Confederate general Lewis Addison Armistead fought in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia until mortally wounded and captured at the height of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Armistead was born February 18, 1817 in New Bern, North Carolina, the son of Gen. Walker Keith and Elizabeth Armistead. His family having a strong military tradition, Lewis entered West Point as a cadet in 1834, but was dismissed in 1836, allegedly for breaking a mess-hall plate over the head of future comrade Jubal Anderson Early. Nevertheless he was appointed to the regular army in 1839 and fought under his father during the Seminole Wars in Florida, where he was promoted to first lieutenant. Armistead served in the Mexican War and was thrice decorated for bravery. At the battle of Chapultepec, he was wounded and, “the first to leap into the Great Ditch.” Following the Mexican War, Armistead was stationed on the western frontier, where he met and befriended Pennsylvanian and future opponent Winfield Scott Hancock.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Armistead chose to follow his state out of the Union and resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on May 26, 1861. He was commissioned colonel of the 57th Virginia Infantry. On April 1, 1862 Armistead was made a brigadier general in Pickett’s division and led a gallant charge at Battle of Malvern Hill during the Seven Days campaign. He led his brigade during the famous Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
It is for the Battle of Gettysburg, however, that Armistead is most famously remembered. On the third day of the battle, Armistead led his brigade during Pickett’s Charge, fixing his hat on the point of sword and reputedly urging his men to “remember what you are fighting for – your homes, your friends, your sweethearts!” He and a handful of Virginians and Tennesseans under his command succeeded in crossing the stone wall where, in the words of James McPherson, “Armistead was mortally wounded with his hand on a Yankee cannon and his followers fell like leaves in an autumn wind.” The spot where Armistead and his men fell, a bend in the wall that became known as “the angle,” is regarded by many as the ‘high-water mark’ of the Confederacy.
Armistead was taken to a Federal field hospital, where he requested that his watch and other valuables be given to his friend Hancock, who had faced him that day from the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge. Armistead died two days later on July 5, and was buried in his family plot in St. Paul’s Churchyard in Baltimore.