Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Cornelia Hancock Papers, 1862-1937

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Meg Hixon, April 2011

Summary Information
Title: Cornelia Hancock papers
Creator: Jaquette, Henrietta Stratton, b. 1881
Inclusive dates: 1862-1937
Bulk dates: 1862-1865
Extent: 236 items
Abstract:
The Cornelia Hancock papers consist primarily of the Civil War correspondence of Hancock, who served as a nurse for the Union Army in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Virginia from 1863-1865. The collection also includes brief accounts of Hancock's experiences during the war, as well as several items of ephemera.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1937. M-358.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format:

The collection has been microfilmed. Most of the Civil War-era letters have been published (see References).

Preferred Citation:

Cornelia Hancock papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Arrangement

The Cornelia Hancock papers are arranged in four series:

  • Correspondence
  • Reminiscences and Other Writings
  • Cornelia Hancock Obituary
  • Ephemera

The Correspondence series is arranged chronologically, with undated items and fragments placed at the end of the series. Two military passes and a piece of fabric are chronologically interfiled with the series.


Biography

Cornelia Hancock was born in Hancock's Bridge, New Jersey, on February 8, 1840. Her parents, Thomas Yorke and Rachel Nicholson Hancock, were Quakers and her father was a fisherman by trade. Hancock had a brother William and a sister Ellen (m. Dr. Henry Child of Philadelphia). William served in two regiments during the war: the 24th Regiment, New Jersey Infantry, and the 37th Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers. During his time in the 37th, William and Cornelia were located in the same area and were able to meet on several occasions.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Cornelia was motivated to assist the Union effort after seeing her brother and other male relatives and friends leave for the war. Advised by her brother-in-law that assistance was needed near Gettysburg in July 1863, Hancock volunteered as a nurse but was denied because she was too young. Undaunted, she made her own way to the battlefield and arrived just after the conclusion of the fighting, quickly winning admiration from both soldiers and staff for her work with the wounded. During the winter of 1863-1864, Hancock moved to Washington, D.C., and spent the winter working with displaced African Americans at the Contraband Hospital. Her work impressed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who gave Hancock a pass allowing her to travel wherever necessary within the lines of the Army of the Potomac. In February 1864, she moved to the field hospital of the 3rd Division of the 2nd Corps, near Brandy Station, Virginia. She assisted the wounded after the Battle of the Wilderness and, in May 1865, followed the 1st Division, 2nd Corps, on its march through Virginia. While with the 2nd Corps, Hancock arrived at City Point Hospital, Virginia, in June 1864, where she worked throughout the remainder of the war.

After the war, Hancock continued her charitable work, moving to South Carolina in 1866 to care for newly freed slaves. During her time there, she founded the Laing School for Negroes (Pleasantville, South Carolina) with the assistance of her friend Laura Towne, using funds from the Freedmen's Bureau and donations from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Around 1876, Hancock traveled to England with some friends, and by 1878 she had returned to Philadelphia, where she and Dr. Henry Child, her brother-inlaw, founded the Society for Organizing Charity (later the Family Society of Philadelphia). Hancock's other charitable work includes the founding, in 1884, of the Children's Aid Society and Bureau of Information (later the Children's Aid Society of Philadelphia), and her work with the poor residents of Wrightsville, an isolated working-class community in south Philadelphia. Hancock remained active in her charitable work until late in her life, and served as the secretary for the Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War in the early 20th century, by which time she had returned to New Jersey and was living in Atlantic City.

A collection of Cornelia Hancock's Civil War-era letters was first published in 1937 as South After Gettysburg: Letters of Cornelia Hancock, and the same collection remains in print today as Letters of a Civil War Nurse. The published letters from 1863-1865 are almost universally represented in the collection, with the published post-war items drawn from other sources. The Cornelia Hancock papers at the Clements Library hold many items not in the published editions.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Cornelia Hancock papers consist primarily of the Civil War correspondence of Cornelia Hancock (1840-1927), who served as a nurse for the Union Army from 1863 to 1865. Other items within the collection include photographs, accounts of Hancock's experiences during the war, and several items of ephemera.

The Correspondence series includes 168 dated letters, 15 undated letters and fragments, 2 military passes, and 1 fragment of cloth. The dated letters cover the period from July 31, 1862-January 12, 1866, with the undated fragments most likely from the Civil War period. Two additional letters, dated August 27, 1890, and April 25, 1892, are also included in the collection.

The great bulk of the correspondence was written by Cornelia Hancock to her mother Rachel, her sister Ellen, and her niece Sarah, during Cornelia's time serving as a nurse in Pennsylvania and Virginia; her mother and sister occasionally returned letters giving news of the family in New Jersey. Other correspondents represented in the collection include Cornelia's brother, William N. Hancock; Caroline Dod, the mother of a soldier who died during the war; and several soldiers who expressed gratitude for Hancock's work. In her letters, Cornelia discussed in some detail her work as a nurse during the war, including several accounts of specific wounds and illnesses. Slavery and the social and economic conditions of freedmen are focal points of the letters written during Hancock's time at the Contraband Hospital in Washington, D.C. Though most of the letters concentrate on wounded soldiers and military hospitals and treatments, Hancock and others often expressed political opinions, reported on developments in the war, and shared news of loved ones in the field or back home.

An early series of letters documents Hancock's experiences at the Camp Letterman Hospital after the Battle of Gettysburg, when she first noted "There are no words in the English language to express the sufferings I witnessed today…" (July 7, 1863). A few months later, in October 1863, Hancock left for Washington, D.C., where her letters document her time working with African American refugees at the Contraband Hospital. Twice, she related encounters with President Lincoln. Robert Owen, a former United States ambassador to Italy, once "read to us a speech that he read to the President one Sunday…The subject was the Pardoning power vested in the President. He said that Abraham listened with all his attention then asked him if he would give it to him and also had him promise he would not have it published for the present, said he would read and consider it well. [Lincoln] Complimented Mr. Owen, told him he had been of much service to him in many ways" (October 25, 1863). On another occasion, Hancock recounted a personal glimpse of Abraham Lincoln: "Little Meenah Breed and I went to the White House, and I told you I would encounter the President- sure enough there he stood talking to some poor woman. I did not stop him because he was in a hurry but I know him now and I shall. It is a much easier matter to see him than Stanton" (October 29, 1863). Other letters from this period pertain to the state of escaped slaves (November 15, 1863) and the state of the anti-slavery movement: "Where are the people who have been professing such strong abolition proclivity for the last 30 years[?] Certainly not in Washington laboring with these people whom they have been clamoring to have freed" [January 1864].

In February 1864, Hancock moved again to work with the 3rd Division of the 2nd Corps at Brandy Station, Virginia. Hancock was here during the Battle of the Wilderness, the aftermath of which is represented in Hancock's accounts and in a letter of Henry Child to his wife, Ellen (née Hancock), wherein he warns, "You will hear of another terrible battle yesterday" (May 12, 1864). Soon after the Battle of the Wilderness, Hancock accompanied the Union Army during their march through Virginia. Items from this period include a description of a "rebel house…The house was visited by our Cavalry guard and found deserted, also that the the [sic] gentleman owning the house was a chief of Guerillas, consequently the house was burned to the ground" (May 3, 1864, author unknown). In June 1864, Hancock spent a few days at White House, Virginia, before eventually stopping at City Point, Virginia, where she remained until the end of the war. During this period, she reflected on what had become normal experiences in the time she spent with the army: "A shell explodes every little while, not far away. About as much account is made of it as the dropping of a pin at home. Habit is a wonderfull [sic] matter" (June 7, 1864).

At City Point, Hancock continued to work with the ill and wounded soldiers of the Union army, and in many of her letters, she described specific soldiers or wounds she treated. Among these soldiers was Charlie Dod, a New Jersey native who served with Cornelia's friend Henry Smith. Dod's August 17, 1864, letter is included in the collection, as well as two notes by Cornelia relating that "Capt. Dod is now dying in my bed" (August 27, 1864) and "Capt. Dod of Henry's company died in my bed today. His mother arrived in time to see him just one day and night…The scene was very affecting and I shall never forget it" (August 27, 1864). Charlie's mother, Caroline Dod, became an occasional correspondent after this time and continued to hold Cornelia in high regard throughout the rest of her life. Another notable item from this period is an official Union army pass allowing Cornelia to travel to and from Washington, D.C.; this is enclosed in a letter from Rachel Hancock dated October 20, 1864.

By the spring of 1865, the Union army was closing in on Richmond, and Cornelia Hancock was near the Confederate capital when it fell. On April 3, 1865, she reported, "This morning we could see the flames of Petersburg lighting the skies[. I] suppose the rebels are compelled to evacuate the place. Our troops can enter now at any time…Gen Weitzel entered Richmond this morning at 8 A.M. There is great rejoicing here of course." Even better was the feeling of release that accompanied the end of the fighting: "The situation is splendid the air so fresh and altogether it seems like getting out of prison to get away from C[ity] P[oint] we were there so long" (May 13, 1865).

The undated papers and fragments appear at the end of the collection and include eight letters and fragments written by Hancock as well as five letters from Caroline Dod. These appear to date from the Civil War period. One fragment was written on the reverse side of a table of contents from the 8th volume of Connop Thirlwall's History of Greece.

Other postwar material in the series includes the following three items:

  • A January 3, 1866, letter of reference from Robert Dale Owen, a friend of Dr. Henry Child, stating that the "bearer of this, Miss Cornelia Hancock…is about to visit the South, there to aid in the education of the children of freedmen," and giving a glowing account of Hancock's merits.
  • An August 27, 1890, letter from Caroline B. Dod, in which she reflected on the death of her son and expressed continuing gratitude for Hancock's sympathy during his final hours. The letter is accompanied by its original envelope, which was used by a later owner of the material to house Robert Owen's letter of reference for Cornelia Hancock (January 3, 1866) and an undated Swarthmore Library ticket with manuscript biographical notes on Owen.
  • An April 25, 1892, letter from S. B. Dod to Cornelia Hancock, in which he explained that his mother had left Hancock a legacy in her will as a token of "her appreciation of your great kindness to my brother Charlie."

The series includes three additional items, interfiled chronologically. These include:

  • January 8, 1864: A pass authorizing Ellen Child and one friend to travel "over Chain and Aqueduct Bridges and Alexandria Ferry, within the lines of the Fortifications"
  • January 12, 1864: A pass authorizing "Miss C. Hancock team, driver, and Contrabands to Arlington Va and return."
  • "A piece of the ornaments upon the flag of the 116th Pa. Vol." Verso: "Capt. Shoener's Regt." (Undated)

The Reminiscences and Other Writings series series includes several items:

  • A 10-page typescript with unattributed manuscript annotations. Topics include the personality of Hancock's father and an account of her time at Gettysburg, told in the first person. This text is the basis for some of the biographical information included in published editions of Hancock's letters.
  • A 10-page incomplete typescript written well after the war, with unattributed manuscript annotations. The text is a first-person account of Hancock's war experiences near the end of the war. Of particular interest is a recollection that "April 8th Abraham Lincoln visited our hospital." The typescript is the basis for much of the biographical information included in published editions of Hancock's letters.
  • A first-person manuscript fragment, written in the style of a diary and with a note on the reverse that the author, likely Cornelia Hancock, "would like this sent to mother and have her copy it." The note also says that "Soldiering now days is hard work."
  • An incomplete third-person account of Cornelia Hancock, covering the very beginning with her journey to Gettysburg "with Mrs. Elizabeth W. Farnham, who was an eminent writer," in July 1863.
  • An 8-page manuscript account of Cornelia Hancock's departure for the theater of war. The manuscript includes two slightly different copies of the same material, and a lapse into the first person suggests that Cornelia Hancock is the author.

The Cornelia Hancock Obituary is a small newspaper obituary published on January 1, [1928], entitled "Civil War Nurse Dies, Closing Busy Career." The item was not part of the original accession and was discovered in a book in the Clements Library in 1985.

The Ephemera series includes eight items:

  • A 4" x 6" photograph on card stock showing a party of women and military men gathered in front of several tents. The photograph is labeled "Cornelia Hancock." [1860s]
  • A newspaper clipping "Queen of Field Nurses at Ninety in Feeble Health," recounting the decline of Florence Nightingale. [1910]
  • Five identical sheets of paper bearing the letterhead of the Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War. The letterhead includes a list of officers of the organization. One sheet is marked, "To Cornelia," and is slightly torn.
  • A book jacket from the 1937 edition of South after Gettysburg; letters of Cornelia Hancock, 1863-1868.

Four card photographs from the collection are currently housed in the graphics division.

These include the following portraits:

  • "Rosa, A Slave Girl from New Orleans." Portrait of Rosina Downs, by Charles Paxson, New York, 1864.
  • "Rebecca, Augusta, and Rosa, Emancipated Slaves, from New Orleans." Portrait of Rosina Downs, Rebecca, Huger, and Augusta Broujey, by [Myron H.] Kimball, New York, 1863.
  • "Capt. Charles Dod[,] A. A. Gen. in Gen. Hancocks staff. 2nd Corps[,] A.P." Portrait of Charles Dod, by [Frederick August] Wenderoth & [William Curtis] Taylor, Philadelphia, ca. 1864.
  • "Wilson Chinn, a Branded Slave from Louisiana, Also exhibiting Instruments of Torture used to punish Slaves." Portrait, by Myron H. Kimball, 1863.
Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • City Point Hospital (Hopewell, Va.)
    • Contraband Hospital (Washington, D.C.)
    • Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863.
    • Military hospitals--United States.
    • New Jersey--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Nursing--United States--History.
    • Richmond (Va.)--History--Siege, 1864-1865.
    • United States. Army of the Potomac. Corps, 2nd. Division, 1st.
    • United States. Army of the Potomac. Corps, 2nd. Division, 3rd.
    • United States. Army. New Jersey Infantry Regiment, 24th (1862-1863)
    • United States. Army. New Jersey Infantry Regiment, 37th (1864)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, female.
    • United States Sanitary Commission.
    • Wilderness, Battle of the, Va., 1864.
    Contributors:
    • Child, Henry.
    • Dod, Caroline.
    • Dod, Charlie.
    • Dod, S. B.
    • Hancock, Cornelia, 1840-1927.
    • Hancock, Ellen.
    • Hancock, Rachel.
    • Hancock, William N.
    • Owen, Robert Dale, 1801-1877.
    Genre Terms:
    • Book jackets.
    • Card photographs.
    • Cartes-de-visite (card photographs)
    • Clippings.
    • Letterheads.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Manuscript maps.
    • Military passes.
    • Reminiscences.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   88, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Correspondence [series]:
    folder   1  
      July 31, 1862- February 11, 1863
    folder   2  
      March 1- July 8, 1863
    folder   3  
      July 21- August 6, 1863
    folder   4  
      August 8-14, 1863
    folder   5  
      August 17-26, 1863
    folder   6  
      August 31- October 3, 1863
    folder   7  
      October 15- November 15, 1863
    folder   8  
      November 17- December 19, 1863
    folder   9  
      December 23, 1863- January 4, 1864
    folder   10  
      January 8-24, 1864
    folder   11  
      February 2-5, 1864
    folder   12  
      February 8-13, 1864
    folder   13  
      February 15-19, 1864
    folder   14  
      February 20-28, 1864
    folder   15  
      March 1-5, 1864
    folder   16  
      March 6-20, 1864
    folder   17  
      March 20-30, 1864
    folder   18  
      April 2-12, 1864
    folder   19  
      May 10-14, 1864
    folder   20  
      May 20-30, 1864
    folder   21  
      May 31- June 7, 1864
    folder   22  
      June 9-13, 1864
    folder   23  
      June 15-20, 1864
    folder   24  
      June 21- July 2, 1864
    folder   25  
      July 4-18, 1864
    folder   26  
      July 20-25, 1864
    folder   27  
      August 15-22, 1864
    folder   28  
      August 27-31, 1864
    folder   29  
      September 2-6, 1864
    folder   30  
      September 9-11, 1864
    folder   31  
      September 16- October 21, 1864
    folder   32  
      October 29- November 11, 1864
    folder   33  
      November 14- December 17, 1864
    folder   34  
      December 19, 1864- January 6, 1865
    folder   35  
      January 9- March 3, 1865
    folder   36  
      March 7- April 1865
    folder   37  
      May 3, 1865- April 25, 1892
    folders   38-41  
      Undated and fragments
     
    Reminiscences and Other Writings [series]:
    folder   42  
    Cornelia Hancock Typescript
    folder   43  
    Cornelia Hancock Typescript
    folder   44  
    3  undated items
     
    Cornelia Hancock Obituary [series]:
    folder   45  
    Cornelia Hancock Obituary,  1928
     
    Ephemera [series]:
    folder   46  
    8 items
    Additional Descriptive Data

    The collection includes one map, drawn into the body of a letter from Cornelia Hancock to her sister: This is the plan of the hospl. City Point, Virginia, 1864.

    Alternate Locations

    Four card photographs are housed in the Graphics Division (see Scope and Content note).

    Related Materials

    Other collections of Civil War nurses at the William Clements Library include:

    Many of Cornelia Hancock's letters, including about two-thirds of this collection, are published in the following book:

    Hancock, Cornelia. South after Gettysburg: letters of Cornelia Hancock, 1863-1868. H. S Jaquette, Ed. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1956.

    South After Gettysburg is currently in print under a new title:

    Hancock, Cornelia. Letters of a Civil War nurse: Cornelia Hancock, 1863-1865. H. S. Jaquette, Ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

    Bibliography

    Women's Project of New Jersey. Past and promise: lives of New Jersey women. J. N. Burstyn, Ed. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997.