the Battle of Gettysburg Resource Center
The Irony of the Life and Death of
Most who have studied the Battle of Gettysburg are familiar with Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead's role in the final chapter of that saga, namely, Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863. Prior to the charge Armistead gave his customary brief exhortation: "Men remember your wives, your mothers, your sisters and your sweethearts." As the charge progressed, Armistead advanced at the head of his brigade, as they neared the Union lines he placed his hat on the tip of his sword and held it aloft for his men to follow. It was the remnants of Armistead's Brigade along with remnants of other brigades from Pickett's Division and other units which pierced the Union line at The Angle. Armistead crossed the wall at The Angle and it was there that he fell mortally wounded and was captured by Federal Soldiers, his hat still upon his sword. On July 5, 1863 Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead CSA died in a temporary Union field hospital at the nearby Spangler farm.
Equally familiar are the basic facts about Armistead's pre-War life. He attended West Point, served in the 6th U.S. Infantry and by 1860 had risen to the rank of Major. During the pre-war years he developed a friendship with fellow officer Winfield Scott Hancock. When the war broke out in 1861, Armistead resigned his commission to serve the Confederacy and his home state of Virginia. At Gettysburg, it was his old friend Winfield Scott Hancock who was in command of the Union Lines to which Armistead led his men in that fateful attack.
The irony of Armistead death is more than the fact that he was mortally wounded attacking troops commanded by his old friend - that was hardly unusual in the Civil War where friends and families were divided by loyalties or just the simple peculiarities of geography. The irony is deeper than a simple friendship:
On September 14, 1814, Lewis A. Armistead's Uncle, Lt. Col. George Armistead, was in command of the garrison of Fort McHenry during the great bombardment. It was this encounter that gave birth to our National Anthem. Prior to the bombardment George had sent his pregnant wife, Louisa, north to safety, and on the day after the Americans successfully resisted the bombardment, she gave birth to a girl in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. Sometime before his death in 1818, George acquired the flag which had flown above the fort during the bombardment. At his death the flag passed to his widow, Louisa Armistead. When Louisa Armistead died in October 1861, she left the flag to her daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton. During the rebellion the flag was either sent to England for safe keeping or was in Georgiana's possession - there are conflicting stories. However, in either case, while Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead C.S.A. was fighting against the Union, the Flag which inspired the National Anthem of the Union was either directly or indirectly under the care of his cousin, Georgiana. When Lewis Armistead was mortally wounded it was under the banner which had been synonymous with the Armistead name.
(In 1907 Georgiana's daughter loaned the flag to the Smithsonian and in 1912 converted the loan to a gift.)
The information on this page comes from various sources on the internet and from Trust in God and Fear Nothing by Wayne E. Motts