Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon

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Admin/Biog History John Hancock was born August 12, 1830 in Athens, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the son of Jesse H. and Louisa M. Champion Hancock. His father died in 1834 and his mother died in 1837, leaving nine orphaned children. Their uncle, Jesse Ross was appointed guardian of the six younger children, including John. Jesse Ross had been married to Elizabeth Hancock, the sister of John's father Jesse Hancock. Following the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1823, Jesse Ross was married to Charlotte Lathrop. Jesse and Elizabeth Ross had six children together prior to her death. Their youngest daughter, John Hancock's 1st cousin, was Eleanor Ross, who married Edward Lathrop Paine in 1824. Paine was an early pioneer of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and arrived in 1853. He and his sons established Paine Lumber Company.

Possibly through contact with his cousin Eleanor Ross Paine, John Hancock migrated west and settled in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1856. John worked in Oshkosh as a partner in the law firm of Richard P. Eighme, William R. Kennedy & John Hancock. He was listed in the 1860 US Census as residing in the city of Oshkosh. At that time he was boarding with the Charles Nevitt family. Nevitt owned and edited the Northwestern at that time. Another boarder in the house was Homer Chandler, a music teacher. Chandler would become a close friend and later served as the Band Leader in the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Nevitt would also serve the Union cause when he sold his interests in the newspaper and recruited Company E, 5th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (reorganized) in 1864.

John enlisted at Oshkosh in Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on April 21, 1861. This was the first company raised in Oshkosh to serve during the Civil War. He was commissioned as 1st Lieutenant in that company on April 23. John began a faithful correspondence shortly after his enlistment with his sweetheart back in Oshkosh, Jennie Reardon. John served with Company E during the Battle of Bull Run, Virginia on July 20, 1861.

One of the ironies of the American Civil War was that it literally pitted brother against brother. This was the case in the Hancock family. John Hancock's older brother, Henry C. Hancock, had migrated to Nacogdoches, Texas prior to 1857, where he was a well established lawyer. He enlisted in 1862 as a private in Company A, 17th Texas Cavalry (Moore's Cavalry) and rose to the rank of Captain. He may have also served as an officer in a militia company known as Arnold's Company, Texas Riflemen.

John Hancock was commissioned as Major in the new 14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on October 3, 1861. This regiment was formed at Camp Wood in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Before the regiment left Wisconsin on March 8, 1862, John was married at St. Peter's Catholic Church on February 12, 1862 to his sweetheart Jennie Reardon. John and Jennie Hancock would have five children together, four of whom survived to adulthood.

Jennie Reardon was born in Ireland in 1840, the daughter of Sarah C. Dwyer and Michael H. Reardon. The Reardon family first immigrated to England, where their daughter Sarah was born in 1845. They were living in Wisconsin in 1847 when their youngest daughter Gertrude was born. Michael is listed in the 1850 US Census as a merchant in the Town of Winnebago (Oshkosh was not incorporated as a city until 1853). Michael is also listed in the 1855 Wisconsin State Census as living in the 1st Ward, City of Oshkosh. He was listed in the 1857 Oshkosh City Directory as a merchant on Ferry Street (Main Street). Jennie's brother, Henry Reardon is listed as a grain dealer in 1857. He went to New York City and enlisted in Company I, 69th New York Volunteer Infantry on September 16, 1864. Perhaps it was his Irish birth that prompted him to enlist in this famous Irish-American regiment, which was part of the Irish Brigade.

John Hancock was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 14th Wisconsin on April 7, 1862 and Colonel on June 17, 1862. He led the regiment at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee and at the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi. He resigned his commission on January 23, 1863 due to physical disability.

During his Civil War service, Hancock wrote home to Jennie once a week and sometimes more. She carefully saved and preserved every letter and tied them into bundles with scraps of fabric. The entire collection of one hundred-forty letters was then placed in a tin document box.

John returned to Oshkosh and his law practice in 1863. He was listed in 1868 as a partner in the law firm of Freeman & Hancock and was residing at 100 Washington Street in Oshkosh. He sold his property and removed to the state of Oregon in 1870 but not liking that country, he soon returned to Oshkosh. John was then elected as a Justice of the Peace. He removed to a cranberry farm near City Point, Jackson County, Wisconsin in 1884. John was still listed as a member of Grand Army of the Republic Post #10 at Oshkosh in 1888. He was also active with the 14th Wisconsin Association and participated in many reunions. John Hancock died on April 9, 1894 at City Point. He was survived by his widow and four children: John Hancock, Jr.; Maude Hancock Reif; Francis Lee Hancock; and Louise Hancock Cleveland. He is buried in the Old Catholic Section at Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh. His wife Jennie died on November 24, 1911, and is buried at the City Point Cemetery in Jackson County.
Classification Archives
Collection John Hancock
Abstract Camp Randall,
Madison, Wis. May 19, 1861

My Dear Jennie,

Your kind and affectionate letter reached me in due time. I looked quite anxious for it several days before it reached me and I was beginning to doubt whether you received mine or not. But when yours reached me all doubts were dispelled. I was very glad you came into the grove that morning. I wished to see you and Lizzie , bless the girl, there was nothing that overcame me more that morning than our shaking hands at the depot, by a rigid effort I had up to that time powered my equilibrium, then I confess tears came into my eyes and I could not suppose then, but that event has lapsed and I hope never to be another such. I would prefer to bid my intimate friends and associates farewell privately than take my leave. Well Jennie, you seem to oppose my three years enlistment. I am sorry I am unable to comply with your wishes. If any consideration in the world would influence me to return, would be the friends and associates I have left behind, having mingled considerably in society. I of course miss my associates very much and sometimes when alone thinking of you I wish for wings to pay you a flying visit. Yes, I have enlisted for three years, but you must not judge from that that we shall not see each other during that time. That is barely possible and not by any means probable. If we remain here any great length of time I may visit you before I leave the state However that is somewhat uncertain. Captain Bouck is now home recruiting. If you see him you can form something of an idea how we all look. Although the Captain has the advantage of us as he is styled the Black Hawk of the camp. Some 23 of our boys refused to go for three years. Some few of them I suppose have good reasons and some of them have not. But we commend to the care, the tender care, of the ladies and hope to find them all in good health when we return. I will need my ____ when I get my uniform in full. I get the "Northwestern" and the "Courier" that comes to some of the boys. John S. he's around and with us again. This morning two or three of the boys are ____ from the storm last night, which was the hardest night we have had in camp. It commenced raining at 11 PM and continued hard till daylight. The barracks leaked very bad. We had the roof fixed very well, but the Madison people tore off the boards we put on and tried to plaster the roof and now its worse than ever. Fair days, the ladies come down to see us drill. I've not seen many fair ones yet. Today, Sunday, the boys are all writing letters. Sprague sit near me with a board on his lap writing. He says, and showed me, a paragraph in a letter he received from _____ that the report was that he and my friend Hettie were engaged to be married. That Hettie carried the idea to some ladies in conversation. He now is writing to contradict it. Potter is in the next room singing, "O Boys carry me long, Carry me till I die". My business today is "superintending" the boys, that they get their bunks and blankets dry, so as they can have dry berths tonight. The Colonel was around this morning, mad and swearing that things should be put in shape. I think [the letter ends at the bottom of the page and the next sheet is missing].

[Lizzie is possibly Jennie Reardon Hancock's sister, Elizabeth Reardon. Elizabeth was born in Ireland about 1844 and is listed as age sixteen in the 1860 US Census.
Gabriel Bouck was an Oshkosh attorney. He raised Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry in April 21, 1861 in Oshkosh. He resigned on April 29, 1862 to accept a commission as Colonel of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry. He resigned on January 4, 1864
John J. Sprague enlisted from Oshkosh in Company E on April 21 with the rank of sergeant. He was discharged for disability on August 19, 1861.
John Sprague was married in Winnebago County on October 11, 1864 to Hettie Maria Jenkins.
Erwin W. Potter enlisted in Company E from Oshkosh on April 21, 1861 as a corporal. While stationed at Chain Bridge, the regiment was visited by General McClellan, Secretary Cameron, and Governor and Mrs. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Erwin was acquainted with Mrs. Curtin and, as her carriage stopped, he made his way through the crowd and approached her. He requested her assistance in receiving a commission in the Regular Army. As a favor to her, General McClellan made arrangements and, on September 16, 1861, Erwin was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the in the 15th United States Infantry.
S. Park Coon of Milwaukee was made colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry on April 24, 1861. He resigned on July 31. In the memoirs of William T. Sherman, the general wrote that, "The actual colonel was S. P. Coon, a good-hearted gentleman, who knew no more of the military art than a child; whereas his lieutenant-colonel, Peck, had been to West Point, and knew the drill. Preferring that the latter should remain in command of the regiment, I put Colonel Coon on my personal staff, which reconciled the difficulty.]
Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID RG102.1
Object Name Letter
People Hancock, John
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Reardon, Jennie
Reardon, Elizabeth
Bouck, Gabriel
Sprague, John J.
Jenkins, Hettie Maria
Potter, Erwin
Coon, S. Park
Subjects Civil War
2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Love letters
Military enlistment
Military camps
Camp Randall
Title Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009