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 Virginia
July 3, 1861

Dear Jennie,

We are in Old Virginia, in the land of old Secesh. It's 11 O'clock AM we have just got our tents pitched and the boys are busy preparing their dinners, they not having had a regular meal since dinner yesterday. During the afternoon yesterday we received orders to march, no on but the colonel knew where, but it was surmised into the land of the F. F. V's. We struck our tents about 4 PM and preceded by our baggage train, some 20 government wagons, each drawn by four horses, we started. Marched through Washington, passed the White House, Old Abe sat in his carriage as we passed, and last evening 9 PM we got up where we now are, some 7 miles from Washington in the interior of Virginia. All I can say is that we are in Colonel Sherman's Brigade. When we arrived here the boys were very tired and foot sore. They all laid down on the ground, blankets around them and slept till morning. I was so unlucky as to be officer of the guard, consequently got no sleep whatever, but much hard work all night in getting the sentries stationed and relieved properly and etc. The boys begin to find that they have bargained for no practical pleasure excursion, but most of them enlisted understanding pretty well what they would have to come to I presume. Marching in the hot sun with a heavy knapsack, 40 rounds [of] cartridges and musket is no pleasure I can tell you. Our camp is pleasantly located on an elevation and near a fine spring.

This is my first letter this morning and you [illegible] I do not forget my friends. Now, I've not received a letter from you since I left Oshkosh and what is the reason? [I] have written you several times. Please let me know the reason of you not writing and if the correspondence is to be discontinued twill be something that I shall much regret, but will have to bide your decision of course.

Please direct
Lt. J. Hancock
Co. E, 2nd Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers, Washington D.C.

My Dear Jennie,

I had written the foregoing [illegible] up the letter and felt quite desponding in not having heard from you. I stepped out of my tent for something and on my return saw laying upon my camp bed your last letter. Now I feel good again. My expression is not very practical, but my mind is much relieved. I was afraid our correspondence was going to cease. I knew twas no fault of mine. Now Jennie, I want to make a request of you to always to bear in mind while I am absent. My writing to you must necessarily be somewhat irregular although I shall enhance every opportunity to write you first, but if you should not receive my lines regularly do not think it my fault. And I want to request that you write me after, if only a few words it cheers my heart to hear from you. Write me as often as once a week. Direct for the present until I give different orders to me: Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Regiment, Washington, D. C. Then I shall surely get your very kind and affectionate letters. I go to Washington tomorrow and will get the picture and send it [to] you. I was intending to have had it taken and sent it [to] you, but our [illegible] so unpractical, I had no time to do anything. I was afraid then I should not be able to have it to send you at all, but unless we get away too much tonight, I will send it [to] you tomorrow. Your picture is my companion, that sweet sad face I love to look at it. I have a part of the lock of hair in the opposite side of the [illegible] in between the [illegible] of my Bible, so you see it is in a good place. I would love dearly to see you this evening at few minutes, sit beneath the trees then and converse with you, but that is denied me. My correspondence with Miss Alicia ceased before I visited you. So that is alright now. And accept for yourself my kindest and most affectionate Love.

Good Bye,
Yours affectionately,
Lt. H.
Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID RG102.4
Object Name Letter
People Hancock, John
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Reardon, Jennie
Lincoln, Abraham
Sherman, William Tecumseh
Subjects Civil War
2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Love letters
Military camps
Camp Randall
Wagon trains
Military rations
Title Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009