Monday, December 19, 2011

Civil Wat Chronicles, Month 11

In 1848, St. Louis was home to a young lady known as "the most beautiful girl in the west". Almira Russell, daughter of a prominent merchant, met Liertenant Winfield Hancock when she threw her glove to him from her bedroom window. The couple enjoyed a brief courtship and married on Jan 24, 1850.

A career Army officer, Hancock was stationed in Florida during the Seminole Wars and then transferred to Kansas in 1857 when that state's admission to the Union was the subject of fierce debate.

A few years later, Hancock was assigned to California and Almira or Allie as she was known to her friends, debated whether to accompany him to the remote region with her two small children. Major Robert E. Lee met the couple at this time and advised Allie that her place was at her husband's side. So, despite her reservations, Allie took her family and moved to California. She met other military wives there and made a home for her family in the developing territory.

When news of the attack on Fort Sumter reached California in 1861, the Army officers stationed there were divided by their state loyalites and many prepared for the journey back east. Hancock was asked for advice by several of his fellow officers torn between supporting the Union or defending their home state. His reply was firm: "I shall not fight upon the principle of state-right but for the Union, whole and undivided." Hancock's colleagues in California included Sidney Johnston who would become a renowned Confederate general and Lewis Armistead.

The officers and their spouses met one last time prior to leaving for their home states. One of the wives sang to entertain the gathering. Allie recalled: "All were endeavoring to conceal, under smiling exteriors, hearts that were filled with sadness over the sundering of life-long ties, and doubts as to the result of their sacrifice."

Hancock was immediately drawn into service for the Union so Allie moved her family to Washington, DC, anticipating that she might need to care for Winfield should he be wounded. On July 3, 1863, she received the telegraph she had been dreading: "I am severly wounded, not mortally. Join me at once in Philadelphia." Allie journeyed to treat her husband who had sustained a grave leg wound. He recuperated until March 23, 1864, when he rejoined his regiment.

Allie later learned that at the Battle of Gettysburg where her husband was wounded, his troops had killed three of the men who were at the California farewell party and went on to Confederate service. Her premonition about losing ife-long ties proved accurate.

from Homestead, Hearth, 105 N. Col, Mexico, MO 65265

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