St Nicholas Av, Manhattan Av, W 123 St
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General Winfield Scott Hancock Statue
This monumental bronze portrait bust, dedicated in 1893, depicts Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock (1824–1886), and was created by American sculptor James Wilson Alexander MacDonald (1824–1908).
Hancock was born in Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania. Following his education at home, at the Norristown Academy, and at a public high school, Winfield graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1844. He immediately entered the Army, serving on the frontier in the Mexican War, the Seminole War, in Kansas during the border troubles, and in California. In 1861, Hancock requested to be returned east for active duty, and he was commissioned a Brigadier-General of Volunteers by General-in-Chief George B. McClellan.
During the Civil War, Hancock proved to be an outstanding leader. His performance at the battle of Williamsburg (1862) earned him the nickname “Hancock the Superb” and resulted in his promotion to Major-General of Volunteers. He commanded the first division of the Second Army Corps at Fredericksburg (1862) and at Chancellorsville (1863). Hancock was severely wounded repulsing Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg (1863).
Despite his injuries Hancock pursued General Robert E. Lee’s army through western Maryland and assumed command of the entire Second Army Corps. By March 1864, Hancock had recovered sufficiently to resume command and take part in assaults at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. Due to the effects of his Gettysburg wound, though, he relinquished his command of the Second Army Corps in June 1864. He was assigned several other command posts, including the Department of West Virginia, the Middle Military Division, and the Army of the Shenandoah.
General Hancock’s masterful performance during the war translated into distinction in peacetime as well. He was called to Washington D.C. to help maintain calm following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. After his service as commander of the Department of the Missouri, he was transferred to the command of the Fifth Military District of Louisiana and Texas in 1867.
From this post Hancock issued his “General Order No. 40,” which stated that the rights of the southern states were not being upheld in the reconstruction policies set forth by Congress. As a result of this order, when Hancock ran for president as the Democratic nominee in 1880, he carried the “solid south.” Despite his southern support, he lost the election by a narrow margin to James A. Garfield. General Hancock served as commander of the Military Department of the Atlantic from its headquarters on Governors Island in New York from 1874 until he died there on February 9, 1886. His body was returned to Norristown, Pennsylvania for burial.
In 1886, the Board of Aldermen named the recently acquired property at Manhattan and St. Nicholas Avenues at 124th Street Hancock Place. MacDonald, an accomplished sculptor of Civil War heroes, was commissioned by the Hancock Post #259 to create a statue of General Hancock. MacDonald’s other statues include that of poet Fitz-Greene Halleck (1877), which is located on Literary Walk in Central Park, and that of writer Washington Irving (1871), which is near the Concert Grove in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
MacDonald may have based this piece on a plaster mask he took of Hancock the year he ran for president. The statue’s torso is bare except for a wide sash across the left shoulder to signify military honor. It was fabricated in 1891 and dedicated on December 30, 1893. A smaller, earlier casting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Since 1981, volunteers from the Coalition of 100 Black Women have planted and maintained this small park triangle. Improvements made in 1998 and 1999 focused on the Hancock monument and the surrounding plantings. The City Parks Foundation Monuments Conservation Program restored the portrait bust of General Hancock by cleaning and waxing it. New plantings include four evergreens, 800 golden yellow tulip bulbs, groundcover, and a perennial garden.