Hancock the Superb: Montgomery Township Native Son

You’ve no doubt seen the historical marker pictured by the northbound side of 309 in front of the AT&T Store. But did you know that Winfield Scott Hancock — born in Montgomery Township on Feb. 14, 1824 — was not only a famous Civil War general but also a candidate for president of the United States?

Hancock was named after Winfield Scott, a prominent general in the War of 1812. Hancock’s father was a teacher whose school is currently occupied by the Buckman’s Ski Shop near the AT&T Store.

Hancock was educated at Norristown Academy, then West Point. He first saw action during the Mexican American War from 1846-1848, but he is most well known for his service in the Civil War. After leading a critical counterattack during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, General George B. McClellan wrote in a telegraph to his colleagues, “Hancock was superb today.” From then on, he was known to his peers as Hancock the Superb.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, General Hancock’s II Corp was positioned on Cemetary Ridge in the middle of the Union line. He maintained the Union line against repeated Confederate charges on July 2, 1863. On July 3, his corp took the brunt of Pickett’s charge, during which he was injured but refused to be evacuated to the rear until the battle was decided. During the infantry assault of Pickett’s famous charge, his old friend Lewis A. Armistead, who had become a confederate general, was mortally wounded, an incident dramatically reenacted in The Killer Angels, a book that was adapted into the movie Gettysburg in 1993.

After recovering from his wound, General Hancock continued to serve with distinction in Grant’s Overland campaign that ended the Civil War. He fought in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse and Cold Harbor.

Following the war, Hancock was assigned to supervise the executions of the Lincoln assassination conspirators.

In 1880, he ran for president as the Democratic nominee, but lost to James A. Garfield.

Hancock had diabetes; he died in 1886 of complications from an infection and was buried in Montgomery Cemetery, in Montgomery County near Norristown. He is memorialized by, among other things, equestrian statues on the Gettysburg Battlefield and in Washington, D.C. as well as a bronze bust in Hancock Square in New York City. His portrait was even on the $2 silver certificate series of 1886.

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