“To Defy The Predictions Of The Universe”: A Wedding Goes Crazy, The Love Story Goes Well

Winfield Scott Hancock, Civil War era

It’s February 14 and Valentine’s Day… So that means I get to bless (or torture) you with a blog post about a historic love story.

Now, did you know that February 14 also happens to be a Union general’s birthday? Winfield Scott Hancock. And what better opportunity to give a salute to his life and love story which started in St. Louis, Missouri, when he got an army band to serenade Miss Almira Russell? As the story goes, she listened from behind closed shutters, but tossed out her glove (gasp, ooh and ahh) which young Hancock caught as a token of her affection.

Lieutenant Hancock and Miss Russell married on January 24, 1850, and the bride later wrote her memories of the day:

I will commence my personal recollections…with our marriage, which took place at the residence of my father, Samuel Russell, in St. Louis, in the midst of warring elements, thunder, lightning and hail, so unusual at that season of the year, January 24, 1850. There are some who will recall, as I relate them, the several contretemps that occurred, and the predictions that were made in consequence. First the extinguishing, three times before and after the ceremony, of all the lights throughout the house; and a similar occurrence at the reception given in our honor by General and Mrs. Harney, produced a sensation of impending evil in the minds of the superstitious, and might have left its impression upon our own hearts, had not the new life upon which we had just entered been so full of promise as to defy the predictions of a universe.

The idle rumors, at home and abroad, that the bridal dress was made of spun glass, had brought together a great crowd of the curious, who were hoping for a glimpse of this phenomenal costume. This mob, as it were, impeded every approach to the house, necessitation the assistance of a police force, which irritated the people almost to violence. Although a stormy beginning—was it prophetic?

I think the question has been substantially answered. Yet as the sun gave forth its brightest rays from behind the darkest clouds, before sinking to rest upon the marriage eve, so has the sunlight, at intervals, entered completely into our lives, giving such unspeakable happiness, calm, patience and courage, as to counteract the dreaded dispensation. . . .

We’re not exactly sure what Mrs. Hancock’s fabled wedding dress looked like, but this fashion plate from March 1850 give hints for fashionable bridal attire at that time.

The Hancocks certainly had plenty of adventures in the next decades. From doorless quarters for the newly-weds at Jefferson Barracks to civilizing a lonely Florida fort or dodging bullets in Kansas to surviving steamboat disasters and holding California for the Union, this couple had a lifetime of excitement in just eleven years. That was just the preview! Civil War battlefield fame, war injury, overseeing part of the Reconstruction, time on the Western Plains, campaigning for the presidency. Their marriage lasted thirty-six years and until “death do us part.”  The foreboding wedding day and early adventures had forged a bond of commitment and trust which made General and Mrs. Hancock a power couple in mid-19th Century America in military life, politics, and influence.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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2 Responses to “To Defy The Predictions Of The Universe”: A Wedding Goes Crazy, The Love Story Goes Well

  1. John Pryor says:

    Sarah,
    Why are Hancock and his wife buried apart?

  2. Dan Nettesheim says:

    Hancock wanted to be buried next to their daughter Ada, who preceded him in death by 9 years, in Norristown. Years later Almira preferred to be buried in her parents family plot near St. Louis.

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