Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon Hancock.

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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 Corinth, Mississippi October 20, 1862

My Darling Wife,

This morning I am alone in my tent. It's chilly and some cold. This makes it more lonely than were it not so. We yet have no stoves, all the fire we have is the campfire outdoors. To sit and think how congenial, cozy, and happy we could be at home by a snug warm fire and wife to cheer and make home so attractive. How would it seem. That is a joy we have not yet experienced. Are those days yet in store for us, I often ask myself. I know those are happy days for us if a kind and overruling Providence will but allow it.

God has been kind to me my darling. He has brought me out of dangers that you know not of. A kind and beneficent hand has protected me in my times of peril and what I most fear is that my life is not in accordance with such kindness: that I am not sufficiently thankful for such blessings and such mercies. Four hard contested fields now I have taken an active part: Blackburn's Ford; Bull Run; Shiloh; and Corinth. In all, that same care has been over me. Each time in going into battle I have said my prayer to my God and each time have I tried in my humble way to thank him for his blessings and protection.

I have also my dear wife commended you to his kind care and keeping, knowing that he observes the sparrows fall and that even the hairs of your head are numbered. I have prayed that kind angels might attend you and me and that we yet might be restored to each other. That we should never forget to look to him for mercies and be thankful for blessings received [and] are sufficiently thankful! Let us both by our course of life and by a proper and humble mode of worship try and offer sufficient homage to our only living and true God for his manifold blessings and protection that they may not be withdrawn from us. I trust and pray then, my life and yours will yet be spared many years and we be permitted to enjoy them together and never forgetting the Giver of all good things.

Thus my thoughts run tonight my darling and they are not new ones, but they are in a measure new for me to write you thus. I know you love your husband although he is very unkind to leave you so. And will lend a willing assistance in the matter and things I have mentioned. You are blessed with the choicest of homes, your dear Father, Mother, and charming sisters all lend a fond enchantment to it and [not] only that but I should be with you. Your dear home made so attractive makes me feel the most intense longing to enjoy it with you. And not withstanding you are there and I know so well cared for yet that attraction has it's fascination to me, only doubling the comforts and delicacies that I might be in the enjoyment of. From my earliest youth up, you know I never have known what it was to have a Father or Mother and my home has always been among strangers. I have tasted deeply of the cold charities of the world and now that I have so happy a home it seems sometimes hard indeed that I should not be permitted to enjoy it. Still my darling I look to the future, still I see my star. Hope has ever cheered me to duty and still I see I think my home, wife, and kind friends, prosperity and blessings. Am I too confiding? Am I to be decried? In faith I trust that with my God knowing "He doth all things well".

My noble and brave boys are happy in camp tonight: music in different parts of the camp; joking, talking and laughing. They seat themselves around the campfires and joyously thus they pass their time away: no care, no responsibility. Sometimes I think I [would] rather be in the ranks with them than with the responsibility of a regiment on my hands. I have no trouble with any of the men: no guard house now for months, but intent for their comfort and welfare is considerable although I have no complaint. I think I am making them as comfortable and easy as possible. I love my Regiment and men, especially my officers. They are all brave and trusty.

Upon our last battlefield I lost three of my bravest and best: Captain L. W. Vaughn of Kewanee County; Captain Samuel Harrison of De Pere, Wisconsin, and Lieutenant Samuel A. Tinkham of Waupaca. They were all my friends. After I assumed command of my Regiment, I had Lieutenant Tinkham promoted for bravery at Shiloh and had Captain Harrison promoted from a Lieutenancy to Captain, for I had faith in him. I saw him at Shiloh, where the Captain and 1st Lieutenant had deserted the company. He, the Second Lieutenant, stood bravely and nobly by the boys. All three were in the prime of manhood and were looking forward to many days of happiness to be spent in the bosom of their families. Captain Vaughn's wife had only returned from here a few days before the battle. Seeing her made him desire to return and I think he would have resigned if the authorities would have accepted it. He must have had forebodings of what his fate was to be. How his stricken and heartbroken wife must feel. God be with her, bless, and protect her, comfort her in her loneliness and sorrow. Captain's last words to one of his company that saw him fall were "Tell my wife I died doing my duty". Captain Harrison, I understand, leaves a wife and large family to mourn the sudden death of a kind parent. I don't know that Lieutenant Tinkham leaves a family. He was a very fine, principled, quiet young man, brave and liked by all.

Such my darling are the vicissitudes of war: some to glory and some to the grave. Thus I have written tonight. You will peruse these lines in your warm and comfortable room. I wish it were so I could be by your side and read them with you.

Henry [Reardon] has just been in and had a sit for a few minutes. It's very pleasant to me to have him and [Edgar W.] Viall here, it seems quite like old times and I am glad they seem so well pleased with their prospects.

I am getting chilled and must stop. Love to all and believe me your devoted and affectionate Husband,

J Hancock

[Captain Joseph G. Lawton and 1st Lieutenant George W. Bowers of Company F, both resigned their commissions in April 1862, following the Battle of Shiloh.
Samuel Harrison is listed in the 1860 US census as a farmer residing near De Pere. He was born in England in 1821. Also listed are his wife Susan and their six children.]
Event Civil War
Category 8: Communication Artifact
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID RG102.121
Object Name Letter
People Hancock, John
Hancock, Jennie Reardon
Reardon, Jennie
Vaughn, Levi W.
Harrison, Samuel
Tinkham, Samuel A.
Reardon, Henry
Viall, Edgar W., Sr.
Subjects Civil War
Love letters
Military officers
14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Homes & haunts
Military camps
Title Letter from John Hancock to Jennie Reardon Hancock.
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009