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Winfield Scott Hancock

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Strong 1885 signature of “Hancock the Superb"

Winfield Scott Hancock, 1824–1886.  Major General, United States Army; 1880 Democratic presidential nominee.  Signature, Winfield S. Hancock, on a small slip of paper.

Hancock has signed this brown ink signature at the request of a collector who mounted it in an album.  The 1¼" x 3" piece is tipped to an album page.  Hancockʼs name is written on the album page beneath the signature in pencil, and an ink note farther down on the page shows that the collector received the signature July 12, 1885.

Hancock has been described as a fashion plate general in dress and a demon in battle.  One biographer wrote that he was “tall in stature, robust in figure, with movements of easy dignity,” but that on the battlefield “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."  Glenn Tucker, Hancock the Superb 246–47 (1960). 

A veteran of the Mexican War, Hancock distinguished himself in the Peninsular Campaign, where he led a critical counterattack in the Battle of Williamsburg.  Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan informed Washington that Hancock “was superb today,” and the nickname “Hancock the Superb" was born. 

But Hancock became a hero of the Civil War primarily for his service at Gettysburg, where his initial decision not to withdraw the left wing of the Union forces in the face of the Confederate advance on July 1, 1863, drew the lines for what became the best known battle of the war.  Positioned in the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge on July 2, Hancock sent his 1st Division to reinforce Union forces in the bloody Wheatfield on the left.  He also rushed units to critical spots as Confederate Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill attacked the Union center.  He essentially sacrificed the 1st Minnesota regiment, which suffered 87% casualties, by ordering it to attack an immensely larger Confederate brigade in order to buy precious time to organize the Union defensive line and ultimately save the day for the Union army.  On July 3, Hancockʼs troops bore the brunt of Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickettʼs charge against the Union center after a two-hour cannon barrage in which Hancock prominently encouraged his troops from horseback.  Hancock deflected a warning that he should not risk his life by saying that there were “times when a corps commanderʼs life does not count."  He was indeed wounded—an injury that affected him the rest of his life—when a bullet pierced his right thigh, but he refused to leave the battlefield until the fight was over.  The Union had repulsed Confederate Gen. Robert E. Leeʼs incursion into the North and stopped his effort to turn back toward Washington, D.C.

Hancock received the thanks of Congress for his "gallant, meritorious and conspicuous share in that great and decisive victory."

In his Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant had only praise for Hancock.  He wrote that Hancock 

stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate 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  man of very conspicuous personal appearance.  Tall, well-formed and . . . young and fresh-looking, he presented an appearance that would attract the attention of an army as he passed.  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. 

ʼs war hero status and his credentials as a solid Unionist but a states' rights Democrat positioned him for presidential politics.  President Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, said of him that "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."  Hancock sought but did not obtain the Democratic presidential nomination in 1876.  He was nominated in 1880, however, but narrowly lost to James A. Garfield.  Both carried 19 states, and Hancock lost the popular vote by only 1/10 of a percentage point, although he lost the electoral vote 214–155.

This signature is in fine condition.  Glue spots from where it is tipped to the album page show through only slightly, although the glue shows in places around the edge of the paper that Hancock has signed.  The background album page could be matted out if the signature were framed.  This saignature would be nice framed with a photograph of Hancock.

Unframed.    Please click here for information about custom framing this piece.


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