hancock’s gallantry and initiative at Churubusco earned him a brevet to first lieutenant, and in both Contreras and Churubusco, he served alongside three officers who would become notable Confederate generals, James Longstreet, George Pickett, and Lewis Armistead—a man with whom Hancock also developed a close personal friendship.
The wound Hancock sustained at Churubusco became infected and resulted in a fever. Despite this, he fought at Molino del Rey (September 8, 1847) but was laid up during the culminating battle of the war, Chapultepec (September 12–13), and the subsequent occupation of Mexico City. That these momentous events should have passed him by was a source of lifelong regret.
Hancock and his regiment remained in Mexico until after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in February 1848. Having earned a reputation as an able administrator while he served as a recruiter, Hancock was next assigned to a number of quartermaster and adjutant postings, including at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri. In this city, he met Almira Russell, whom he married on January 24, 1850. “Allie” was universally admired by Hancock’s fellow officers for her beauty, charm, and kindness, and when he was promoted to captain in 1855 and transferred to Fort Myers, Florida, she and their five-year-old son accompanied him—she the only woman on this primitive post. Although the sporadic fighting of the Third Seminole War was under way, quartermaster Hancock saw no combat.
He was transferred again, this time to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1856, during the height of the “Bleeding Kansas” guerrilla violence between proslavery and antislavery factions. Hancock saw relatively little of the bloodshed, however, before he was tasked with helping to prepare an expedition to Utah Territory to put down the so-called Mormon Rebellion, an antigovernment uprising, which included the Mountain Meadows massacre of September 11, 1857, in which the Mormon Militia and their Paiute Indian allies killed more than 120 non-Mormon California-bound settlers. By the time Hancock and the 6th Infantry arrived, however, the conflict was over, and Hancock was told that he was being sent to a new posting with the 6th in Benicia, California.
Obtaining a leave of absence, he traveled back east to fetch his wife, who had given birth to a second child, a daughter, before he left for Utah. For the first time in their lives together, Allie was reluctant to follow her husband, but she was gently counseled by none other than Colonel Robert E. Lee, who persuaded her that an army officer needed his wife and family to be with him, if at all possible. Thus the family made the arduous journey to California together. At Benicia, in the San Francisco Bay area, they were presented with orders to travel even farther, down to Los Angeles, some four hundred miles to the south. Here they remained, Captain Hancock serving as assistant quartermaster under future Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston, and here Hancock formed his close friendship with Armistead.
When news of the outbreak of the Civil War reached Los Angeles in the spring of 1861, Johnston, Armistead, and the other Southern officers who had decided to resign their commissions and join the Confederate cause gathered at the Hancock home for a farewell party. Almira Hancock later recalled that Major Armistead was “crushed . . . tears . . . streaming down his face.” He laid his hands upon her husband’s shoulders, she wrote, and looked him “steadily in the eyes.” “Hancock,” he said, “good-bye. You can never know what this has cost me.”
Armistead then turned to Allie and placed in her hands a small satchel filled with keepsakes to be sent to his family if he should be killed. There was also a little prayer book, which he said was for her and her husband. On its flyleaf he had inscribed: “Trust in God and fear nothing.” Before he left that evening, Armistead also offered Hancock his major’s uniform, but the captain could not bring himself to accept it.
Like his Southern comrades, Winfield Scott Hancock was also determined to leave California—in his case, however, to serve with the Union. Since the end of the war with Mexico, he had been studying the campaigns of history’s “great captains,” from Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte, and he hoped that he would not only receive a speedy transfer back east, but would also exchange his administrative duties for a combat assignment.
He was sent to Washington but was instantly loaded down with quartermaster work for the Union army, which, by the late summer of 1861, was rapidly expanding. George B. McClellan, however, soon picked out Hancock’s name from a list of officers. He remembered him from West Point as well as from the Mexican war, and he recognized him as a courageous, intelligent, and skilled officer. Thanks to McClellan, Hancock was, on September 23, 1861, jumped from captain to brigadier general (and thus would not have had use for the major’s uniform he had declined to accept from Armistead) and assigned to command an infantry brigade in a division under Brigadier General William F. “Baldy” Smith in McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.
McClellan soon realized that he had every reason to be pleased with his choice of Hancock. The man was a thoroughgoing military officer, who prized military discipline but also understood men and how to motivate them on a human level. In contrast to most of his regular army colleagues, he enjoyed working with volunteers, whom he did not regard as necessarily inferior to regular army troops. Treated with respect and confidence, these citizen soldiers gave Hancock their very best in return.
BATTLE OF WILLIAMSBURG, MAY 5, 1862
Thanks to General McClellan’s dilatory approach to campaigning, the Confederates were able to withdraw from their positions at Yorktown, Virginia, before the Army of the Potomac closed in on them during the Peninsula Campaign. A division under Joseph Hooker opened the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5 by attacking an earthen fortification known as Fort Magruder. He was repulsed, however, and Confederate general James Longstreet followed up the repulse with a counterattack on the Union left. A Union division under Brigadier General Philip Kearny arrived in time to blunt the counterattack and stabilize the Union position as Hancock led his brigade in a spectacular encircling movement against the Confederate left flank, forcing the enemy to abandon two key redoubts, which Hancock’s men occupied.
McClellan both recognized and appreciated what Hancock had done and even telegraphed Washington to report that “Hancock was superb today,” thereby giving birth to the sobriquet he would carry with him through the rest of the war, “Hancock the Superb.” Yet, being McClellan, he declined to exploit the counterattack. Instead of following up on what Hancock had gained, McClellan released the pressure, allowing the Confederates, now on the defensive, to withdraw intact.
BATTLE OF ANTIETAM, SEPTEMBER 17, 1862
A subordinate commander, Winfield Hancock was perpetually at the mercy of those above him, and his tactical achievement at Williamsburg came to nothing strategically as McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign shriveled on the vine. McClellan was ordered to withdraw north to link up his Army of the Potomac with John Pope’s newly formed Army of Virginia, and because McClellan moved slowly, Pope and his army were left cut off and vulnerable to Robert E. Lee at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862).
With Pope’s failure, President Lincoln reluctantly recalled McClellan to top field command, and when Lee invaded Maryland in September 1862, Hancock found himself deep in the blood of Antietam. After 1st Division, II Corps commander Major General Israel B. Richardson fell mortally wounded, Hancock assumed divisional command, making a magnificent entrance, galloping at top speed, staff in train, between the division’s troops and the enemy, parallel to the Sunken Road that had been transformed by desperate battle into “Bloody Lane.” Deliberate exposure to enemy fire was and would always be part and parcel of the Hancock style of command.
The men of the division were impressed and inspired. As Hancock’s adjutant Francis Walker later wrote, “An hour after Hancock rode down the line at Antietam to take up the sword that had fallen from Richardson’s dying hand, every officer in his place and every man in his ranks was aware, before the sun went down, that he belonged to Hancock’s division.”
It was a magnificent display of what modern officers call “command presence,” and yet Hancock did not fully exploit it. He had his men in the palm of his hand and might have led them in highly effective counterattacks against the Confederates, who were by this time thoroughly exhausted. Instead, he clung to and carried out the orders McClellan had given him, which were to do no more than hold his position. He did what he had been told. Bold as Hancock was, an even bolder combat leader would have given his commander more than he had asked for and, in so doing, might have transformed a narrow Union victory into a decisive triumph.
Winfield Scott Hancock is Born
Today in Masonic History Winfield Scott Hancock is born in 1824.
Winfield Scott Hancock was an American soldier and politician.
Hancock and his twin brother were born in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania. After attending public schools, in 1840, Hancock received a nomination to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He would graduate 18th of his 25 member class.
After graduating from West Point, Hancock would serve in the Mexican War and would be part of the unit that attacked Mexico City. He also would be stationed in Fort Myers, Florida during The Seminole War. He would see no action there arriving at the duty station toward the end of the war.
Hancock's biggest moment during the Civil War came at the Battle of Gettysburg. On the first day of the battle, Hancock's friend, Major General John Reynolds was killed. Major General George Meade, the new commanding officer assigned units to Hancock to help fill the the gaps in the command structure. This said a lot about Meade's trust in Hancock since, at the time, there were several men who held higher rank at the battle.
On the second day, Hancock had a famous incident where he sent the 1st Minnesota against a larger confederate force. The 1st Minnesota sustained 87% causalities in the battle. The tactic is credited though for holding on to the defense of the Union line long enough for the Union to reorganize.
On the third day, Hancock's position was in the center of the Union line and bore the brunt of Pickett's charge. During the battle, Hancock rode prominently on horseback. When a soldier under his command told him that the commander should not be in such a visible position, Hancock allegedly replied "There are times when a corps commander's life does not count". Shortly after that Hancock was wounded when a shot hit the pommel of his saddle sending wood and a nail into his upper right thigh. When Hancock pulled the nail from his leg, thinking it was fired by Confederates he commented, ""They must be hard up for ammunition when they throw such shot as that."
After the war, Hancock was assigned to supervise the execution of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators. Although he did have some hesitation, particularly when it came to Mary Surratt and other less culpable conspirators, he would carry out sentence on all of them. Of the executions he would later write, "every soldier was bound to act as I did under similar circumstances."
In 1880, Hancock would be named the Democrat nominee against James Garfield. Both candidates were closely matched in their stances on issues and Republicans were concerned about going after Hancock because of his hero status from the Civil War. Eventually the Republicans would latch on to a tariff issue that would affect income of factory workers in the north. This cemented Garfield's Victory.
While stationed in southern California just prior to the Civil War, Almira and her husband, future Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, threw a party for the many friends they had made there. Almira Hancock later stated that six of the future Confederates who attended that party were killed by Hancock’s troops at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Childhood and Early Years
Almira (Allie) Russell was the daughter of a prominent merchant in St. Louis, Missouri, where Winfield Scott Hancock was stationed after the Mexican-American War. West Point classmate Don Carlos Buell introduced Hancock to Almira, and after a short courtship, they were married in 1850 and had two children. A career soldier, Major General Hancock was best noted for his leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
Winfield Scott Hancock was born on February 14, 1824, in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania, the son of Benjamin Franklin and Elizabeth Hoxworth Hancock. Descended from a long line of American soldiers, he was christened with the name of America’s greatest living soldier – General Winfield Scott, the hero of the War of 1812.
In 1840, young Hancock received a coveted appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Hancock was then barely sixteen, short and weak four years later, he was 6′ 2″ and strong. His friends and peers at West Point, who included future Civil War generals: Stonewall Jackson, George B. McClellan, James Longstreet, George Pickett and Ulysses S. Grant. Hancock graduated on June 30, 1844, 18th in a class of 44.
Hancock’s first years in the army were spent along the Red River in Texas, and on the frontier fighting Indians. When war broke out with Mexico in 1846, Hancock requested an assignment in a fighting unit, but he had few achievements to recommend him. Finally, on July 13, 1847, the young officer was transferred to Vera Cruz to serve under his namesake, General Winfield Scott. He was there long enough to get commendations for bravery in four different battles.
Mrs. Almira Russell Hancock, circa 1860s
Regimental headquarters returned to St. Louis, and West Point classmate Don Carlos Buell introduced Hancock to Almira (Allie) Russell, the daughter of a prominent St. Louis merchant. After a short courtship, they were married on January 24, 1850. The couple had two children, Russell (1850-1884) and Ada Elizabeth (1857-1875).
On November 5, 1855, Lieutenant Hancock was appointed Assistant Quartermaster and ordered to Fort Myers, Florida during the Seminole Wars of 1856-7. Hancock’s young family accompanied him to his new posting, where Allie was the only woman on the post. It was difficult and arduous service, but Hancock was quickly becoming indispensible although, according to Allie, “he very much disliked quartermaster duties.”
Hancock was stationed in southern California in November 1858, and remained there, joined by Allie and the children, serving as a captain under future Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston. There Hancock became friends with several officers from the South. He became especially close to Lewis Armistead of Virginia.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Armistead and the other Southerners were leaving to join the Confederate Army, while Hancock remained in the U.S. Army. On June 15, 1861, Hancock and Allie hosted a party for their friends who were scattering because of the war. Lewis Armistead gave his Bible and personal belongings to Allie for safekeeping – to be opened only if he died in battle.
Hancock headed East to offer his services in the defense of the Union. Arriving in Washington, DC, Hancock was summoned to the Headquarters of General George B. McClellan, who appointed Hancock Brigadier General Of Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac on September 23, 1861.
Hancock’s first action was during the Peninsula Campaign, where he commanded a brigade at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862. McClellan telegraphed to Washington that “Hancock was superb today,” and Hancock the Superb was born.
At the Battle of Antietam, Hancock took command of the First Division in the II Corps, after the mortal wounding of Major General Israel B. Richardson in the horrific fighting at Bloody Lane. Hancock made a dramatic entrance onto the battlefield, galloping between his troops and the enemy, parallel to the Sunken Road.
General McClellan was replaced with General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac about that time, and he was replaced by General Joseph Hooker in the spring of 1863. Hancock was promoted to major general on November 29, 1862, and led his division in the disastrous attack on Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg the following month, where he was wounded in the abdomen.
In May 1863, Hancock’s division was instrumental in covering the withdrawal of Federal forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville – another terrible Union defeat – and he was wounded again. When General Darius Couch asked to be transferred out of the Army of the Potomac in protest of the actions of General Hooker, Hancock assumed command of II Corps, which he would lead until shortly before the war’s end.
Hancock at Gettysburg
Hancock would provide his most important service at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After hearing that General John Reynolds was killed early on July 1, Major General George Gordon Meade, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, sent Hancock ahead to take command of the units on the field and assess the situation.
At 3:30 PM, on July 1, 1863, Hancock arrived at Gettysburg, and found the commander of the Union XI Corps, Major General Oliver Otis Howard, attempting to establish a defensive position. Federal positions had collapsed both north and west of town, and General Howard had ordered a retreat to the high ground south of town at Cemetery Hill.
Hancock then went to work establishing the Union battle line that would be known as the Fish Hook, and placed Union forces in a strong defensive position on Cemetery Ridge. Hancock’s determination boosted the morale of the retreating Union soldiers, but he played no direct tactical role on the first day.
On the second day, General Robert E. Lee attacked both Yankee flanks simultaneously, when USA General Daniel Sickles attempted to move his III Corps forward into the Peach Orchard. Sickles’ action exposed the Federal left flank just as CSA General James Longstreet launched his attack toward the Round Tops.
Seeing the trouble, Hancock sent his First Division under Brigadier General John Caldwell to aide Sickles. The second brigade of that division was the famed Irish Brigade. Prior to marching to the relief of Sickles, Father William Corby, the chaplain of the Irish Brigade, gave the soldiers general absolution for their sins.
In the evening, the Confederates reached the crest of Cemetery Ridge, but could not hold the position in the face of counterattacks from the II Corps, including an almost suicidal counterattack by the First Minnesota against a Confederate brigade, ordered in desperation by Hancock.
On the third day at Gettysburg, General Meade placed Hancock in command of the I and III Corps, along with his own II Corps. Hancock was then commanding three-fifths of the Army of the Potomac.
General Lee planned to have Longstreet command General George Pickett’s Virginia division plus six brigades from General A. P. Hill‘s Corps in an infantry attack on General Hancock’s II Corps position at the right center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Prior to the attack, Confederate artillery would try to weaken the Union line.
Around 1 PM, between 150 to 170 Confederate guns began an artillery bombardment that was probably the largest of the war. After waiting about 15 minutes, 80 Federal cannons added to the din. During the artillery attack, Hancock rode along his line encouraging his men to hold their ground. A soldier who witnessed Hancock that day stated, “His daring heroism and splendid presence gave the men new courage.”
At about 3 PM, the cannon fire subsided, and 12,500 Southern soldiers from the command of General George Pickett stepped from the ridgeline and began to cross three-quarters of a mile of open ground, under intense fire from Union artillery massed on Cemetery Ridge, in what would be forever known as Pickett’s Charge.
In addition to the musketry and canister fire from Hancock’s II Corps, the Confederates suffered fierce flanking artillery fire from Union positions north of Little Round Top. Although the Federal line wavered and broke temporarily at a jog called the Angle, at a low stone fence just north of a patch of vegetation called the Copse of Trees, reinforcements rushed into the breach, and the Confederate attack was repulsed.
Hancock was not idle during the attack he seemed to be everywhere on the battlefield, directing regiments and brigades into the fight. As he approached the Vermont Brigade commanded by Brigadier General George Stannard, Hancock suddenly reeled in his saddle and began to fall to the ground. Two of Stannard’s officers sprang forward and caught Hancock as he fell.
A bullet had struck the pommel of Hancock’s saddle and penetrated eight inches into his right groin, carrying with it some wood fragments and a large bent nail from the saddle. His aides applied a tourniquet to stanch the bleeding Hancock removed the nail himself, and is said to have remarked wryly, “They must be hard up for ammunition when they throw such shot as that.”
During the infantry assault, General Hancock’s old friend, CSA General Lewis Armistead and his men reached the stone wall near the Copse of Trees. Armistead’s brigade got farther in the charge than any other, but they were quickly overwhelmed. This event has been called the High Watermark of the Confederacy – the closest they ever came to winning Southern independence.
Armistead was shot three times just after crossing the stone wall. Captain Henry Bingham of Hancock’s staff rushed to Armistead and told him that his old friend Hancock had just been wounded a few yards away. This scene is featured in Michael Shaara’s novel, The Killer Angels, in which Armistead is a principal character. Armistead was taken to a Union field hospital at the George Spangler Farm, where he died two days later.
General Hancock refused to leave the field until his troops had repulsed the Confederate attack. Though in much pain, he continued to direct and encourage his men. The Union victory was largely the result of the leadership of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, and Gettysburg marked the zenith of his military career.
Hancock was taken to his father’s home in Norristown, Pennsylvania to recover. He was received at Norristown by his fellow citizens, and borne to his home on a stretcher, on the shoulders of soldiers of the Invalid Corps. When Hancock had recovered enough to travel to West Point, he was honored with public receptions there, in New York, and at St. Louis, where he went to see his family.
Image: General Winfield Scott Hancock
The Overland Campaign
In March, 1864, Hancock was again ordered to the front, and he led his old corps through General Ulysses S. Grant’s spring 1864 Overland Campaign, from the Rapidan to Petersburg. Grant was committed to a war of attrition, in which the superior Union forces would bleed Lee’s army dry. Union casualties would be high, but the Union had greater resources to replace lost soldiers and equipment.
Hancock served with distinction in the strenuous and bloody series of battles that began in the Wilderness in early May, and continued through Yellow Tavern, North Anna, Old Church, Cold Harbor, Trevilian Station, and finally to the ten-month siege at Petersburg, Virginia.
At Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864, Hancock led a magnificent pre-dawn charge at the head of his whole corps of 20,000 men. The target was the Mule Shoe – a salient in the Confederate trenches. In less than an hour, the II Corps broke through the Rebel lines. Hancock took close to 4,000 prisoners, destroying a whole division of the Confederate Second Corps.
Hancock sent a brief despatch to General Grant: “General, I have captured from thirty to forty guns. I have finished up Johnson, and am now going into Early,” (Confederate Generals Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Jubal Early). For those heroic efforts, Hancock earned the rank of major general. In June, his Gettysburg wound reopened, but he soon resumed command, sometimes traveling by ambulance.
Second Battle of Reams Station
Hancock’s only significant defeat occurred during the Siege of Petersburg. Soon after the Union success at the Battle of Weldon Railroad, Hancock’s II Corps was ordered to move south along that rail line, destroying track as it went. By late August 24, 1864, the II Corps was three miles south of Reams Station, when Hancock was informed that CSA General A.P. Hill’s infantry and General Wade Hampton’s cavalry were moving out of Petersburg’s defenses to meet this threat.
During the morning of August 25, Hampton started driving Hancock’s troops back up the Halifax Road toward Reams Station. Hill determined that a large frontal assault was needed to drive the Union forces off the railroad. It was 5:00 pm before the Confederates were ready for their second assault, and it began with a heavy artillery barrage.
Hampton and Hill were finally able to coordinate an attack upon the Union position, and under this pressure, overran the Union position, capturing 9 guns, 12 colors, and many prisoners. The II Corps was shattered, and swept from the field by 7:00 pm. Hancock realized his greatest defeat as a corps commander, losing nearly 3000 soldiers as casualties or as prisoners.
In Grant’s campaign against Lee, Hancock and his famed II Corps had been repeatedly called upon to plunge into the very worst of the fighting, and the casualties had been terrible. At the beginning of May 1864, the II Corps numbered 30,000 officers and men. Casualties since then had topped 26,000 killed, wounded or missing and he felt their losses deeply.
General Winfield Scott Hancock asked to be relieved of command of the II Corps on November 25, 1864. Constant pain from his old wound – he had never regained full mobility nor his youthful energy – and the loss of so many of his men contributed to his decision to give up field duty.
Hancock’s farewell message November 26, 1864:
Conscious that whatever military honor has fallen to me during my association with the Second Corps has been won by the gallantry of the officers and soldiers I have commanded… in parting from them, I am severing the strongest ties of my military life.
Hancock’s first assignment after leaving field duty was to command the ceremonial First Veterans Corps, a largely ceremonial post. For the next three months, Hancock was at Washington organizing wounded veterans for service – as much as his health would permit. He did more recruiting, commanded the Middle Department, and relieved General Philip Sheridan in command of forces in the now-quiet Shenandoah Valley.
By spring 1865, the war had ended at Appomattox Court House, and General Hancock – who for three years had been one of the most conspicuous figures in the Army of the Potomac – was not there to take part in the final triumph.
Execution of Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
In April 1865, General Hancock was summoned to Washington to take charge of carrying out the execution of the Lincoln Conspirators. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated on April 14, 1865, and by May 9, a military commission had been convened to try the accused. The assassin John Wilkes Booth was already dead, but his co-conspirators were quickly tried and convicted. President Andrew Johnson ordered the executions to be carried out on July 7.
Although Hancock was reluctant to execute some of the less-culpable conspirators, especially Mary Surratt. He wrote to Judge Clampitt, Surratt’s legal counsel:
I have been on many a battle and have seen death, and mixed with it in disaster and in victory. I have been in a living hell of fire, and shell and grapeshot, and, by God, I’d sooner be there ten thousand times over than to give the order this day for the execution of that poor woman. But I am a soldier, sworn to obey, and obey I must.
Hancock hoped that Surratt would receive a pardon from President Johnson, so hopeful that as commander of the Middle Military District, he posted messengers all the way from the Arsenal to the White House, ready to relay the news to him at a moment’s notice, should the pardon be granted. It was not.
Hancock remained in the postwar army as brigadier general. In 1866, Ulysses S. Grant had him promoted to major general in the regular army, and he served at that rank for the rest of his life. He was sent west to command the Military Department of Missouri based at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but his time there was brief.
On November 29, 1868, President Andrew Johnson named Hancock to replace Philip Sheridan as military governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction. It was in this position, that he would issue General Order Number 40, that would essentially allow the civilian government to quickly replace the military government. Hancock’s refusal to use military authority to assist Republican radicals strengthened his ties to Democrats and angered Grant.
With the death of General George Gordon Meade in 1872, Hancock became the senior major general in the U.S. Army, and was assigned to take Meade’s place as commander of the Division of the Atlantic at Governor’s Island in New York harbor. Enjoying the fine living there, Hancock eventually weighed over 250 pounds.
Winfield and Allie were devastated by the early deaths of both of their children within a ten-year span. Their 18-year-old daughter Ada died of typhoid fever in 1875 in New York City. Son Russell, who was always sickly, left a wife and three children when he died on December 30, 1884, in Mississippi.
Democratic strategists had considered Hancock a potential presidential nominee as early as 1864, and his name resurfaced during subsequent presidential campaigns. He finally received the Democratic nomination for President in 1880. He and Allie found the constant flow of political visitors maddening.
The Republicans nominated James A. Garfield, a longtime Ohio congressman, and attacked Hancock’s complete lack of political experience. Neither candidate for the 1880 Presidential Election inspired voters to shift political allegiance. Garfield won by less than ten thousand votes. But Hancock was the first Northerner to carry the Southern states since the war.
Hancock had refused to be examined by a doctor, despite the illnesses that plagued him late in life, maybe because the field surgeons at Gettysburg had caused horrible suffering in trying to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his wound. He had been ill for several days when doctors discovered that he had severe diabetes. He became delirious on the evening of February 5.
Winfield Scott Hancock died on February 9, 1886, at 2:35 PM, five days before his sixty-second birthday, at Governor’s Island, still in command of the Military Division of the Atlantic. After a brief funeral service at Trinity Church in New York City February 12, 1886, General Hancock’s remains were taken to his boyhood home of Norristown, PA, and placed alongside his daughter Ada in a mausoleum that he had designed.
Almira Russell Hancock received many requests to write about her husband and his military experiences and his correspondence. Her memoir, Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock, was published in 1887 by Mark Twain’s publishing firm, Webster & Company. Afterward, she burned Hancock’s letters.
Almira Russell Hancock died in April 1893 and was buried near her family in St. Louis, Missouri. Although she outlived both of her children, she was survived by the three grandchildren fathered by her son Russell.
New York Times Article, April 23, 1893:
The funeral of Mrs. Almira Russell Hancock, widow of General Winfield Scott Hancock, who died at her home, the Gramercy, 34 Gramercy Park Thursday afternoon, took place yesterday at noon at the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration on East Twenty-ninth Street.
General Winfield Scott Hancock equestrian statue at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Bronze by Frank Edwin Ewell
Gettysburg National Military Park
Photograph of monument taken after an ice storm
Winfield Scott Hancock was a very able military commander. To the North, he was known as Hancock The Superb . The South called him The Thunderbolt of the Army of the Potomac. The Sioux and the Cheyenne called him Old Man of the Thunder. A man of great charisma and a commanding physical presence, he was a soldier’s soldier, something of an artist, amateur scientist, botanist, and he even wrote some verse.
Birth of Winfield Scott Hancock
Winfield Scott Hancock was born on February 14, 1824, in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania.
Named after the legendary War of 1812 general, Winfield Scott, Hancock attended the Norristown Academy and public schools before he was nominated to the US Military Academy at West Point. He was an average student, graduating 18 th out of 25 and was assigned to the 6 th US Infantry.
Item #4903722 – 1995 Hancock Proof Card.
Initially, Hancock served in Indian Territory, which was uneventful. But when the Mexican-American War broke out, he volunteered to serve at the front. He recruited soldiers in Kentucky before being sent to Puebla, Mexico, where he served under his namesake, General Winfield Scott.
Item #47072A – 1991 Hancock Proof Card.
Hancock first saw battle at Contreras and Churubusco. He received a brevet promotion for his bravery in those battles. However, he was wounded at Churubusco and developed a fever that prevented him from participating in the breakthrough to Mexico City, which he always regretted. Hancock remained in Mexico until the signing of the peace treaty in 1848.
In the coming years, Hancock got married and served in Minnesota and Missouri. He was also in Florida for the end of the Third Seminole War. From there he served in Kansas and then California. Still in California at the outbreak of the Civil War, Hancock returned east to help General George McClellan organize and train the Army of the Potomac.
Appointed a brigadier general of volunteers, Hancock served in the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. During that campaign, he led a major counterattack at the Battle of Williamsburg. McClellan later telegraphed to Washington that “Hancock was superb today, which led to his nickname, “Hancock the Superb.” Over the next year, he would serve at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, suffering wounds at two of those battles.
US #2975n – Classic First Day Cover.
In May of 1863, Hancock took command of II Corps, which he led for most of the remaining two years of the war. Hancock played a big part in the battle of Gettysburg that July. He was given temporary command of the left wing of the army, organized the defenses at Cemetery Hill, and made the important decision to stand and fight there. On the second day of battle, he was in the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge and ordered a daring advance on the Confederates that helped buy time for the Union line to reorganize and survive the day. On July 3, Hancock and his troops took the brunt of Pickett’s Charge and he was seriously wounded. He later received the thanks of Congress for his role in the battle.
US #2975n –Mystic First Day Cover.
After recovering from his wound, Hancock returned to the front lines to participate in the attack on Richmond, Virginia, the following spring, leading II Corps in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
Item #20078 – Commemorative cover marking Hancock’s 162nd birthday.
Following the war, Hancock continued to serve as a major general on the frontier. His military policies in Louisiana and Texas during the Reconstruction won Hancock the support of the Democrats, who nominated him for the presidency in 1880. After losing in a close election to Republican candidate James Garfield, he returned to military life. He died on February 9, 1886, in Governors Island, New York.
February 18, 1817 Friends and Enemies
The two looked across that field as gray and butternut soldiers formed up along seminary ridge. It’s unlikely they ever saw one another
Armistead is a prominent name in Virginia, the family going back to colonial days. Five Armistead brothers fought in the war of 1812. Major George Armistead commanded Fort McHenry during the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Major Armistead became an uncle on this day in 1817, to Lewis Addison Armistead, the first of eight children born to General Walker Keith Armistead and Elizabeth Stanley.
Lewis Addison Armistead
“Lothario” or “Lo” to his friends, Armistead followed in the family footsteps, attending the US Military Academy at West Point. He never graduated, some say he had to resign after breaking a plate over the head of fellow cadet and future Confederate General Jubal Early. Others say it was due to academic difficulties, particularly French class.
Armistead’s influential father gained him a 2nd Lieutenant’s commission nevertheless, awarded in 1839, about the same time his former classmates received theirs. Armistead’s field combat experience reads like a time-line of his age: cited three times for heroism in the Mexican-American War, wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec, going on to serve in the Mohave War and the Battle of the Colorado River.
Stellar though his military career was, the man’s personal life was a mess. Armistead survived two wives and two daughters, only to lose the family farm in a fire, all while fighting a severe case of Erysipelas, a painful skin condition known in the Middle Ages as “St. Anthony’s Fire”.
It’s been said that conjugating the “Be” verb changed after the Civil War. Before, it was the United States “are”. Afterward, it became the United States “is”. Not for no reason. This was a time when Patriotic Americans felt every bit the attachment to their states, as to the nation.
Fellow Americans took sides on the eve of the Civil War. Even brothers. Like his fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee, Armistead wanted no part of secession, but followed his state when it became inevitable.
Winfield Scott Hancock
Pennsylvania native Winfield Scott Hancock went the other direction, staying with the Union. Years later, Hancock would run for the Presidency, only narrowly losing to James A. Garfield. Noted for personal integrity in a time of rampant political corruption, President Rutherford B. Hayes said of Hancock, “… [I]f, when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.”
Armistead and Hancock served together on the frontiers, developing a close personal friendship as early as 1844. On their final parting on the eve of war, Armistead made Hancock the gift of a new Major’s uniform. To Hancock’s wife he gave his own prayer book, bearing the inscription ”Trust In God And Fear Nothing”.
Three years came and went before the old friends once again faced one another, this time across the field of battle. Robert E. Lee tried to go after the Union right on that first day at Gettysburg, looking for a soft spot in the line. On day two, he went after the left. On the afternoon of July 3, 1863, Lee went straight up the middle.
The two looked across that field as gray and butternut soldiers formed up along seminary ridge. It’s unlikely they ever saw one another. The action has gone into history as “Pickett’s Charge”, though the term is a misnomer. Major General George Pickett commanded only one of three units taking part in the assault, under Lieutenant General James Longstreet.
The pace was almost leisurely as Pickett’s, Trimble’s and Pettigrew’s Confederate soldiers stepped over the stone wall. 13,000 crossing abreast, bayonets glinting in the sun, pennants rippling in the breeze.
You cannot escape the sense of history if you’ve ever crossed that field. Stepping off Seminary Ridge with a mile to go, you are awe struck at the mental image of thousands of blue clad soldiers, awaiting your advance. Halfway across and just coming into small arms range, you can’t help a sense of relief as you step across a low spot and your objective, the “copse of trees”, drops out of sight. If you can’t see them they can’t shoot at you. Then you look to your right and realize that cannon would be firing down the length of your lines from Little Round Top, as would those on Cemetery Hill to your left. Rising out of the draw you are now in full sight of Union infantry. You quicken your pace as your lines are torn apart from the front and sides. Fences hold in some spots along the Emmitsburg Road. Hundreds of your comrades are shot down in the attempt to climb over.
Finally you are over and it’s a dead run. Seeing his colors cut down, Hancock puts his hat atop his sword, holding it high and bellowing above the roar of the guns “Come on, boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me!”
The “High tide of the Confederacy” marks the point between the corner of a stone wall and that copse of trees, the farthest the shattered remnants of Longstreet’s assault would ever get. Lewis Armistead made it over that wall before being shot down, falling beside the wheels of a Union cannon.
I always wondered what would have happened had J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry come out of the woods to the Union rear, but that wasn’t meant to be. The Confederate advance couldn’t hold, wilting in the face of overwhelming Federal firepower.
Gettysburg veterans on the 50th anniversary of the battle, July 1-3, 1913
Armistead lay bleeding as he asked a nearby soldier about Hancock. General Hancock was himself wounded by this time, the bullet striking his saddle pommel and entering his thigh, along with shards of wood and a saddle nail. When told his best friend was also wounded, Armistead said ”Not both of us on the same day!”. Armistead spoke to Captain Henry Bingham, Hancock’s aide, saying “Tell General Hancock, from me, that I have done him and you all a grave injustice”.
One day, the country would reunite. The two friends never did. Lewis Armistead died of his wounds, two days later.
A Doomed Charge For a Courageous Regiment
At another endangered point of the Union line along Cemetery Ridge, Hancock came under fire from a brigade of Alabamians under Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox who were striving to exploit an opening in the Federal defenses. Looking for troops to stem the tide, Hancock had only the undersized 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. He ordered them to charge the enemy lines, knowing that they would suffer terrible losses. The regiment charged and bought Hancock 10 minutes to bring up reinforcements to plug the gap. Hancock later wrote of the regiment, which lost 215 out of 262 engaged that day, “No soldiers, on any field, in this or any other country, ever displayed grander heroism.”
The battered Union left reformed along Cemetery Ridge and repulsed the remainder of the Confederate attacks. Federal units counterattacked the exhausted Rebels and recaptured some of the ground lost during the afternoon. As evening came on, Hancock heard the sound of heavy fighting from the direction of Cemetery Hill. Sensing danger, he ordered Gibbon to send Colonel Samuel Sprigg Carroll’s brigade to reinforce the Union position on the hill. The brigade arrived in time to throw back an enemy attack that had broken through the Federal infantry and threatened an artillery position near the cemetery. Concerned that Culp’s Hill was also in danger that evening, Hancock dispatched two regiments to bolster the Union position there.
Hancock’s decisiveness at key moments on the afternoon and evening of July 2 helped to prevent the collapse of the Union left and right. One officer wrote that Hancock “was indefatigable in his vigilance and personal supervision, ‘patching the line’ wherever the enemy was likely to break through.”
Campaign for Re-election
During his Second Term in office, Hancock took a much more active role in the running of his administration, as he had demonstrated in his last year during his previous term. Still, it would largely be relegated to the role of foreign affairs.
In 1887 he signed an act creating the Interstate Commerce Commission. The ICC's purpose was to regulate railroads, to ensure fair rates, to eliminate rate discrimination, and to regulate other aspects of common carriers.
One of the most volatile issues of the 1880s was whether the currency should be backed by gold and silver, or by gold alone. The issue cut across party lines, with western Republicans and southern Democrats joining together in the call for the free coinage of silver, and both parties' representatives in the northeast holding firm for the gold standard. Because silver was worth less than its legal equivalent in gold, taxpayers paid their government bills in silver, while international creditors demanded payment in gold, resulting in a depletion of the nation's gold supply.
Hancock remained on the sidelines for the entire fight, and order that the limits set by the Bland-Allison Act be strictly followed, unless dictated otherwise by Congress.
After significant gains for the Democratic Party in Congress following the 1884 elections, Congress narrowly passed a bill that cut the tariff from 47% to 30%. It was promptly signed into law by President Hancock. Later attempts to further decrease the tariff would be unsuccessful.
The Rights of African Americans, both politically and socially, were treated with the same indifference as they had during Hancock's first term as President. Instead, he promoted in Congress funds to send former slaves to the US-sponsored nation of Liberia, at their behest. The Democrats were initially skeptical, but enough were brought over to allow significant finacial support of the endeavour.
Congress passed the Scott Act, written by Congressman William Lawrence Scott, which would prevent Chinese immigrants who left the United States from returning. The Scott Act easily passed both houses of Congress, and Hancock signed it into law on October 1, 1888.
Congress passed the Dawes Act, which provided for distribution of Indian lands to individual members of tribes, rather than having them continued to be held in trust for the tribes by the federal government. While a conference of Native leaders endorsed the act, in practice the majority of Native Americans disapproved of it. Hancock believed the Dawes Act would lift Native Americans out of poverty and encourage their assimilation into white society, but its ultimate effect was to weaken the tribal governments and encourage sale of Indian land to white speculators.
While the Berlin Conference had started during his first term, the fruits were not seen until well into the second. At the Berlin Conference concerning Africa, Hancock wanted to wanted three major goals to be achieved that the borders of Liberia be expanded according to their claims, that American interests in the Congo be preserved, that an American Military Base be established on the Congolese Coast. The fact that these goals represented such a large depature from those outlined in the Monroe Doctrine (expanding the role of the United States outside of the America's) raised the ire of many Republicans and some Northern Democrats, one of his most vocal opponents being New York Governor Grover Cleveland. However, Hancock managed to justify the base as a safeguard of American commerce in the African continent, and the American Commonwealth State of Liberia. The treaties would narrowly be approved by the Senate, allowing for the construction of a military installation at the Congo River Mouth near Banana, in the American Congo.
While the treaty was approved in 1884, funds were not granted until 1886. A later treaty specified that the Canal would remain jointly under the control of the United States and Nicaragua as a condiminium territory, and that the United States has a right to station military forces within that condiminium. The canal itself would not be finished until 1893.
Supreme Court Appointments
During his first term, Hancock successfully appointed two justices to the Supreme Court of the United States. The first, Lucius Q.C. Lamar, was a former Mississippi Senator. When William Burnham Woods died, Hancock nominated Lamar to his seat in late 1887. While Lamar had been well-liked as a Senator, his service under the Confederacy two decades earlier caused many Republicans to vote against him. Lamar's nomination was confirmed by the narrow margin of 34 to 26.
Chief Justice Morrison Waite died a few months later, and Hancock nominated Melville Fuller to his seat on April 30, 1888. Fuller accepted the Supreme Court nomination, and the Senate Judiciary Committee spent several months examining the little-known nominee. Finding him acceptable, the Senate confirmed the nomination 48 to 13.