Asbury W. Hancock
The Gray Ghost
By Bobby J. Mitchell
Several years ago the Sons of Confederate Veterans authorized a Confederate Medal of Honor to be awarded to Confederate soldiers who had demonstrated a dimension of valor that few others could attain. After a number of Medals had been awarded it was deemed appropriate to issue a book which would record for future generations their heroism. Gregg Clemmer undertook the project of writing the volume, to be entitled VALOR IN GRAY. One of the first forty or so men chosen for recognition was from Marshall County, MS. His name was Asbury W. (App) Hancock. At the time I tried to help Gregg find something about Pvt. Hancock but had no luck. Because there are some Hancock's who live in the Eastern part of the County, that was where I spent most of my efforts, without success. Nothing substantial was found about his personal life after the War. He was on the 1870 Marshall County census, then seemed to disappear, with no other records found. It was not known if he died soon after the War, whether he had moved west, or if he had ever married or had children.
After seeing Gregg at the convention in Nashville last summer I decided to try again. This time I decided to try the edge of Tate County, which is to our West. About 1870 part of Marshall County had been taken to help form part of Tate, and so I looked in what was an old part of Marshall County. Immediately I began to find Hancock's on census and land deeds in the area that had been part of Marshall County. Further checking of cemetery listings for the area show that in the Eason Cemetery, near Independence, in Tate County, there is an A.W. Hancock, Jan 28 1842 - Feb 19 1898.
The name A.W. Hancock fit in with what we were looking for but I still had no verification that his was our App Hancock. The birth date was somewhat earlier than what we had expected, and of course we did not have a death date, so I was still not sure if he was our man.
We did know that App Hancock had been in Co. I, of the 19th Mississippi Infantry. There was no obituary (that I could find) in the Tate County papers for A.W. Hancock in the issues following the Feb. 19 date. Next I looked in the Holly Springs REPORTER of Feb. 24, 1898, the issue following Feb. 19, 1898. The following is the obituary that I found:
HOLLY SPRINGS REPORTER, Thursday, Feb. 24, 1898
"Died at his residence near Chulahoma in the 56th year of his age. Early in 1861, he entered the Confederate Army as a private in Co. I, 19th Miss. Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia, and from the first skirmish of that regiment to the close of the war, in every engagement of every character he not only bore himself as a brave soldier but won from both officers and men of his command the credit of being the most fearless and intrepid of all that gallant band. He served on the staffs of Gens. Featherston, Posey and Harris, and from each was accorded the highest commendation for duty well and faithfully performed. He never shirked any duty either as a citizen or as a soldier, never seeking popularity or preferment at the expense of a deviation from what he considered upright, manly and true. He died as he had lived, a consistent member of the Methodist Church, and now that life's warfare is over he rests in peace. A brave soldier, a true and loyal patriot, and unfailing friend, a faithful Christian gentleman has gone to his reward, leaving behind no blight on the bright escutcheon from which the noble character of A.W. Hancock was reflected. He has led his last charge and is waiting now on the other shore where the remnant of the old 19th, will soon join their gallant comrade."
In the next issue of the GRAY GHOST, I will give a summary of his activities which earned him the CONFEDERATE MEDAL OF HONOR.
As soon as we obtain permission from the owner of the land where the Eason Cemetery is, we plan to order a Confederate monument for App Hancock, and will plan a special program. Gregg Clemmer has offered to speak for us on the occasion if he can make the trip from Maryland fit into his schedule.
Asbury W. Hancock, military hero
By Bobby Mitchell
The South Reporter, February 26, 1998
One hundred years ago, on Feb. 19, 1898 one of Marshall County's great military heroes died. His obituary in the Feb. 24, 1898 edition of the HOLLY SPRINGS REPORTER states that Hancock died at his residence near Chulahoma. He had enlisted in Co. "I" of the 19th Mississippi Infantry in 1861 and had served as a private in "the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from the first skirmish of the regiment to the close of the war". His obituary continues to say he "won from both officers and men of his command the credit of being the most fearless and intrepid of all that gallant band. He served on the staffs of Generals Featherston, Posey, and Harris, and from each was accorded the highest commendation for duty well performed".
Asbury W. Hancock was born 28 Jan. 1842, to William A. and Eliza F. Hancock and was reared in a part of Marshall County that is now in Tate County. (Marshall County lost territory to Tate County in 1870.) William "Spludger" Hancock was born in North Carolina and migrated first to East Tennessee, then to Madison County, Alabama, before arriving in Marshall County in 1837. He settled just north of Wyatte, which was then in Marshall County also. The family had eleven children, with seven born in Alabama and the rest in Mississippi. The Hancock's original two room log house stood until recently, when it was dismantled and rebuilt. A portion of the land has remained in the family until the present time, and in 1996 a certificate for Centennial Farms was awarded some of the family. Centennial Farms are those which have remained in a family's possession for one hundred years or more.
Asbury W. "App" Hancock served as both a private soldier and as a scout and a courier. In this capacity it was his fortune to be at "the Bloody Angle" of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, in Virginia. By this time, May 1864, "App" was a veteran of many fights, with several commendations, but for him and the other participants, "Never Had There Been Such A Struggle As This", as Gregg Clemmer titled a chapter in his book, VALOR IN GRAY. With Gregg's permission I will use part of his work.
For nearly 20 hours, from early morning until after midnight on May 12, 1864, the Mississippians had fought, and miraculously, some had survived. Hundreds of men were engaged in hand to hand combat. The noise would never be forgotten; the constant roar of muskets and rifles by the thousands fired at point blank range, a killing fire, which dealt death to any who peered above the log and dirt entrenchments, with never a let up for the entire time. Survivors came back to view the scene, bodies at all angles, mangled and mutilated. Some of the bodies of those killed had been used by their comrades as crude shields from the horrendous hail of bullets. Some had taken bodies and used the cupped hands of the rigid bodies as cartridge holders. Many of the bodies were unrecognizable due to being struck by dozens and dozens of mini balls. After two days of rains, the holes in which they had hidden had become flooded. "In some places (bodies lay) four layers deep, exhibiting every ghastly phase of mutilation." Here men had seen muskets with bayonets hurled as spears; skulls had been split by gun stocks; men had been grabbed by their hair and pulled in the entrenchments to their death. Wounded men had been trampled into the muck of the bloody trenches, with some drowning in the bloody pools. Bodies were pressed by hundreds of shoes walking over them until they disappeared in the ooze. One veteran recalled that the blood and gore flowed so freely that it came to the shoe tops of the survivors. Among those dead here were Col. Thomas Hardin and Adjutant Albert Peel, both of the Holly Springs area.
But what everyone had returned to see was not the bodies nor to search for survivors. They had come to see THE TREE, the tree that was being discussed everywhere. An oak, nearly two feet in diameter, more than 60 inches in circumference had been cut down by the hail of mini balls. Men could not believe it, but there it was, lying crushed on the ground, its stump splintered-shot off its trunk by bullets from muskets. How could mortals have survived so fierce an attack, one in which the entire line of breastworks had been swept so viciously? How did one survive, when merely raising one's head to look over the parapet would be instant death? The tree trunk was dug up and taken to a local hotel in Spotsylvania Court House. There it was confiscated by Yankee troops as a trophy for the Secretary of War. It was displayed first at the War Department, then at the US Centennial in Philadelphia and finally it was donated by the War Department to the Smithsonian Institution. The viciousness of the battle became legendary. One Union officer estimated that some of his men had fired 500 rounds each during the battle.
But what about "App"? The men had had no food to eat that day; they had very little water to drink; and because cartridges were torn open with one's mouth, spilling black powder onto the tongue in the process, their mouths became acrid and dry. Men threw back their heads and opened their mouths to catch up the drizzling rain. Men could survive a few more hours of battle without food or drink, but they must have ammunition. The shouts went up? "More Cartridges, More Cartridges," all up and down the lines. Supplies must be brought up from the rear. Already dozens had been hit going for water or carrying messages. Now General Harris watched helplessly as man after man was cut down in an attempt to secure ammunition. One later recalled that it was a suicide mission to leave the trenches.
App took up the challenge and went to the rear and returned safely bringing hundreds of cartridges, dragging them on a tent fly. Knowing on this day a few hundred cartridges would not last long, he returned to the rear again scrambling for low places, jumping behind stumps and crawling behind logs. Again he returned dragging a heavy bundle laden with ammunition through the mud. While hundreds "hung on", other hundreds were digging feverishly one half mile to the rear to prepare a fall back position. "App" knew that to prevent a charge on their position a heavy barrage must be maintained constantly. Again he braved the hail of musket fire to answer the call for "More Cartridges, More Cartridges". Repeatedly, into the night, Gen. Harris recalled in his diary, written long after the war, "Courier Hancock brought precious cartridges to the battle line." The din continued into the wee hours of the morning before the Confederates were able to withdraw to their new entrenchments. Hancock had helped his comrades hold on "just a bit longer."
Private Asbury W. "App" Hancock was awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor, posthumously, in August of 1979, for his heroism at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. "App" Hancock is buried in the Eason Cemetery, on Wall Hill Road, about 2 1/2 miles west of the Marshall-Tate County line.
Among his relatives living today are Dale Hancock and Jean Walker of Independence, Barbara Bowen Hamilton of Iuka, and former Democratic US Representative David Bowen of Jackson.
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