Historical Markers
Winfield S. Hancock [Politics] Historical Marker
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Winfield S. Hancock [Politics]

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Pa. 309 S of Montgomeryville

Dedication Date:
September 11, 1947

Behind the Marker

Black and white photograph of Winfield S. Hancock.
General Winfield S. Hancock, circa 1864.
In the Gilded Age, it was hard for the Democratic Party to live down the fact that many of its members had either favored the Confederacy or sought an early, compromise peace during the Civil War. After having failed to win the presidency in 1872 and 1876, the Democrats hoped to make an issue of the widespread corruption of the Grant administration and the failed policies of Reconstruction under the Hayes administration.

In 1880 they turned, as had the GOP, to a war hero. The Republicans ran Ohio Civil War general James Garfield. Against him, the Democrats ran Pennsylvania General Winfield Scott Hancock, celebrated commander of the Army of the Potomac's Second Corps, which had held the center of the Union line at Gettysburg against Pickett's charge. Hancock lost to Garfield by only 10,000 out of more than eight million votes cast. Had Hancock carried New York, Pennsylvania would have had its second American president.
Oil on canvas of a man in uniform, three quarter length portrait.
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Winfield Scott Hancock, by James Reid Lambdin, 1880.

Raised in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Hancock attended West Point, served briefly in the Mexican War in 1848, and then in "Bleeding Kansas" during the late 1850s. Appointed a brigadier general in the Army of the Potomac at the outbreak of the Civil War, he was promoted to major general at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, then saved the union army at Chancellorsville the following year by preventing a total rout.
Campaign poster with two head shots
Winfield S. Hancock. Democratic candidate for President. William H. English....

At the Battle of Gettysburg, he held the left end of the Union line fast on the second day after General Daniel Sickles took his brigade far out on the battlefield with punishing results. Hancock's corps bore the brunt of Pickett's charge the following day, and the general was wounded, but remained on the field until the final Confederate defeat. After recuperating he returned in the spring of 1864 to command the Second Corps before his poor health disabled him once again. His friendship with Confederate general Lewis Armistead is commemorated in the film Gettysburg.

In 1868, Hancock took command of the fifth military district (Louisiana and Texas), which Congress created when it took control of Reconstruction in 1867. He served less than a year, however, before President Ulysses S. Grant recalled him for refusing to protect Republicans and African Americans against Democratic vigilantes. Grant then sent Hancock off to command military forces in the Dakotas. Hancock's policies may have infuriated Grant, but they endeared him to the Democrats, who persuaded him to run for president in 1880, despite his lack of political experience.

Hancock finished his life as commander of the Military Division of the Atlantic. He mended his fences with former President Grant, who warmly praised him in his Memoirs. Hancock, in turn, spoke well of Grant at his funeral in 1885. Like fellow Pennsylvanian marker James Beaver, Hancock was a reluctant politician. Unlike celebrated Union generals Philip Sheridan and William T. Sherman, who refused to enter the sordid political arena of the Gilded Age, he did enter one race - for the highest office in the land.

To learn more about Hancock's military career and actions at the Battle of Gettysburg markerclick here.
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