As a part of my polytheistic practice, I venerate the Dead and Heroes. Winfield Scott Hancock (US 1824-1886) is one of these Heroes. I first became aware of him years ago as I traveled around Civil War battlefields. He had fought in all of the campaigns starting with Williamsburg (VA) in May 1862. At Gettysburg, I saw his statue on Cemetery Ridge, which marked his heroism of that three day battle in July 1863.
During the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 -3), Hancock was in command of the Second Corps. On the first day of the battle, he organized the Union forces on Cemetery Hill, which was the high ground. His decision to “stand and fight” was supported by General George Meade, the Commander of the Army of the Potomac (Union).
On the last day of the battle, General Robert E. Lee (Confederate) decided to take Cemetery Ridge. First, he had his artillery bombard the Union troops concentrated there. During this horrific bombardment, Hancock rode in front of the Union line with a corpsman carrying the flag. A prominent target, Hancock calmly reassured his troops. When asked to go to safety, he replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life doesn’t count.”
After the bombardment, Lee sent General George Pickett and his corps to assault and overrun the Union forces. (This is known as Pickett’s Charge.) Hancock commanded the fight to repel the Confederate forces. Still on horseback, he was shot in the thigh. Hancock refused to leave the field until the battle was over. It was said that everyone in the Second Corps knew that “his general was behind him in the storm.”
When I visited his grave in Norristown, Pennsylvania, I was aghast at how much disrepair his mausoleum was in. Fallen bricks were laying everywhere. There was a hole that was large enough for someone to reach inside. To rectify this awfulness, The W.S. Hancock Restoration Fund asked for help. I generously gave, and was gratified to see some years later that the mausoleum was restored and protected from vandals.
After the first visit to his grave, I started to venerate General Hancock. My experience at the mausoleum left me upset, and I felt the need to honor this quietly heroic man. I have a formal veneration for him every July and also Memorial Day in May.
I am writing about General Hancock now because I was finally able to return to Gettysburg last week. I could not travel long distances (beyond 15 miles). But as a goal, I worked on that. I finally accomplished it, and was grateful to see again Hancock’s statue on Cemetery Ridge.
Image from Gettysburg: Stone Sentinels. Read more about the battle and Hancock’s other statues at this site.