THE CIVIL WAR
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 Arlington Heights [Virginia]
July 29, 1861

Dear Jennie,

I hardly feel like writing a line today although I begin to feel some better. Not that I have been down sick, but almost discouraged and worn out. Our march through Virginia, short rations, and the two battles we were in Thursday and Sunday, the retreat march of 30 miles about discouraged me, that part of me not discouraged is about worn out. Now to tell the truth, soldiering is not the nicest business that ever was, especially the way things seem to be managed here. Political Generals, leading us up before masked batteries is anything but fun. You have of course before this heard the particulars of the Battle of Sunday the 21st instant. The accounts you get are quite incorrect as many of them are individual experiences from someone that thinks they have achieved more heroic deeds and are anxious to blow their own trumpet. I do not know what the official description of the battle will be, but if it is correct, some of these Titanic heroes will dwindle away wonderfully. But you can rest assured it was a hard contested battle. The boys all fought well, remarkably well considering some of the [illegible]. And although [Jefferson] Davis won the day and our army was routed, [Pierre] Beauregard or Davis neither need attribute to themselves the praise for doing it. Twas not of confidence in leaders, and something else.

That defeat is a terrible disaster to us and God only knows now where and when this thing will end.

I wrote one letter to you soon after we got back, twas so discouraging I did not send it. This is plenty enough so.

Let me hear from you. The retreat cost Captain [Bouck] and I all our store clothes, trunks, baggage, and all the fixings are gone. I have only two shirts and my gray suit left. Such is war.

Yours truly,
Lt. H.

It's 4 PM. Your letter just this minute reached me. Thank you. Now you must stop all this anxiety and worrying. You certainly must, will you not! [illegible] never answer. As Lizzie says, you will worry yourself to death.

Write

H.

Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID RG102.11
Object Name Letter
People Hancock, John
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Reardon, Jennie
Reardon, Elizabeth
Bouck, Gabriel
Davis, Jefferson
Beauregard, Pierre Gustave Toutant
Subjects Civil War
Soldiers
Officers
2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Love letters
Marching
Battlefields
Generals
Mental health
Title Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009