General Winfield Scott Hancock Reports from Gettysburg Battlefield

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General Hancock Reports from Gettysburg

"The battle is quiet now."

"Hancock the superb"
General Winfield Scott Hancock.jpg
(Battles & Leaders)

After the death of General Reynolds on July 1, General Oliver O. Howard assumed command of the field and sent dispatches of the situation to army headquarters near Taneytown, Maryland. Miles away from the battlefield and unable to discern the true nature of the Union positions at Gettysburg, General George Meade ordered General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the 2nd Army Corps, to ride ahead to Gettysburg to assess the situation and take command of the field.
The charismatic 39 year-old career officer had an electric
presence on those around him. Fearless and direct, Hancock was a superb officer whose only fault was a coarse vocabulary. General Hancock arrived at
Cemetery Hill about 4:30 that afternoon, just in time to witness the flood of survivors from the day's battle streaming through Gettysburg. There was an awkward confrontation between Hancock and Howard over who was the senior commander on the field, but a compromise was struck. Working in concert with Howard, General Hancock established the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge and rallied the shattered remnants of both the 1st and 11th Corps. Seating himself near the gatekeeper's house at the cemetery, Hancock hastily scribbled out a message to General Meade:

5:25 P.M., July 1, 1863

GENERAL: When I arrived here an hour since, I found that our troops had given up the front of Gettysburg and the town. We have now taken up a position in the cemetery, and cannot well be taken. It is a position, however, easily turned. Slocum is now coming on the ground and is taking position to the right which will protect the right. But we have, as yet, no troops on the left, the Third Corps not having yet reported; but I suppose that it is marching up. If so, its flank march will in a degree protect our left flank. In the meantime Gibbon had better march on so as to take position on our right or left, to our rear, as may be necessary, in some commanding position. General (Gibbon) will see this dispatch. The battle is quiet now. I think we will be all right until night. I have sent all the trains back. When night comes it can be told better what had best be done. I think we can retire; if not, we can fight here, as the ground appears not unfavorable with good troops. I will communicate in a few moments with General Slocum, and transfer the command to him. Howard says that Doubleday's command gave way. General Warren is here.

  Your obedient servant,
  Winfield S. Hancock

Major-General, Commanding Corps

Sources: Gettysburg National Military Park; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

Recommended Reading: Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier's Life. Description: Hancock's Civil War generalship earned him the affection of his troops and the country's citizenry and the respect of his fellow officers, all of which were sustained and flourished during his post-war career as a Reconstruction military administrator, a Great Plains Indian overseer, commander of the Military Division of the Atlantic (states), during which time he earned the gratitude of the nation in quelling labor violence, and, finally, as a three-time seeker of the Democratic nomination for President (1868, 1872, 1880) and his party's nominee for that office in the 1880 election. Continued below...

David Jordan's WINFIELD SCOTT HANCOCK is an extensively referenced, solid, immensely readable biography and work of popular history. Jordan obviously thinks highly of the man. Even Hancock's less than illustrious stint as commander of the Military Department of the Missouri from August 1866 to August 1867, during which he stumbled around the Great Plains without a clue as to the nature and culture of the Indian tribes he was tasked with controlling, goes pretty much 'uncriticized.' After all, Hancock was only following the orders of his superior, General Sherman. And that's what Winfield did best all his life - follow orders.

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Recommended Reading: Winfield Scott Hancock: Gettysburg Hero (Civil War Campaigns and Commanders Series) (Hardcover). Description: Perry Jamieson's Winfield Scott Hancock: Gettysburg Hero is an enjoyable edition to the Campaigns and Commanders Series, published by the McWhiney Press. Jamieson tells of Hancock's remarkable career in entertaining and exciting prose and remarks on his legacy and current reputation among historians. Although this biography would appear brief to those not acquainted with the series, it is actually one of the longest yet published. This series is meant to give a shortened yet informative account of Civil War figures and events to those not yet familiar with them. Jamieson gives an outstanding portrait of Hancock as a genuine military hero and analyzes the role he played in saving the Union. Continued below...
For those who would want to learn more, he lists several extensive and acclaimed biographies of "Hancock The Superb." The maps and biographical sketches included are a great aide to those without prior knowledge of Civil War figures. Jamieson tells not only of Hancock's role in the war (although he does, of course, focus on it) but also recounts his admirable postwar service on the frontier as well as his failed presidential campaign. Also of note is the mention of the history behind the most famous Hancock monuments and memorials, including both the statue atop Cemetery Hill and in Washington DC, as well as others. This book is an excellent introduction to one of the finest commanders in American military history. It combines solid research and storytelling in an effective manner and does justice to the man and his memory.

Recommended Reading: Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. Description: America's Civil War raged for more than four years, but it is the three days of fighting in the Pennsylvania countryside in July 1863 that continues to fascinate, appall, and inspire new generations with its unparalleled saga of sacrifice and courage. From Chancellorsville, where General Robert E. Lee launched his high-risk campaign into the North, to the Confederates' last daring and ultimately-doomed act, forever known as Pickett's Charge, the battle of Gettysburg gave the Union army a victory that turned back the boldest and perhaps greatest chance for a Southern nation. Continued below...

Now, acclaimed historian Noah Andre Trudeau brings the most up-to-date research available to a brilliant, sweeping, and comprehensive history of the battle of Gettysburg that sheds fresh light on virtually every aspect of it. Deftly balancing his own narrative style with revealing firsthand accounts, Trudeau brings this engrossing human tale to life as never before.


Recommended Reading: Commanding the Army of the Potomac (Modern War Studies) (Hardcover). Description: During the Civil War, thirty-six officers in the Army of the Potomac were assigned corps commands of up to 30,000 men. Collectively charged with leading the Union's most significant field army, these leaders proved their courage in countless battlefields from Gettysburg to Antietam to Cold Harbor. Unfortunately, courage alone was not enough. Their often dismal performances played a major role in producing this army's tragic record, one that included more defeats than victories despite its numerical and materiel superiority. Stephen Taaffe takes a close look at this command cadre, examining who was appointed to these positions, why they were appointed, and why so many of them ultimately failed to fulfill their responsibilities. Continued below...

He demonstrates that ambitious officers such as Gouverneur Warren, John Reynolds, and Winfield Scott Hancock employed all the weapons at their disposal, from personal connections to exaggerated accounts of prowess in combat, to claw their way into these important posts. Once appointed, however, Taaffe reveals that many of these officers failed to navigate the tricky and ever-changing political currents that swirled around the Army of the Potomac. As a result, only three of them managed to retain their commands for more than a year, and their machinations caused considerable turmoil in the army's high command structure. Taaffe also shows that their ability or inability to get along with generals such as George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, George Meade, and Ulysses Grant played a big role in their professional destinies. In analyzing the Army of the Potomac's corps commanders as a group, Taaffe provides a new way of detailing this army's chronic difficulties-one that, until now, has been largely neglected in the literature of the Civil War.


Recommended Reading: Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Hardcover). Description: More than forty years after its original publication, Ezra J. Warner’s Generals in Blue is now available in paperback for the first time. Warner’s classic reference work includes intriguing biographical sketches and a rare collection of photos of all 583 men who attained the rank of general in the Union Army. Here are the West Point graduates and the political appointees; the gifted, the mediocre, and the inexcusably bad; those of impeccable virtue and those who abused their position; the northern-born, the foreign-born, and the southerners who remained loyal to the Union. Continued below...

Warner’s valuable introduction discusses the criteria for appointment and compares the civilian careers of both Union and Confederate generals, revealing striking differences in the two groups. Generals in Blue is that rare book—an essential volume for scholars, a prized item for buffs, and a biographical dictionary that the casual reader will find absorbing.

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