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service in the East, being first sent to Kentucky and afterwards being made brigadier-general of volunteers at McClellan's request, organizing a brigade at Lewinsville, Virginia. He aided McClellan in training the army of the Potomac, and in the advance to the Peninsula his brigade was conceded to be the finest and best drilled in the whole army.
On May 5, 1862, after the retreat of the Confederate defenders from Yorktown and their stand at Williamsburg, Hancock and Hooker were the principal leaders in the assault, Hooker fighting almost without aid for nine hours on the left, while Hancock was sent to the right to keep the Confederates in check in that direction and to flank their works if possible.
He had been sent at an early hour, with twenty-five hundred men, to seize an unoccupied redoubt. This he took without opposition and then advanced to another, twelve hundred yards in front of it. With his guns he now drove the defenders from two occupied redoubts still farther in front. General Johnston, in command of the Confederate army, had not known of the existence of the redoubts taken by Hancock. They were on the flank and rear of his line, and as soon as he learned of their occupation he sent General Early with a strong body of infantry to drive out the Federal troops.
Hancock meanwhile had earnestly demanded reinforcements, but, like Hooker, he was left to shift for himself. He was soon ordered to abandon the advance redoubt and fall back to his first position, but this he was loath to do, for he was soldier enough to know the advantage he had gained. But when, about five o'clock, he saw the two redoubts from which he had driven the defenders reoccupied by Confederate soldiers and a force moving on his front with the war-cry of “ Bull Run!" he retired, fighting as he went, and taking post beyond the crest of a ridge in the rear, where he awaited Early's approach.
Forming in line of battle, the troops rested impatiently until Early was within thirty paces, when Hancock gave the word to rout them with a bayonet charge, saying, “Now, gentlemen, we'll give them the bayonet." Instantly they sprang over the ridge and rushed with loud shouts upon the enemy, who quickly broke and fled before the spirited charge, losing over five hundred of their men. Hancock held his post without further trouble until reinforcements reached him. That post was the key of the position and Johnston did not dare remain with his flank so seriously threatened. During the night Williamsburg was evacuated. The army of the Potomac had won its first victory, Hooker and Hancock had done the work, and McClellan complimented the latter with his high words of praise, “ Hancock was superb.”
In the battles around Richmond that followed Hancock rendered valuable service, especially at Frazier's Farm, and was active during the Maryland campaign, taking command of the division of General Richardson on the death of the latter at Antietam. He was promoted major-general of volunteers November 29, 1862, and took a prominent part in the attack on Fredericksburg in the following month.
In this sanguinary battle Hancock was posted in front of Lee's strongest point of defence, Marye's Hill, at the foot of which, behind a stone wall, Longstreet was posted, with heavy reserves in his rear. The first attack on this formidable line was made by General French, whose troops were met with such a torrent of shot that they staggered back in dismay, nearly half of them being left on the field. Hancock, who was close behind, now pressed forward into that death-dealing tempest, his brigades fighting gallantly, especially the Irish regiments of Meagher, who dashed time after time against the fatal stone wall without a man being able to cross it. Fifteen minutes of this terrible work sufficed, and Hancock's men followed those of French in retreat. In this brief quarter of an hour, of his five thousand six hundred men more than two thousand had fallen. Other divisions came to the aid of French and Hancock, but all in vain, and in the end Hooker sent Humphreys in a bayonet charge against the same fatal point, only to have nearly half of them stretched dead or wounded on the field.
Hancock next came into action at Chancellorsville, May 4, 1863, where he sustained his well-earned reputation, being the last to yield before the furious assault upon the Chancellor House, the central point of the battle. Only after the Federal lines were giving way on both sides did Hancock yield and gradually retire, his men fighting gallantly at every step. The struggle had lasted six hours before the Confederates at length got possession of the Chancellor House, and not until their artillery had beaten the once fair mansion into a ghastly ruin.
Hancock was soon after put in command of the second corps, and at Gettysburg, after the death of General Reynolds, was sent by Meade in haste to take command. He was given power to offer battle where the advance of the army then was or to retreat to the line of Pipe Creek, which Meade had selected as an excellent point at which to make a stand. He reached Gettysburg just as the beaten forces were hurrying back towards Cemetery Ridge, which General Howard had selected as a good line of defence. Hancock agreed with him, checked the retreat and seized Culp's Hill and Round Top as advantageous points, sending Meade word of what he had done. A new battle-line was quickly formed along the ridge between those two elevated points, and Hancock turned over the command to General Slocum, on his arrival with his corps. He met his own corps coming up, on his way back to report to General Meade.
In the third day's fight, July 3, Hancock's corps, forming the left centre of Meade's army, sustained the terrible cannonade from Lee's artillery which preceded Pickett's famous charge. Hancock's brigades had been so severely punished that not more than six thousand men remained when Pickett's powerful column moved upon them. Yet shot and shell from his batteries tore lanes of death in Pickett's ranks and musketry mowed them down as they came nearer, until a mere handful of them was able to mount the slope and plant their flag on the stone wall of defence. It was a last effort of courage, and those who remained alive were quickly forced to surrender. Three-fourths of the charging column were dead or captives. Hancock himself received a severe wound which disabled him from service in the field for several months.
Despite his wound, and while lying on a stretcher, he sent word to Meade that the Confederate army was in retreat. Meade returned him his grateful thanks and Congress also voted him thanks, while his service in repelling Pickett's charge won him the complimentary title of “The Hero of Gettysburg."
He was back in the army in time for Grant's great advance and took an active part in the battle of the Wilderness, but it was at Spottsylvania, on May 12, that his most conspicuous service was rendered. The armies had fought fiercely all day of the roth, and rested on the rith, making busy preparations for the next day's struggle. Grant had determined to deliver his blow on Lee's right centre, and Hancock was chosen for the work. At midnight he left his position in front of Hill's corps and moved silently to the left, guided by the compass only; then in two lines, under cover of a dense fog, he glided swiftly and noiselessly forward, over broken and wooded ground, towards the salient of an earthwork occupied by Johnston's division of Ewell's corps.
Johnston's men were at breakfast, not dreaming of an assault, when they were startled by cheers of triumph, and the next moment a host of armed men came clambering over their works and rushing upon them with bayonets and clubbed muskets. Resistance was useless, and almost in less time than it takes to tell it the entire division was captured and with it the two brigades of General G. H. Stewart. Hancock sent back three thousand prisoners to Grant, with a pencilled note briefly saying: “I have captured from thirty to forty guns. I have finished up Johnston and am going into Early."
Going into Early” did not prove so easy. The disaster had roused the entire Confederate army and Lee was making strenuous efforts to prevent further loss. Hancock's men, filled with enthusiasm, could not be restrained. They followed the fleeing Confederates for a mile through the woods, but here found themselves before a second line of breastworks, behind which the fugitives rallied and turned upon them. Other troops were hurried up, and the victors were