Probably one of the happiest days of my youth was when I found out that I didn’t have to celebrate or even acknowledge The-Fake-&-Smarmy-Holiday-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. This was long before K was in my life, so it has nothing to do with any missteps on either of our parts. In fact, when I told him he was permanently off the hook for that particular day, a happier man you’ve never seen. I suspect that was one of the reasons we’re together. Ironic, no?
Over the years when I have told people what I celebrate instead of St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the reactions run the gamut from confusion and disbelief to high-fives. I didn’t choose to celebrate this event just to thumb my nose at the marketing machine that has turned people into love-struck loonies with expectations that defy rational thought—that was just an added benefit. I chose this particular anniversary because the man it honors embodies so many of the qualities I admire in humans. So without further ado, I wish you all a very Happy Winfield Scott Hancock’s 186th Birthday!
Since I was in middle school, I have been a student of the Civil War. I’ve always found that war to be the most fascinating and heart-wrenching conflict and I used to spend a fair amount of my time reading about it, going to lectures, and visiting battlefields. I suspect my great attachment to soldiers was born during these years. And now as a wife of a soldier, I have a greater appreciation for what soldier’s families must have gone through. We have it so much better today with our cell phones and the internet. Everything is as immediate as it possibly could be for how geographically separate we are. For so many centuries, communication between soldiers and their families was all but non-existent. Sometimes the only way they knew their loved one was dead was because he simply didn’t come home again. I know how good I have it and I never take it for granted. This life is not easy, but it certainly could be a hell of a lot worse and I believe that people need to keep that in mind as they bitch and moan about so many of the hardships we deal with. But I digress…
Who is Winfield Scott Hancock?
General Hancock was born February 14, 1824 in Norristown, PA. Hancock served as a young lieutenant under his namesake, General Winfield Scott during the Mexican War in 1847. He remained career Army and served in Missouri (where he met his wife Almira), Florida during the Seminole wars, and California just as the Civil War broke out . He was the father of a son and a daughter, both of whom predeceased him. He was also a closet artist, amature scientist and botanist, wrote the occasional poem, and swore with vigor and colorful turn of phrase. General Hancock rose to fame and glory during the American Civil War fighting for the Union commanding the 2nd Corps. He was nicknamed “Hancock the Superb” for his courage, composure, and effectiveness during battle. He was wounded at Gettysburg while urging his men from horseback to hold their lines during Pickett’s infamous charge. He turned down the offer to Command the Army of the Potomac and remained 2nd Corps Commander until his wound forced him to give up field command toward the end of the war. Here is what General Ulysses S. Grant had to say about Winfield Scott Hancock:
“Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance. Tall, well-formed and, at the time of which I now write, young and fresh-looking, he presented an appearance which would have attracted the attention of an army as he passed. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d Corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”
After the Civil War, Hancock remained in the Army and ran for President in 1880 losing in one of the closest presidential races ever to James Garfield. One of his last duties before his own death on Feb. 9, 1886 was to oversee the funeral for former General and President Grant. Hancock died penniless because he would often give former 2nd Corps veterans money if they came to him needing help. His wife wrote a book about his life to support herself in her later years (the first-edition copy I have is one of my prized possessions). Hancock led his life with integrity and his love and devotion for his fellow soldier and country is far more impressive than paper hearts and gooey chocolates. So if I’m going to have to pretend this day is about love, then I’d rather hold him up as an example of what it truly means to love something or someone than anything retail advertisers could come up with.
Now on to a quick update about my own soldier: I heard from K the other night and he is well but missing home already. Their training is moving along and he’s doing prep work for their mission that he’s anxious to get started doing. His internet right now is spotty, so I’m not sure how many updates we’ll have for a little while. Just wanted to let everyone know all is still well.
Enjoy your day whether you spend it eating conversation hearts, petting tigers (Happy Chinese New Year!), or saluting a soldier you love!