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Synopsis – Military History of Joseph Hancock


Military History of Joseph Hancock, Jr.

Revolutionary War Veteran

Author: Bruce T. Hancock


The 90 page, 22 chapter, manuscript documents the military history of Joseph Hancock, Jr. during the American Revolutionary War.  Before enlisting, Joseph was operating Hancock’s Ferry (started by his father, Joseph Hancock, Sr.) located at present day Hancock, Maryland from which Captain Andrew Mann of Bedford County Pennsylvania recruited him.  He was enlisted into the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment August 20, 1776 as a private foot soldier at the outset under the command of Colonel Aeneas Mackey.  The regiment was originally chartered by the Pennsylvania Congress to fight the Indians in the nearby western frontier.  Instead of being deployed to western garrisons, the regiment was ordered by Commander in Chief, General Washington, to join the main army in New Jersey.  At the time the order was issued, Washington was retreating from a stunning defeat in New York by the British under General Howe.  The American Army was at it bleakest moment prior to Washington’s audacious victories at Trenton and Princeton.  By the time the 8th began its march Washington was driving the British into Amboy with the help of the outraged citizens of New Jersey.


The 8th began the worst winter march undertaken during the war with the exception of Benedict Arnold’s expedition into Canada.  Many of the officers and enlisted men either did not survive or deserted during 300-mile, 6-week march that began in January 1777.  When they arrived in Quibbletown, New Jersey,  Colonel Mackey became one of the causalities and died as a result of the ordeal.  Daniel Brodhead was promoted to Colonel of the 8th Regiment becoming its commanding officer and served in that capacity throughout the rest of Joseph Hancock’s enlistment.  At about the same time, General Washington appointed Brigadier General (Mad) Anthony Wayne to command the Pennsylvania Line.  He was immediately ordered to contain the British at Amboy, New Jersey preventing General Burgoyne from joining up with General Howe. While serving under Wayne’s command, Joseph Hancock was wounded near Brunswick, taking a musket ball in the shoulder during one of many skirmishes conducted during the winter to contain the British in Amboy and interdict foraging parties. Joseph fortunately recovered.  The containment was a success.  The British were unable to draw General Washington into open battle.  Flanked by Washington’s army on the high ground, Howe did not attempt, as planned, to join up with Burgoyne.  Frustrated by their containment in Amboy, Howe took his army to sea and after more than a month redeployed the British Army at the Head of Elk in the Chesapeake Bay from which he engaged in the Pennsylvania campaigns culminating in the capture of Philadelphia.


During the British trip down the coast, American troops on land followed Howe’s movements by sea, bringing them to the vicinity of Philadelphia.  The officers persuaded General Washington to parade the army full of pride through the Capitol in front of the Continental Congress on their way to meet up with the British.  Joseph Hancock marched behind General Wayne through the streets of Philadelphia with the rest of the continental army providing the citizens and, more importantly, the Continental Congress with much needed encouragement of American military strength.


General Washington assigned General Wayne to lead the main offensives or positions of honor in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown.  Wayne’s superior military leadership established the Pennsylvania Line as an elite core of Washington’s main army.   Wayne persevered behind enemy lines when attacked brutally by the British in dead of the night at the Battle of Paoli.  At Valley Forge, Wayne’s Pennsylvania Line was encamped at the vanguard to foil any attempt of attack by the British.  Washington appealed to all the men to stay the winter.  Due to his persuasion and their loyalty they stayed preventing de facto defeat and sustained the revolution.  Joseph and a few thousand men suffered greatly that winter for our forthcoming independence.  In the spring the colorful General Van Stuben, a Prussian officer of needed, if not questionable credentials, at Washington’s behest revitalized the morale and fitness of the winter ravaged troops with much needed training on proper military drills and formations.  Joseph Hancock received this training, however, the type of combat in which he would participate was of an entirely different kind.


In June of 1778 General Washington ordered the 8th and the 13th Virginia Regiments to the frontier garrisoned at Fort Pitt under the command of General McIntosh. The main army could hardly spare any troops much less what Washington considered to be his most elite.  However, the settlers on the Western front had been under Indian attack suffering severe deprivations that beckoned immediate military assistance.  In addition, the American territorial interests needed to be secured by the presence of American troops.  Having served in the largest battle of the conventional war against the British, these men were given their original mission to fight a gorilla war against the Indians.  The Indians generally allied with the British, victorious in the French Indian War, thus appeared to be a superior military force and more importantly, were less land acquisitive than the American colonial settler.  The British, from Fort Detroit, organized and supplied the Indians.


All of the tribes north of the Ohio River supported the British, except the Delaware.  After a peace treaty was signed, the Delaware provided scouts for an expedition in October of 1778 lead by General McIntosh.  The expedition against Detroit was unsuccessful for many reasons, not the least of which was the murder of Delaware Chief White Eyes by an over zealous American militiaman causing the scouts to abandon the mission in disgust.  Another reason was the time lost erecting new Forts, McIntosh and Laurens, ostensibly to provide a platform from which to attack Detroit and contain the marauding Indians.  Many of the officers and men, as well as the Indian scouts, believed there was no need for these forts if Detroit were captured.  The wilderness locations of these garrisons, in addition to Fort Pitt, only made worse a nearly unattainable task of supplying the Western Department of the Continental Army with food, shoes, clothing, and blankets.  For many of the soldiers the winter of 1779 would be far worse than Valley Forge.


Colonel Brodhead took over the command of the Western Department in the spring 1779 after General McIntosh’s request to General Washington to be transferred was granted.  Brodhead, under direct command of General Washington, organized an expedition up the Allegany in late summer to suppress the Seneca Indians.  General Sullivan commanded a larger expedition along the Susquehanna River for the same purpose.  General Washington, in a letter authorizing Brodhead’s expedition, requested an express (personal messenger) be sent to General Sullivan informing him of the operation with the view they might be able to assist one another. Two volunteers, Joseph Hancock and Thomas Williams, subsequently carried Brodhead’s letter over 300 miles to General Sullivan and returned the same distance to Fort Pitt. General Washington was informed that the men sent to General Sullivan had returned in Brodhead’s letter reporting in detail a successful campaign up the Allegany.


After the campaign, Brodhead petitioned Washington several times to be given permission to attack Detroit. Washington wisely made the decision to keep the troops garrisoned at the forts to provide defense of the settlers and not take the risk of loosing his western army.  In addition to the military risks, it turned out the winter was of such severity that had such an expedition been undertaken it would have likely meant the end of the Pennsylvania 8th and the Virginia 13th Regiments.  Joseph Hancock would spend another difficult, but safe winter on the frontier. The snow accumulated to over four feet and was too deep for any significant operations by the Indians or the army. Joseph served more than his 3-year commitment and was honorably discharged April 3, 1780.   He returned home, married Catherine Baltimore, and began a prosperous private life eventually moving to the westerns lands he had defended during the war.