Most Hancock residents were unaware of the town’s significance in Civil War history.
They knew soldiers had trod the land, and some had heard the story of a battle there. But few, if any, realized that Brig. Gen. F.W. Lander and his troops managed to stave off an early Confederate invasion of the North led by Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson during a January 1862 bombardment.
This was news even to Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy.
“We knew very little about our history,” Murphy said. “We thought it was a little insignificant piece of the Civil War.”
Those thoughts began to change when home-schooled student Lily Wolford of Hancock approached the town council in January 2011. Wolford, 16, along with her mother and stepfather, Tracy and Ralph Salvagno, hoped to organize an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hancock. A small committee began researching history and exploring possibilities for an event.
“As we began to research, we realized we had something to tell that people didn’t know,” Murphy said. “There were all these ideas, all this enthusiasm and excitement. We realized this could develop into a nice event for our town.”
Those ideas were actualized beginning Thursday at the four-day Battle of Hancock Sesquicentennial Commemoration. Events kicked off at St. Thomas’ Parish with an opening ceremony, announcement of the winning essay from the Hancock Historical Society’s student contest and a dramatic musical presentation by the Springs Chamber Ensemble.
Activities Friday at the Hancock Performing Arts Center included an overview of the battle, a lecture on Civil War battlefield orthopedics and exhibits such as “The Use of Ground Penetrating Radar in the Location of Unmarked Graves.” Papier-mache masks of Civil War figures made by area students decorated the walls.
A 5K Run Saturday morning was an observance of the evacuation of Hancock residents during the battle. Encampments, concerts and other displays and activities went on throughout the day.
Michael Bitner, 50, of Hagerstown, attended the commemoration with his son Cody, 16. Though he is a history buff, Bitner said he didn’t even know there was a battle in Hancock until he saw the commemoration advertised. Between a firing demonstration and a lecture, he tasted some hardtack, a Civil War soldier’s dietary staple.
“It was not very appetizing,” Bitner said.
Peggie Gaul of Williamsport said she learned through lectures about identification tags used during the Civil War, and that orthopedic practices during the war were sometimes more skillful than she’d thought.
“I picked up a lot of interesting little things,” she said.
If you go ...
What: Battle of Hancock sesquicentennial commemoration
- John Mentzer, author of “If These Walls Could Talk,” 1 p.m., Tonoloway Baptist Church, two miles north of Hancock on Pa. 655
- Overview of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church’s role in the Civil War, 2 p.m., St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 2 E. High St.
- Civil War soldiers memorial service and dedication of grave stones, 3 p.m., St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
- Civil War period prayer service with choir, 4 p.m., St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
For more information, go to www.hancockmd.com/battleofhancock.htm.