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the War of 1812. After his marriage, Benjamin Hancock supported himself by public teaching, until he was admitted to the bar in 1828, upon which he removed with his wife and his twin sons to Norristown, in the same county. Here another son was born to him, and here the family continued to reside until it was dissolved by death, Mr. Hancock passing away in 1867, Mrs. Hancock in 1879. Benjamin Hancock was a man of a noble presence, fair, tall, and strong, like his illustrious son; dignified and courteous in bearing, honorable and faithful alike in private and in professional relations. He took an active part in the affairs of the community, and throughout his life commanded the affection and the respect of his fellow-citizens.
It hardly needs to be said of such a man as Winfield Scott Hancock became, that in boyhood he was spirited, energetic, honorable, and a leader among his playmates and schoolmates. The reader will doubtless be thankful for being spared the incidents which are sure to be related of any one risen to high distinction. With intelligent and cultivated parents, one of whom had for years been engaged in teaching, and with excellent schools at hand in the thriving borough which held the family home, a lad of young Hancock's intellectual activity and ambition could not fail to secure a sound and thorough elementary training. The region in which he was brought up was one of the loveliest of Pennsylvania. All influences, alike those of the family, of the community, and of the school, concurred in giving a full and harmonious development to his excellent natural powers of body and of mind.
I have spoken of Hancock's intellectual activity and ambition. I would not be understood as attributing to him a lofty intellectuality such as might, in a different career, have made him a leader of thought or speculation. He was, in the main bent of his nature, meant for action and for command. But all that we hear of his childhood and his youth shows that he had a strong and constant desire to distinguish himself. He took a prominent part in the debates of his school and of a small literary and philosophical club composed of the boys of the village. He was fond of the society of his elders, and listened eagerly to the discussion of political issues. At the age of fifteen he was selected to read the Declaration of Independence to his fellow-townsmen on the 4th of July. It is related that, even four years earlier, he had taken a great interest in politics, and on the setting up of a new Democratic newspaper in Norristown, in which his father had some share, entered the office as a volunteer compositor. It is clear that, had he not become a soldier, he would have been a keen politician, one who would have had to be reckoned with in the affairs of his State and perhaps of the nation. Indeed, though Hancock was one of the most soldierly men that ever lived, he was always something of a politician, in the sense that authority was exercised by him with tact and with a great deal of diplomacy. No man ever cultivated his personal and professional relations more carefully, or had a livelier sense of the virtue of courtesy, conciliation, and considerateness in the use of power.
While still in school, at home, some native stirrings of martial spirit, quickened doubtless by the fact that he had been christened with the name of America's greatest living soldier, led him to organize a military company among his playmates, of which he became captain and at the head of which he paraded on the recurring festival of the nation. Many a boy has done as much who in after life was well contented with the avocations of peace; but those who have seen Hancock commanding an army corps with such delight in the exercise of authority, such a keen zest in military manoeuvres, may be excused for thinking that this boyish soldiering here meant something more than usual.
At the age of sixteen the personal kindness of the member of Congress from the Montgomery district made the choice between politician and soldier; and in 1840 Hancock entered West Point as a cadet. He was afterward accustomed to express himself as feeling that this early entrance upon severe professional training was unfortunate. Many a lad is mature enough at sixteen to take up such studies and exercises as those which characterize our noble Military Academy; but Hancock at this age was but half grown. His large frame and powerful physique, his unfailing flow of animal spirits, and his impulsive disposition required a longer period of development in the preparatory stage. The severity of the requirements at West Point at this time may be judged from the fact that, although his class numbered nearly one hundred at the start, it was reduced at the end of the first year to fifty-four, of whom only twenty-five finally graduated.
Among Hancock's contemporaries at West Point were many afterward highly distinguished in the war. In the class directly above his own—that of 1843—were Grant, Franklin, J. J. Reynolds, Augur, Ingalls, Hamilton, J. J. Peck, and Fred Steele. In the class next below his own—that of 1845—were Fitz John Porter, Hatch, Davidson, Sackett, Gordon Granger, Clitz, David A. Russell, Thomas J. Wood, William F. Smith, Charles P. Stone; and of those who joined the Confederacy, W. H. C. Whiting. In the class of 1846 were McClellan, J. G. Foster, Reno, Couch, Sturgis, Seymour, Stoneman, James B. Fry, Gibbs, G. H. Gordon, Innis H. Palmer; and of Confederates, Maxey, Wilcox, Pickett, and D. H. Maury. His own class—that of 1844—contained few men destined to become of note. The class was very small, graduating, as stated, only twenty-five; and these were subjected to an extraordinary number of fatalities. Five of the twenty-five—a truly remarkable proportion—were killed in the war with Mexico within four years of their graduation. Five more died before the rebellion broke out. Six resigned before the war, and remained thereafter in civil life, of whom but one became distinguished. This was W. G. Peck, who recently died while professor of mathematics at Columbia College. Three resigned before the war, but entered the Confederate service, of whom but one—General and Governor Buckner, of Kentucky—attained high rank. One had been dismissed from the service before the rebellion. This left but five in the army in 1861. Of these, one was discharged on account of disability in 1863; another, the gallant General Alexander Hays, was killed in the Wilderness, May 5, 1864; the remaining three served through the war, Hancock and Pleasonton alone attaining conspicuous positions. Of all the members of the class of 1844 but three are living as I write—Buckner, Frost, and Pleasonton. With many of his classmates and contemporaries Hancock formed a close intimacy, being himself cordial, frank, and companionable. In scholarly rank he had not much to boast of, graduating number eighteen in a class of twenty-five. Hancock's record, as furnished me by Colonel John M. Wilson, Corps of Engineers, recently commanding the Military Academy, may be of interest: