||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.
||Corinth, Mississippi October 12, 1862
My Darling Wife,
Let us return thanks to our God, my dear wife, that I am again able to write you and in my good health only nearly worn out by the last twelve days labor. I've been in the hottest of one more terrible battle and still I am unharmed, both my horses were wounded and I escaped with only a graze of a bullet a cross my left hand just across the fleshy part back of my little finger. Yes, my Darling I said my prayers before I went into battle, placed myself in the keeping and protection of our God and he has preserved me. Let us be thankful for it. Twelve hard days of incessant toil and fatigue, some nights no sleep and few hours about the most any night. I declare I feel worn and jaded and so are my brave boys. Some of my bravest officers I've lost and best men. Out of my color guard that volunteered that morning, seven in number, making eight with the color sergeant, only one is left unharmed. But thank God they did not get the flag. It's pierced and bloody and bears many honorable marks. When I formed my corps of officers and men, I cried like a child. I could not control myself. They used my regiment shamefully [and] allowed them to be flanked on both sides and all the time my orders were to hold my point at all hazards. I had no idea at one time that any of us would ever come out alive. Today is Sunday or rather this is Sunday Evening and it's one week ago this morning that at 2 o'clock AM we were ordered out in pursuit of the enemy and I have just got back and sit down and the first thing is to write to you my darling. I left word with Henry to telegraph you I was safe out of the battle.
I have, since I returned, received three or four of your letters. I want you to write often. I am sorry indeed that your face does not get well any faster. I was really in hopes your face would get well soon for I know you did not want to be bothered with such a face when you were sick. But Doctor Barber is to remain there and I feel you are as safe in his hands as any one I know of.
As soon as I've time I will write you a detailed account of our last twelve days campaign. Remember my love to all and may God in his infinite mercy be your solace and comfort, is the daily prayer of your husband.
Henry is well and they have got things running a little.
Believe me your loving and affectionate Husband
||8: Communication Artifact
||Oshkosh Public Museum
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Barber, Ammi P.
14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Wounds & injuries
||Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon Hancock.