On July 1st General George Meade learns the armies were engaged at Gettysburg and learns Gen. John Reynolds was killed. Meade sends word to Major General Winfield S. Hancock and wants him head to Gettysburg and assume command of the 1st, 3rd and the 11th corps. He arrives at to find General Howard, commander of the XI corps, who is also the man in charge on the scene, and explains that General Meade had sent him to take command of the III corps. Howard promptly replied to Hancock by informing him who was senior. General Hancock said, “I am aware of that, General, but I have written orders in my pocket from General Meade which I will show you if you wish to see them.” General Howard said, “No. I do not doubt your word, General Hancock, but you can give no orders here while I am here.”(Stackpole, 1956). At this time no one really knows if the two had seen eye to eye on this matter or who actually cowered down to the other. He goes on to explain that General Meade has also chosen him (Hancock) to select a suitable field to fight a battle in the rear of Pipe Creek. Hancock stood there gazing across the landscape and decides the best strategic course of action would be to fight from Culp’s Hill to Round top Hill, about a 6 mile stretch.
Hancock dispatches troops to secure Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top and then sends word to Meade that this is the place to fight. General Meade holds a meeting later that night with his Field Commanders to discuss battle plans. Meade asks Hancock if this was a good place for a fight and Hancock replies with, a very good place for a fight. Mead turns to him and says that’s good because it’s too late to turn back now. Meade, at this point, having no idea what the battlefield even looks like, takes the word of a junior officer on what becomes one of the bloodiest battles in American History.
Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles fails to follow orders and gets his line decimated near the Peach Orchard and is wounded in the process. Meade orders Hancock to assume command of the III corps. Hancock arrives to find the line broken, the troops in disarray and in a state of confusion. He promptly ordered roughly 280 men from the 1st Minnesota to make a full frontal assault. Their mission is to close the gap and push the advancing Confederates back long enough for the reinforcements to arrive and reset the line. This is basically a suicide mission and in the next fifteen minutes or so, the brave men from Minnesota would lose roughly 80% of their regiment, the tactic worked, and the line is once again intact. Later that night General Meade holds a secret meeting at the Leister House, with all the corps commanders to decide the next day’s events. Hancock is the only one, of all commanders present, that urges Meade and eventually persuades him to stay and fight.
The union line is set up from Culp’s Hill to Little Round top, roughly a six mile stretch, and General Hancock with his men holding the center portion of the line. While the Confederate cannons are sounding off in the background, sending lead flying towards the center of the Union lines, Hancock rallied the moral of his troops by riding his steed into battle during Pickett’s Charge. As he rode his horse along the battle lines a Union Soldier, who feared for the commanders life, asked him to take cover in the rear. Hancock replies with There are many times when a corps Commanders life does not count (Jordan, 1995). During the retaliation of Pickett’s advancement a bullet goes through Haycocks saddle horn and strikes him in the upper thigh area. Officers from the 12 and 13 Vermont help the wounded Hancock from his horse to the ground and attend to his injury. One of the officers digs his finger into the wound removing an iron nail and pieces of wood from the saddle but no bullet is found. Luckily for Hancock the bullet had missed the femoral artery but it is lodged somewhere inside. As he lay there, now out of the fight, passing by to attach the confederates was Colonel Oscar Beasley commanding the 16 Vermont. Hancock summed Beasley closer, he grabbed the Colonels hand and said go in Colonel and give it to them on the flank. He refused to leave the battlefield until he knew the Union had prevailed and the Gettysburg battle was over. Hancock sent word to Meade of the victory, upon receiving the message Meade replied with ” Say to General Hancock,” said General Meade, “that I am sorry he is wounded, and that I thank him for the country and for myself for the service he has rendered to-day. (Leslie, 1880) General Hancock is loaded into an ambulance and hauled away for medical treatment.
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