That Famous Hancock Farewell Party

by a variety of sources

Like many people, I have always been touched by the story of that celebrated farewell party in Los Angeles that was thrown by Mrs. Hancock before various Regular Army officers went their separate ways - some North, some South, to fight the Civil War. I think I first read about it in the liner notes for "Kathleen Mavourneen" from the early 1960's Mormon Tabernacle Choir LP of Civil War music. Being from Los Angeles I was especially interested in finding out where it happened.

Truth, however, is sometimes different than reported history. It may not have happened at all!


"It was in the early summer of 1861 that the famous farewell party, noted in Almira Hancock's memoirs and the movie "Gettysburg," was held at the Hancock home in Los Angeles. Close friends like Albert Sidney Johnston, Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead bid their final goodbyes to the Hancocks. Johnston would be killed at Shiloh, and Garnett and Armistead would later battle Hancock's forces at Gettysburg."

From an Internet posting by Will Gorenfeld:

"Winfield Scott Hancock, Lo Armistead, and Dick Garnett had all served together in California and Mexico in the 6th US Infantry. They were close friends. Armistead and Garnett died during Pickett's futile charge against General Hancock's position. General Johnston died at Shiloh.

The story of the grand party first appeared in Almira Hancock's biography of her late husband which was published in 1887, a year after the General's death. Given the source, several generations of historians have taken it on faith that there was a grand farewell party at the Hancock's Los Angeles home in which six or so future Confederate officers, including Albert Sidney Johnston, Garnett, and Armistead, all attended. Mrs. Hancock wrote about the sadness of the evening as Mrs. Johnston sung "Kathleen Mavourneen." At this, she said, "Hearts were filled with sadness over the surrendering of life-long ties."

David Jordan, in his Hancock biography, writes of this party. Gods and Generals, by Shaara the younger, embellishes this story and adds lots of pure fiction. Using Monthly Post Returns and the Official Reports (on CD), we have tracked the whereabouts of Mssrs. Garnett, Johnston, and Armistead during the months of April through July of 1861. From this information it would appear that Almira's widely accepted historical fact is incorrect. None of these three fellows was in Los Angeles at the same time during 1861. They did, however, pass through Los Angeles during the early part of 1861 and my guess is that there were, as was the case across the nation, sad farewells given between brother officers. My point here is how easy it is for history to be based upon accounts of those who witnessed or participated in historical events, such as Almira Hancock, but whose memories have faded by time that they write of these events."

From Greg Biggs:

I used to live in Los Angeles and did a good bit of research about the Hancock home which appeared in an article I wrote for Blue & Gray Magazine ("Defending Southern California - The Drum Barracks").

The Hancock home was in downtown Los Angeles and is now under some skyscraper - I vaguely remember where it was although I have friends there that can take you right to the site - under the skyscraper! Besides Camp Drum, there was also another Federal camp near modern day Culver City - which is where Hancock mainly did his work. Other posts in the area include Ft. Tejon, in Tejon Pass about 80 miles to the north.