Cornelia Otis Hancock was born February 8, 1840, at Hancocks Bridge, a small community outside of Salem, New Jersey. As a well-educated Quaker she came from a family of abolitionists, all of whom were serving their country in various ways. In those early years, Cornelia Hancock also yearned to be of service to her nation.
Volunteering as a nurse, Hancock found that Dorothea Dix (Superintendent of Women Nurses for the Union) had stated that “No woman under thirty need apply to serve in government hospitals. All nurses are required to be plain looking. Their dresses must be brown or black, with no bows, no curls, no jewelry and no hoop skirts.” Hancock was turned away, on account of her “youth and rosy cheeks”. But, with subtle ingenuity, she bypassed Dix’s orders and became one of the youngest nurses to enter service. Thus, Cornelia Hancock was only 23 years old when she began her career at Gettysburg.
Hancock tended to thousands of men and assisted surgeons in positively horrific conditions. In letters, she describes in detail the primitive encampments, lack of supplies, makeshift tents, crude surgical tools and techniques, and conditions that tried the mettle of even the toughest of men. Steadfast in her duties and dedication, she weathered the storm to see service in various duties for virtually the rest of the war.
A diligent writer, Hancock penned to her family over 175 matter-of-fact letters that survive today. Selected correspondences were captured in a compilation of Henrietta Stratton Jacquette in 1937 entitled, “South After Gettysburg: Letters of Cornelia Hancock from the Army of the Potomac 1863-1865.” When an extended version of the book was republished in 1956, Bruce Catton wrote in the forward, “Few memoirs of Civil War days have more appeal or more significance than those of Cornelia Hancock … It is a document that deserves a permanent place on the shelf of authentic Civil War source material.” Her letters are an invaluable primary source, enabling us to see her perspective behind the lines and operations of the famous Second Corps.
After the war, Hancock never married and focused on serving the needs of the poor. She started schools for Black citizens who were disenfranchised by the war, and continued this work through the rest of her life. When she died, she left a tremendous legacy in the lives she enlightened through the schools that she created.
Cornelia Hancock Tent #91 honors the woman for who she was and what she did for our country. Welcome to our website!