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 Peck Arlington Heights, Va
July 8, 1861

Dear Jennie,

Monday morning and writing a letter to my friend J. Well, I suppose you have no particular objections to it, unless in this; that my letters come so thick and fast that it occupies all of your time to read them. That must account for your having weak eyes. Now is that the case? If it is I will not trouble you quite as often, but there were some things in your last that I overlooked and my captain today is in Washington and will not bother me about writing so many letters. We are here yet. Regiments are coming in all the time and there is no doubt but we shall move soon. Wednesday we were reviewed by Major General McDowell. He looks like a lager beer Dutchman. That letter which you refer to is speaking of your friend is among mine somewhere. I will destroy it or return it to you, will burn it. You never need have any fears that anything you say to me is going to be repeated to any living person, unless particularly [illegible] by you.

I spent the 4th in Washington on business for the company. Twas no holiday for me I can assure you, I had too much business to attend to. Yes, I very well remember how we passed the 4th one year ago. How things are changed, and particularly in respect to our individual selves. We were then strangers, or nearly so, not so much now however.

I spoke in my last about the photograph. They are not finished yet and will not be until tomorrow. Now what I am afraid of is that we may march before I get them, then may not be in condition to get them or send them to you. Yesterday Rixford and Townsend were here. I gave Mr. Rixford instructions what to do with the pictures. I get three, one to be given to you, one to my sister Mrs. Clark, one to my sister Mrs. A. P. Stevens in Athens, Bradford County, Pennsylvania . So you see my friend as you term does not get one, neither does the poetess. Ah Miss Jennie, if I was with you I would have a good laugh on your friendship out I had been corresponding with the poetess, but will twill not do on paper. Levity on paper is often misconstrued. I fear to meddle with it.

A long train of government wagons are now passing our camp returning to Washington. They have just moved a regiment in advance of us. Staff, field, and cavalry officers are continually going by at full speed, both ways. Mr. Rixford gets my pictures if I move from here before they are finished. He will see that you get one. That way the best I could do to make a sure thing of you getting one. I have been afraid you would begin to think I was forgetting it, and I would not have you think so, for you were so very kind to give me yours which I think so much of.

The other day J. Sprague saw the locket hanging from my watch and wanted to see who it was. I told him twas my sister, did not show it [to] him, for then there would be trouble you know.

Here I have filled this sheet already but shall probably not write you again under a week. Chandler hears from Camie, she sends her respects to me . If you see her you may remember me to her. I received two letters from you last week. That was good. Let me hear from you very often.

Remember me to your family,
Good Bye Jennie for present,
Lt. H.

[Major General Irvin McDowell was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on May 14, 1861, and given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia.
John's youngest sister, Mary Hancock, was married to Lauren Norris Clark Clark. She was living in Troy, Bradford County, Pennsylvania with her two sons and a daughter in 1860. John's oldest sister, Violetta Hancock was married to Almon P. Stevens. They are listed as residing in Athens, Bradford County, Pennsylvania in the 1850 and 1860 US Census.
Probably Sergeant John J. Sprague, who was discharged for disability on August 19, 1861.
Homer S. Chandler enlisted at Oshkosh on June 11, 1861 and was promoted to Band Master. He was discharged along with the other band members on October 11, 1861. He married Caroline "Cami" Weed in Oshkosh on February 6, 1863. Caroline "Cami" Weed was born about 1834 in New York, the daughter of Alfred, Sr. and Rolina Weed.]
Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID RG102.5
Object Name Letter
People Hancock, John
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Reardon, Jennie
McDowell, Irvin
Stevens, Violetta Hancock
Hancock, Violetta
Sprague, John J.
Chandler, Homer S.
Chandler, Cami Weed
Weed, Caroline "Cami"
Subjects Civil War
2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Love letters
Military camps
Wagon trains
Title Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009