New Bernian Led Famed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg Gen. Lewis Armistead died there

Contributed by Florence Fulford Moore

From the Elizabeth Moore Papers, Collection No. 322 East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. For research and study only; not for deposit in other repositories. Most manuscripts are protected by copyright laws; permission to publish must be requested.  (Florence F. Moore has received permission to publish these and other works from the Elizabeth Moore Collection.)


Appropriate for the 250th anniversary of the founding of New Bern as well as for the approaching centennial programs in connection with the War Between the States is the fact that Gen. Lewis Addison Armistead, who led in person the famed Pickett’s charge during the Battle of Gettysburg, was born in New Bern as a descendant of some of the most prominent local personages.

His great-grandfather on his mother’s side was John Wright Stanly, an illustrious patriot who lost 14 privateers during the Revolutionary War and lent $80,000 to Gen. Nathaniel Greene, thus helping materially in winning the war for American Independence.

Stanly, a merchant at Philadelphia came first to New Bern when he was a young man.  On his visit here he fell in love with Ann Cogdell, married her, and remained in New Bern the rest of his life, until both he and his wife died of yellow fever during the disastrous epidemic in 1789. Both are buried in Christ Episcopal Church yard.

Incidentally this Ann Cogdell Stanly had a sister, Peggy Cogdell, described as “the most beautiful blonde in America by Don Francisco de Miranda, South American leader, who visited New Bern in 1783. Peggy became the mother of George E. Badger, Judge, United States Senator, and Secretary of the Navy.

John Wright Stanly’s son, John Stanly, (1774-1833) who was the grandfather of General Armistead, was an outstanding lawyer, legislator and congressman. He served as speaker of the North Carolina House. In 1802 he had a political controversy with Governor Richard Dobbs Speight in a duel at New Bern.

John Stanly’s only daughter Elizabeth married against her father’s wishes, an army officer named Walter Keith Armistead. While she was on a visit to her father, her son Lewis Addison Armistead was born on February 17, 1817, in the Stanly home which originally stood on the corner of Middle and New Streets, but was moved in recent years to make way for the new Federal Building erected in 1933-35.

Although her father never forgave Elizabeth for marrying Armistead, she came to New Bern to nurse him during his last eight years, when he was a physical wreck from a paralytic stroke suffered while debating in the North Carolina House of Commons. He died in the Armistead home in Virginia but is buried here in Cedar Grove Cemetery, with his obituary written by William Gaston. His wife had been an heiress at the time of her marriage, but was left destitute on the death of her husband. She continued to live with
the Armisteads in Virginia.

Walter Keith Armistead, father of Lewis was born in an army family. Four of his five brothers were also soldiers. The other brother was the father of an army officer. All five brothers fought in the Mexican War. They came from an English family which emigrated from Yorkshire, England to Virginia as early as 1635. William Armistead, the immigrant, had a grandson, Henry Armistead, who resided in Gloucester County, and married Martha Burwell. Their grandson John Armistead married Mary Baylor, and they were the parents of the “Military Armisteads.”

Born in 1785, Walter Keith Armistead, was graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1803. In the War of 1812, he fought in Canada, was in the Seminole War, and became Chief Engineer of the United States Army. He reached the rank of brevet brigadier-general and was second in command of the army at the time of his death in 1845.

His son Lewis Addison Armistead entered West Point September 1, 1834, but an untoward incident prevented his completing his courses. Jubal A. Early, who afterwards became such a “fire-eating” soldier, insulted Armistead on the parade grounds, according to the story which has been handed down. In retaliation. Armistead at mess cracked Early over the head with a plate. Armistead was thereupon dismissed from West Point, Feb. 15, 1836.

Undiscouraged, apparently determined to carry out the family tradition of Army Armisteads, he was graduated from a military school in North Carolina and entered the United States  Army, with rank of Second Lieutenant, Sixth Regiment of Infantry on July 10, 1839. He fought against the Seminoles under Gen. Zachary Taylor, and also under his own father.  During the Mexican War he won a splendid reputation for bravery and aggressive fighting.  He led the storming at Chapultepec, and was first brevetted captain, and later major for gallantry in other Battles.

After the Mexican War he served for 14 years on the Western frontier.  At the outbreak of the War Between the States, he was still out west. During the summer of 1860, he had visited his old friend Turner Ashby at Wolf’s Crag. After listening for some time to Asby’s gloomy prophecies of the coming disruption of the Union, Armistead suddenly exclaimed: “Turner, do not talk so, I know one country and one flag. Let me sing you a song and drive away your gloom.” Thereupon he sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Later when the necessity for a choice came, Armistead and Ashby did not hesitate to join the Confederacy. Armistead resigned from the United States Army on May 26, 1861. At Los Angeles he presented to his friend Winfield Scott Hancock, then a Captain and a brevet major, his major’s uniform with the remark, “Some day you may need this.” They met at Gettysburg.

Joining Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston and other officers who had resigned from the United  States Army, Armistead journeyed with them across continent from Vallecite to San Antonio, New Orleans and Richmond.

Entering the Confederate service at Richmond, he was made a colonel with the 57th Virginia Regiment. On April 2, 1862, he was commissioned brigadier-general. With that rank he fought at Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, and Sharpsburg. Everywhere, he displayed conspicuous gallantry and for his quality of headlong bravery was known through the Army of Northern Virginia. His coolness under fire, his stern perseverance and indomitable pluck won the applause of his superiors and the confidence of his followers.

At Malvern Hill he led the Confederate charge upon the Union lines, only to see his men hopelessly slaughtered. It was during this battle that his entire brigade, with the exception of one heroic company, broke in panic before a Union counterattack. Armistead and that one company staved off the onsurging Northerners, until the frightened, inexperienced Confederates could be re-formed and put back into the line.

During the first Maryland campaign, Armistead was made Provost Marshal of the army, and it was his duty to round up stragglers and otherwise insure the efficiency of the troops. He received the personal thanks of General Robert E. Lee for the ability with which he discharged the duties of that office.

As has been said, Armistead was no ‘holiday soldier,’ no ‘carpet knight.’ Col. Rawley W. Martin, in his excellent account in the Southern Historical Society papers, wrote of Armistead, ‘he was a strict disciplinarian but never a martinet. Obedience to duty he regarded as the first qualification of a soldier.”

Obedient to duty, demanding in turn obedience from others, resolute, unyielding with courage
tempered in the flame of Battle, he waited only for an opportunity to prove himself the hero that
he was to write his name high on the roll of fame and win the plaudits of the Military world. That chance came at Gettysburg. His courageous daring and magnificent leadership there on July 3, 1863, made his name immortal.

For ten months prior to that battle he had been serving under Gen. Geo. E. Pickett. In April 1862, after being made brigadier-general he was assigned to Gen. Benjamin Huger’s division, and the following Sept., his brigade was incorporated with Pickett’s Division of Longstreet’s Corps.

On the third day of the Battle at Gettysburg, not having participated in the fighting of July 1 and 2, Pickett’s three brigades were in excellent condition. Some of the men who had been engaged in the previous desperate battle were mustered back into ranks, along with all cooks and extra-duty men, many of them wearing bandages for wounds on the heads and arms. With tears in his eyes, Gen. Lee is said to have remarked with deep emotion, “These men ought not to be in this charge.”

The charge of Longstreet’s Corps in all its aspects is now considered a fatal blunder. Instead of being a grand forward movement of the entire line of some 30,000 men which Lee had desired, and which might have swept aside all resistance and perhaps victory, Longstreet delayed, trying in vain to persuade Lee to make a flank movement. He postponed action so long that when the advance finally came, Union forces had made their position doubly strong, with reinforcements of infantry and fresh batteries of artillery. To make matters worse, Longstreet sent in less than half the force contemplated by Lee.

“This is a desperate thing to attempt,” exclaimed Gen. Richard E. Garnett to Armistead.” “It is,”
replied the fearless Armistead, “but the issue is with the Almighty and we must leave it in His hands.”

As the brigade waited for the order to proceed, a shell struck a nearby tree. With a touch of grim
humor, Armistead pulled a splinter from the tree and showed it to his men, inquired, “Boys, do
you think you can go up under that? It’s pretty hot out there.”

Just before the advance order came, Armistead walked up and down in front of his men and made
them what we would call today a “pep talk.” Rallying them, he said, “Remember men, what you are fighting for. Remember your homes, your firesides, your mothers and wives, and sisters and

Riding up to the color sergeant of the 53rd Virginia regiment he challenged: “Sergeant, are you going to put those colors on the enemy’s works today?” The color sergeant replied earnestly, “I will try sir, and if mortal man can do it, it shall be done.”

For the charge, the front brigade was led by General Garnett, the middle brigade by Gen. James L. Kemper, and the rear brigade, the Old Stonewall Brigade, by General Armistead, who marched on foot, saying that he was an infantryman. All the other generals and field officers were mounted.

General Garnett was so ill that the surgeon ordered him to a field hospital. He refused to go, declaring that he would lead his brigade in the charge. It was a broiling hot day, but he wore an overcoat. He was so weak that he had to be lifted onto horseback. Garnett was a native North Carolinian.

When the signal guns were fired, Armistead shouted “Attention.” At once every man in his brigade
rose to his feet from the ground where they had been lying, under heavy Federal bombardment. Placing himself in front of the 53rd Virginians and marching on foot twenty yards ahead of the brigade, he watched and directed their advance.

The guiding point for the charge was a clump of trees just beyond a low stone wall, known as Ziegler’s Grove. Taking off his hat and placing it on the point of his sword, Armistead called in stentorian tones that reached every man under him, “Attention, Second Battalion, the battalion of direction, forward, guide, center, march.”

Turning his horse, which he had then remounted, he spurred forward, his silvered head a shining
mark in the torrent of bullets which were not long in being unloosed.

At approximately two o’clock in the afternoon, Pickett’s entire division marched through the rain
of shot and shell toward the Union position on Cemetery Hill. Armistead and his men were the first to reach the objective. Armistead’s horse was shot from under him. He placed himself behind his men to clear the way for their fire.

General Pickett left the division half-way in its charge and went back to hurry up reinforcements.
As they came under musket and shell fire, General Garnett was killed, and General Kemper took over command. Before they reached the Rock Wall, General Kemper was badly wounded and incapacitated for further field service, but lived to redeem Virginia from Republicans and Negro rule in 1874, and was elected Governor of that state.

With his superior officers out, General Armistead automatically assumed leadership. The first line of Federals just behind the stone wall had risen up and retreated to a new position in the rear.

“Colonel,” said Armistead to Col. Rawley M. Martin, “we cannot stay here.” Forward he led the charge to the stone wall where a cannon had been put out of action.

Armistead dashed toward it and with his sword held high, his pierced hat down to his sword’s
hilt guard, he leaped through an embrasure, shouting to his men, “Follow me.”

Dashing ahead, he kept 50 yards in front of his men. At the stone wall, he was among the first to leap over it, shouting, “Boys, we must use the cold steel. Who will follow? “ Every able-bodied man obeyed the challenge. The charge reached the crest of the Ridge to seize the Federal guns and plant the colors on the fortifications.

Some thirty odd yards beyond the wall, Armistead laid his hand on a cannon with the clarion call, “This cannon is mine.”

But he was then riddled with bullets. He fell mortally wounded. Within a few minutes, he died.

Thus he was killed at the true “high water mark” of the Confederacy, epitomizing the typical Confederate line officer, who was always in there, fighting with his men, doing his full duty as a soldier, and meeting an honorable if not a victorious fate, contributing to the undying honor and glory of the Starts and Bards (sic) (Stars and Bars).

Gen. Armistead’s body was buried in a vault at St. Paul’s Cemetery on German and Fremont  Streets, Baltimore, Maryland. A plaque was in recent years erected there by the General Lewis Armistead Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy of Washington, DC.

The Sun Journal, New Bern, NC, Tuesday, March 13, 1962.” (Does not show who wrote the
article. Copied by Elizabeth Moore.”)