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shock of battle, the first winter of the great rebellion passed rapidly away.
No commander ever more carefully prepared in camp for success in the field than did Hancock, here and ^through all his subsequent career. Most, perhaps, think of him as a kind of meteor on the battlefield, an object of admiration or of terror, flashing hither and thither, achieving his triumphs by sheer brilliancy of bearing, force of intuition, and mysterious power over men. In fact, it was with infinite labor that he forged the weapon his hand was to wield with such effect. He knew that the greater the force exerted the more likely was the sword to break under the blow, unless it were perfectly wrought; and it was with care and pains inexpressible that he shaped and tempered it for the conflict. If at Williamsburg, in his first encounter with the enemy, he met and easily vanquished the Confederate force sent against him, led on one wing by D. H. Hill, and on the other by Jubal Early, it was not more by reason of the great tactical skill, calm courage, and majestic bearing which stamped upon him McClellan's epithet, " Superb," than of the training to which his troops had been subjected. Of Hancock in the winter camps of 1861, two things especially require to be said:
First, while he was a strict disciplinarian, he was incapable of any of those silly brutalities which a few officers of the regular army who were set over volunteer regiments, and many volunteer officers who thought they were imitating regular-army methods, practiced during the first year of the war.
Second, although a "regular" in every fiber of his being, Hancock was altogether destitute of that snobbishness regarding volunteers which was exhibited by so many small minds, in so many great places, during the first year of the rebellion. He recognized the fact that the war was to be waged by volunteers; and that, however much the regular army had to give to the vast masses of earnest soldiers swarming in from East and from West to the defense of the Union, it was, after all, these men who were to bear the heat and burden of the great conflict. He saw that it was of supreme importance to promote the self-respect and self-confidence of volunteer regiments; to lead them to think that they could do anything, and were the equals of anybody; and that to be everlastingly talking about the regular army, bewailing the lack of its methods and forms, instituting odious comparisons, and sneering at the deficiencies of the new troops, was a very poor way of accomplishing that object.
Hancock not only never sneered at volunteers— he did not, incredible as it may seem, even patronize them. He made them feel—by his evident respect, his hearty greeting, his warm approval of everything they did well—that he regarded them as being just as fully, just as truly, just as honorably, soldiers of the United States Army as if they had belonged to the old Sixth Infantry. Such was the spirit in which Hancock met his new command. We know with what assiduity, patience, and good feeling, what almost pathetic eagerness to learn and imitate, the volunteers of 1861 sought to fit themselves for their part in the great struggle. Hancock's thorough and cordial acceptance of volunteers was seen, again, in his choice of staff officers throughout the war. Even after he had become a corps commander, when any captain in the service would have been proud to come at his call, he showed no disposition to prefer an officer of the regular army as such. Except Morgan, whom he inherited from Sumner and Couch, no officer of the regular army ever held an important position on his staff. Mitchell and Bingham, Batchelder and Wilson, Brownson and Livermore, Miller and Parker were good enough for him.
The work which Hancock had done during the winter of 1861-'62, in preparing his enthusiastic volunteers for active service, was soon to be put to the test. Smith's division formed a part of the Fourth Corps, which General Keyes took to the Peninsula of Virginia in the spring of 1862. During the long and discouraging halt before Yorktown Hancock's troops were not engaged; but at Williamsburg, where on the 5th of May our troops overtook the retreating enemy, Hancock was given his first opportunity, which he improved in such a manner as at once to make his name famous throughout the land. After several hours had been wasted in objectless and useless fighting in front of Fort Magruder, Hancock was dispatched with five regiments—three of his own, and two of Davidson's brigade—to cross Cub Dam Creek, on our extreme right, and, if possible, gain the enemy's rear. The movement was executed cautiously but promptly; and at noon Hancock occupied the redoubt upon the Confederate side which commanded the narrow mill-bridge across the creek, and sent word to headquarters of his success, nothing doubting that he would speedily be re-enforced to a degree which would make it practicable to advance into the enemy's rear, which had by inadvertence been left completely open, and thus cut off Longstreet's division. But divided counsels were the order of this day. Keyes, Sumner, and Heintzelman had all the morning been jarring with each other at the Whittaker House; McClellan was back at Yorktown; and for hours no re-enforcements were sent. At last the enemy, discerning Hancock's threatening attitude, directed against him a column under Generals Jubal Early and D. H. Hill, both afterward famous in the war. Hancock—to secure his own position, as well as to make ready for a prompt advance when he should be re-enforced—had occupied a second redoubt twelve hundred yards nearer Williamsburg, and still more directly threatening the enemy's rear. From this point he was already demonstrating against two other redoubts, when he perceived he was to be attacked by Early and Hill. Falling back in perfect order from his most advanced position, upon finding his right flank threatened, he halted his command, which, though for the first time in action, conducted itself with the greatest steadiness, and, when the enemy were within close range, received them with two clean volleys of musketry, followed up by a charge along the line. Hill was wounded, and his troops driven back in disorder. Early sought to retrieve the fortunes of the day, but was swept off the field by the steady advance of Hancock. In twenty-three minutes the affair was over. The action had been short, sharp, and decisive. The Confederates left in Hancock's hands a battle-flag and one hundred and sixty prisoners. So complete had been their discomfiture, that they made no further attempt to molest Hancock in his position. After the action was at an end re-enforcements arrived, and General Smith himself came upon the ground; but it was already late, and no attempt was made to pursue the advantage gained. When night fell, Longstreet withdrew from his untenable position, and continued his interrupted retreat up the Peninsula toward Richmond.