Armistead’s Cost

Pickett's Charge Map

PIckett’s Charge Map – Click Image for larger view (at the Civil War Trust website).

The morning of July 3, 1863 began with an assault on Culp’s Hill, but General Meade had ordered troops back to Culp’s Hill to fortify Union ranks. By 11 am, the Union forces regained lost ground. The Confederate assault at Culp’s Hill was stymied. General George Edward Pickett’s brigade, having the only fresh troops on day three of the battle, was ordered, under General James Longstreet’s command, to assault the weakened center of the Union line. Confederate artillery commenced firing on Union troops on Cemetery Ridge at approximately 1 pm. Union cannons answered this bombardment with a cannonade of their own. At 3 pm, the battlefield quieted and the order to begin the infamous “Pickett’s Charge” across a mile of open battlefield towards a “copse of trees” was given.

Originally positioned at the rear of the brigade, General Lewis Addison Armistead, a Confederate from North Carolina, led his men forward during the charge. Union cannon began to fire at the advancing Confederate Army, mowing down as many as 20 Confederate troops at a time, as it advanced towards Cemetery Ridge. General Armistead’s “support troops” filled in the gaps and, eventually, ended up in the front of the Confederate charge.

General Lewis Addison Armistead

General Lewis Addison Armistead.
Photo from the Library of Congress Archives

General Armistead led his troops from the front. As they approached the Union armies, he doffed his hat, placing it on the top of his saber. This hat-on-saber he waved, spurring his men onward towards victory. Armistead’s brigade of North Carolina men advanced the furthest of any Confederate men that day. They made it to the Union lines just north of the copse of trees to what’s known as the angle, formed by an elbow at a small rock wall. The advancing Confederacy breached the wall and began hand-to-hand combat with Union troops. Still hoisting his hat and saber high, Armistead crossed the wall. Not far beyond the wall, he was shot three times, finally falling.

Confederate troops who made it as far as the wall were either captured or killed. Although he had been shot three times, General Armistead’s wounds were not grievous and he was taken to the Henry Spangler Farm where Union surgeons believed he would survive. Two days later, he died.

The Angle, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The Angle, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Photo from the Library of Congress Archives

Union Captain Henry H. Bingham carried news of Confederate General Lewis Armistead’s death to Major General Winfield Scott Hancock of the Union Army. Hancock had also been injured by a bullet which ricocheted off the pommel of his saddle during the fighting during Pickett’s Charge. Major General Hancock had been positioned at Cemetery Ridge that day. He too showed exceptional courage during battle, offering his troops encouragement as he stayed on horseback, making himself a target, during the artillery bombardment.

So, why did Union Captain Bingham bring Union Major General Hancock news of Confederate General Armistead’s death?

Rewind to 1860. San Diego, California. Prior to the outbreak of war, Armistead was stationed in San Diego with Hancock. When the war began, the then Captain Armistead addressed his friend Captain and assistant quartermaster Hancock as he left to join the ranks of the Confederacy.

“Hancock,” he said, “Good-by; you’ll never know what this has cost me.”

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock
Photo from the Library of Congress Archives

On that sweltering July afternoon in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, friend met friend on opposing sides of the battlefield as they courageously faced each other in blood.

As Americans prepare to celebrate the July fourth birth of this great nation, I hope they take a moment to reflect upon the lives which were lost to secure the freedoms they so enjoy. I hope they remember the price paid to afford them those freedoms. When brother met brother and friend met friend, blood was spilt, but to what end? Please remember the cost. And enjoy your holiday in reverence to those who afforded you the luxuries which you now enjoy.

Locals say that in the dim moonlight on the evening of July 2, there’s an annual gathering of ghostly officers near the (now gone) location of Spangler’s Well, on the farm where General Armistead passed from this life to the next, as they prepare to relive the bloody affairs of July 3rd. The locals also claim that if you walk the fields from the Confederate position on Seminary Ridge to the copse of trees on Cemetery Ridge, you won’t make the journey alone.

Sources:
* http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg.html
* http://www.history.com/topics/battle-of-gettysburg/videos#gettysburg
* Nesbitt, Mark. “Forever a Soldier.” Ghosts of Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1992. pp 40-44.

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