Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon

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Record 290/294
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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 Pittsburg [Landing, Tennessee] Apr. 11, 1862

Darling Wife,

Two of our companies go to Cairo with prisoners. I send you this by the Captain to be mailed at C[airo]. [I] think you will get it sooner than any other way. My health is good considering what I have had to stand. I had three letters from you this AM and will answer them in full as soon as I get a tent to write in. Let Henry see to the matter with Hay. Mr. Viall, I did not write to him to do anything, but simply said he need not worry about his pay. I'll write you a full detailed account of the Great Battle [Pittsburg Landing or Shiloh] as soon as I can get time for, for you to keep for me. I wish you would mail to me the official account of this fight as soon as it's given in the newspapers. Keep papers for me also that give the account. We acted under General [William Sooy] Smith, not Paducah Smith, then you will probably see notice of our regiment. I am well satisfied with the conduct of the 14th [Wisconsin Infantry] for its first time in action. I was mounted all day and was the only field officer of our regiment that was [there] all day. The Colonel did very well. I had command of the regiment all afternoon. Colonel [David E. Wood]'s horse fell and he bruised his leg he says, but all right. This is private: if [Governor] Harvey does not promote me to lieutenant colonel I shall resign. I was not touched or harmed at all, miraculously I think, considering where I was that day and exposed as I was, but I did not act rash and will not.

Love to all,
Your husband,

[Major General Charles Ferguson Smith was nicknamed "Paducah Smith" after he captured Paducah, Kentucky on September 6, 1861. He was severely ill at the time of the battle and did not command his division. The 14th Wisconsin Infantry had not been assigned to a brigade or a division at the time of the Battle of Pittsburg Landing or Battle of Shiloh, but were a part of General U. S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee. When they arrived on the battlefield, they were temporarily assigned to the 14th Brigade, General Thomas L. Crittenden's 5th Division, Army of the Ohio. Their brigade was commanded by Colonel William Sooy Smith of the 13th Ohio Infantry. Smith would be promoted to brigadier general for his gallantry at Shiloh. The other two regiments in the brigade were the 11th and 26th Kentucky Infantry Regiments. Quiner, pp. 599-600.
Colonel David E. Wood was riding to the rear to urge a Kentucky regiment forward when his horse fell, injuring Wood's leg. Lieutenant Colonel Isaac E. Messmore was not present during the battle, which left Major John Hancock in command. Quiner, pp. 599-600.]
Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID RG102.53
Object Name Letter
People Hancock, John
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Reardon, Jennie
Reardon, Henry
Viall, Edgar W., Sr.
Smith, William Sooy
Smith, Charles Ferguson
Wood, David E.
Harvey, Louis Powell
Hay, Samuel M.
Subjects Civil War
Love letters
Military officers
Prisoners of war
Battle of Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing
Horseback riding
Campaigns & battles
14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Title Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009