Winfield Scott Hancock: From Soldier to Politician

From July 1st to 3rd, 1863, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. At the end of the third day, Union men rejoiced as they prevented Confederate troops from attacking further north. Unfortunately, more c…

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From July 1st to 3rd, 1863, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. At the end of the third day, Union men rejoiced as they prevented Confederate troops from attacking further north. Unfortunately, more causalities were incurred in this battle than any other Civil War battle. Nevertheless, Union soldiers displayed heroism on the battlefield, risking their lives to hopefully preserve the United States. Among the thousands of brave Union soldiers that July, one in particular stands out – Major Union General Winfield Scott Hancock.
The lithograph above shows Winfield Scott Hancock and his staff on their horses overseeing the fighting of the battle. While the lithograph does not indicate which day of the battle is depicted it is likely the third day of battle. The lithograph shows only the Union side of the battlefield. While Hancock and his staff are sitting on their horses, the Union soldiers are on the attack, charging toward Confederate soldiers. What was the purpose of this lithograph? Why did the artists decide to focus on Hancock?

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While Winfield Scott’s Hancock’s name is not as well known today as those of Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, or Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, he was once considered one the greatest heroes of the Civil War. Hancock played a pivotal role in the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 1st, he took command of the First, Third, and Eleventh corps due the death of General John F. Reynolds. After a brief dispute with Oliver Otis Howard (accounts of which remain controversial), Hancock dispatched troops to occupy nearby Culp’s Hill, and oversaw the placement of infantry and artillery in position on Cemetery Hill with the assistance of Howard and other officers. When Major General Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps arrived, he recommended it take position near Round Top and Little Round Top. After conferring with Union commander George Meade, he ordered Brigadier John Gibbon to halt the Second Corps and post it west of the Taneytown Road near Round Top. On July 2nd, after committing a portion of his corps to stem the Confederate tide in the Wheatfield, he ordered the famous charge of the 1st Minnesota against Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama brigade. Later, sensing danger on Cemetery Hill, he ordered Gibbon to send Colonel Samuel Sprigg Carroll’s brigade to reinforce the Union position and throw back the enemy. On July 3rd, during the Confederate advancement of Pickett’s Charge, Hancock added more regiments to support Brigadier General Webb’s men and ordered the 3rd Brigade of the First Corps to attack the right flank of Pickett’s men. A bullet that struck Hancock in his upper right thigh forced him from the battlefield. As Hancock wanted to stay with comrades, he did not see the final collapse of Pickett’s Charge; even while he was being carried from the field he urged Union commander George Meade to launch a counterattack.

Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison designed this lithograph. The two lithographers met in Chicago in 1878 when Kurz moved back from Milwaukee after the Great Fire demolished the Chicago Lithography Company in 1871. Kurz was known for his drawings and one source states that he was asked by Abraham Lincoln to make battlefield and camp-life sketches during the Civil War. Little is known about Alexander Allison; he first appears in the Chicago City Directory as an engraver in 1879.

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Kurz and Allison formed a partnership and founded a firm in 1880. Kurz produced the artwork, and while Allison performed the lithographic process. Although Kurz was also listed as a lithographer, it was Allison who completed the transfer of the images into stones for all the lithographs. Though famous for their thirty-six chromolithographs of Civil War battle such as Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg (see above), Kurz and Allison completed other lithographs, such as that of the battle for Fort Wagner, not exclusively of the war in Virginia.

In 1880, following twelve years in which the White House was occupied by a Republican president who had once been a Union general, the Democratic Party nominated Winfield Scott Hancock for the presidency. This lithograph, probably from the late 1870s, was likely created to further a Hancock candidacy by reminding viewers of his vital role at the Battle of Gettysburg. Ultimately, Hancock lost the presidential election to James Garfield, another Union general of the Civil War. Hancock did receive most of electoral votes from former Confederate and Border States. And while the print portrayed a heroic general in a great Union victory – for Kurz wanted to convey a message that would appeal to a Northern audience – it did not help Hancock to receive enough electoral votes from Northern states. Nevertheless, Kurz and Allison portrayed a man who did so much during the battle.

Were these lithographs accurate and well depicted? Both lithographs show regiments moving evenly in line, with identical uniforms and battle gear, flags in the front. In reality, uniforms varied, equipment was often discarded as a battle approached its fury, and troops seldom maintained rigid ranks. Kurz & Allison did not use any Civil War photographs to create the accurate details of their lithographs. They wanted nothing to do with ill-fitting uniforms, slouching posture, imperfect and unmatched equipment, ordinary-looking men with jug ears and big Adam’s Apples and crossed eyes; they wanted to create an illusion that war was romantic, and that glory was to be found on the battlefield. Kurz & Allison used the panoramic point of view in their prints because of the popularity of cycloramas and Kurz’s experience as a scene painter for the stage. The prints depict the action from the point of view of the generals, behind the lines, as though the whole battle lay before the viewer. The lithograph of Hancock at Gettysbrug showed only the Union side of battlefield, but it still depicted the general and his staff riding toward the fight, leading more troops to the point of danger.

The student of the battle will find some interesting features when exploring Cemetery Ridge. A small monument marks at the spot where Hancock was wounded; it sits on a small plateau. The lithograph does show that slight plateau, but it also depicts a larger plateau. The lithograph shows the soldiers fighting behind a stone and wooden wall. This wall does not appear in the lithograph. However, during the battle, most Union infantry and artillery would be in front of Hancock and his staff, so perhaps the wall sits outside the perspective of the viewer. The lithograph depicts terrain features that are consistent with the terrain seen on the third day’s battlefield today. While Kurz & Allison did not use any photographs in painting their scene, the lithograph depicts Hancock with great accuracy and the landscape in a recognizable manner.

Winfield Scott Hancock contributed much to the Union victory at Gettysburg; his contributions were recognized in artwork (including his monument on the battlefield) and his 1880 nomination for the presidency. Yet while all Americans once recognized him as a great hero, he is now largely remembered only by students of the Civil War.


The detailed actions of Winfield Scott Hancock in Gettysburg are in Military Heritage: Volume 5, on pages 40-49, with the article entitled “Hancock the Superb,” written by John Deppen.

To see most of 36 color lithographs from Kurz & Allison, visit http://ghead.awardspace.com/kurz/.

These two lithographs are courtesy of Civil War Special Collections in Musselman Library at Gettysburg College.

The picture of Winfield Scott Hancock is from http://www.civilwarhome.com/images/Hancock2.jpg

 

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