Today is Facial Hair Friday, and we’re taking a look back at Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, whose statue sits across the street from the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Today’s post comes from Michael J. Hancock in the National Archives History Office.
When you think of the name Hancock, the image of an ornate signature on the Declaration of Independence probably comes to mind. As important a figure John Hancock was in our nation’s founding, there was another Hancock who was instrumental in preserving the union. His name was General Winfield Scott Hancock, and when the Federal cause was in mortal danger at Gettysburg, he answered with a critical victory over Confederate forces.
One statue of General Hancock sits in East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park. Hancock, on horseback, looks north toward the town, with his right hand extended outward, almost as if to direct his troops or order gun batteries into place. The statue marks the approximate location of Hancock’s arrival on the Gettysburg battlefield on the afternoon of July 1, 1863. And it was at this spot that Union troops were attempting to rally after being driven through the area by Confederate troops.
His statue could have been placed anywhere on the battlefield because Hancock’s presence on that day was felt all over. Officers and soldiers recounted his brave exploits and powerful countenance while rallying his troops in the face of an overwhelming barrage of Confederate guns. In an audacious move and understanding his men’s fear and trepidation, General Hancock rallied his forces by riding along his line while shells exploded around him.
Hancock was severely wounded at Gettysburg—a bullet penetrated his upper right thigh and moved upward toward his groin. Lieutenant George Benedict remarked at the sight of the bleeding Hancock: “General Stannard bent over him as we laid him upon the ground, and opened his clothing where he indicated by a movement of his hand that he was hurt, a ragged hole, an inch or more in diameter, from which the blood was pouring profusely, was disclosed.”
Hancock eventually recovered from his injuries, but the pain persisted throughout his lifetime. Despite this, he continued to have a productive career in the military and beyond. In 1880 he was nominated by the Democratic Party for President but eventually lost to another former Union general, James Garfield.
Hancock died on February 7, 1886, in Washington, DC, from diabetes and complications from the wounds he sustained at Gettysburg. His courage, dedication to his nation, and resolve in battle reflect what a truly heroic man Hancock was.
In 1889, Congress appropriated $50,000 for a statue honoring Hancock to be erected in the nation’s capital. Dedicated May 12, 1896, the bronze equestrian statue of Hancock still sits across the street from the National Archives at the intersections of Pennsylvania and Indiana Avenues and 7th Street NW.
So when you visit the National Archives or Gettysburg, think of General Winfield Scott Hancock and remember his bravery, his skill, his steely glance, and that outstanding crumb-catcher that adorned his stoic face.