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Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock
Commander, Second Corps
Army of the Potomac
Gettysburg, July 1863

Winfield Scott Hancock (February 14, 1824 - February 9, 1886) was a career U.S. Army officer and the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. He served with distinction in the Army for four decades, including service in the Mexican-American War and as a Union general in the American Civil War. Known to his Army colleagues as "Hancock the Superb," he was noted in particular for his personal leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. One military historian wrote, "No other Union general at Gettysburg dominated men by the sheer force of their presence more completely than Hancock."As another wrote, "his tactical skill had won him the quick admiration of adversaries who had come to know him as the 'Thunderbolt of the Army of the Potomac.'" His military service continued after the Civil War, as Hancock participated in the military Reconstruction of the South and the Army's presence at the Western frontier.

After the Civil War, Hancock's reputation as a soldier and his dedication to conservative constitutional principles made him a quadrennial Presidential possibility. His noted integrity was a counterpoint to the corruption of the era, for as President Rutherford B. Hayes said, "if, 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.".
This nationwide popularity led the Democrats to nominate him for President in 1880. Although he ran a strong campaign, Hancock was defeated by Republican James Garfield by the closest popular vote margin in American history.

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Details of his exploits at Gettysburg

Hancock's most famous service was as a new corps commander at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 to July 3, 1863. After his friend, Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, was killed early on July 1, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, sent Hancock ahead to take command of the units on the field and assess the situation. Hancock thus was in temporary command of the "left wing" of the army, consisting of the I, II, III, and XI Corps. This demonstrated Meade's high confidence in him, because Hancock was not the most senior Union officer at Gettysburg at the time. Hancock and the more senior XI Corps commander. Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, argued briefly about this command arrangement, but Hancock prevailed and he organized the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill as more numerous Confederate forces drove the I and XI Corps back through the town. He had the authority from Meade to withdraw the forces, so he was responsible for the decision to stand and fight at Gettysburg. Meade arrived after midnight and overall command reverted to him.

On July 2, Hancock's II Corps was positioned on Cemetery Ridge, roughly in the center of the Union line, while Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched assaults on both ends of the line. On the Union left, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's assault smashed the III Corps and Hancock sent in his 1st Division, under Brig. Gen. John C. Caldwell, to reinforce the Union in the Wheatfield. As Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill's corps continued the attack toward the Union center, Hancock rallied the defenses and rushed units to the critical spots. In one famous incident, he sacrificed a regiment, the 1st Minnesota, by ordering it to advance and attack a Confederate brigade four times its size, causing it to suffer 87% casualties. While costly to the regiment, this heroic sacrifice bought time to organize the defensive line and saved the day for the Union army.

On July 3, Hancock continued in his position on Cemetery Ridge and thus bore the brunt of Pickett's Charge. During the massive Confederate artillery bombardment that preceded the infantry assault, Hancock was prominent on horseback in reviewing and encouraging his troops. When one of his subordinates protested, "General, the corps commander ought not to risk his life that way," Hancock is said to have replied, "There are times when a corps commander's life does not count." During the infantry assault, his old friend, now Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, leading a brigade in Maj. Gen. George Pickett's division, was wounded and died two days later. Hancock could not meet with his friend because he had just been wounded himself, a severe injury caused by a bullet striking the pommel of his saddle, entering his inner right thigh along with wood fragments and a large bent nail. Helped from his horse by aides, and with a tourniquet applied to stanch the bleeding, he removed the saddle nail himself and, mistaking its source, remarked wryly, "They must be hard up for ammunition when they throw such shot as that." News of Armistead's mortal wounding was brought to Hancock by a member of his staff, Captain Henry H. Bingham. Despite his pain, Hancock refused evacuation to the rear until the battle was resolved. He had been an inspiration for his troops throughout the three-day battle. Hancock later received the Thanks of the U.S. Congress for "... his gallant, meritorious and conspicuous share in that great and decisive victory."
 
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