By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
5:04 PM EDT, July 4, 2013
Confederate Gen. Lewis Addison Armistead, who was mortally wounded during Pickett's ill-fated charge at Gettysburg, sleeps away the ages in a quiet Baltimore cemetery. And how he came to spend eternity here is somewhat of a mystery.
Armistead was appointed to West Point in 1934, but was dismissed after breaking a plate over the head of Jubal A. Early, who later became a Confederate lieutenant general and also fought at Gettysburg.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 6th U.S. Infantry in 1839 and fought in the Mexican War, where he was promoted to brevet rank of captain for gallantry.
Armistead resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and joined the Confederate Army in 1861, given the rank of major. The next year, he was promoted to brigadier general and later led his brigade to victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
At Gettysburg, Armistead was in command of the 57th Brigade, which included 2,500 men and was composed of the 9th — mostly made up of Marylanders — the 14th, 38th, 53rd and 57th Virginia regiments.
On July 3, 1863, in the stifling 87-degree heat before Maj. Gen. George Pickett launched his charge at 2 p.m., Armistead approached the color sergeant of the 53rd Virginia Regiment and said; "Sergeant, are you going to put those colors on the enemy's works today?"
The sergeant, earnestly looking toward Cemetery Ridge, replied: "I will try, sir, and if mortal man can do it, it shall be done."
As the charge commenced, Armistead waved his hat from his saber, calling out to his men, "This is the Philadelphia Brigade Boys, give them the cold steel!" and "Remember what you are fighting for — your homes, your friends, your sweethearts."
In the dreadful confusion and cannonade of the furious battle, Armistead and several of his men managed to reach the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, where his tattered colors were briefly unfurled, before soon being overwhelmed by a Union counterattack.
Suddenly Armistead fell under the guns he had captured and subdued.
"Armistead was mortally wounded with his hand on a Yankee cannon and his followers fell like leaves in an autumn wind," wrote Civil War historian James McPherson.
Where they fell, at a bend in the wall, has thereafter been known as "the Angle."
Captured and now a prisoner, Armistead was taken to a Union field hospital. He turned his head and spoke to Capt. Henry H. Bingham, a surgeon, who was desperately trying to save his life.
"Say to General [Winfield Scott] Hancock for me that I have done him, and you all, a grievous injury, which I shall regret the longest day I live," said Armistead.
Before his death two days later from infection, Armistead, 46, had requested that his watch and other valuables be given to his battlefield adversary and pre-Civil War friend, General Hancock.
When it was over, Pickett's Charge came at a great cost. Of the nearly 15,000 men who crossed the plain of death, only 600 survived.
Armistead's father claimed his body, according to some sources, which was taken to Baltimore's Old St. Paul's Cemetery, at the intersection of today's Redwood Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and placed in the Armistead family vault.
He was eventually buried next to the grave of his uncle, Maj. George Armistead, who had commanded Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
An email the other day and a subsequent phone call from Beverley Whiting Young, a descendant of Armistead's, told me that her family had accepted his body and placed it in the family vault in the Baltimore cemetery.
She also pointed out that The Sun was strangely quiet at the time and made no mention of the general being buried here.
So, how did Armistead come to be buried in Baltimore?
"Christopher Hughes Armistead, his first cousin, accepted the body," said Young, who advances the theory that he was buried here because it was "wartime and they probably couldn't get it through the lines" to return it for burial in the South.
She said at a Confederate reunion held in 1906 in Richmond, Va., there was a proposal to have Armistead disinterred and buried in the city's Hollywood Cemetery, but nothing ever came of it.
Young also sent me a copy of a 1906 news story from the Springfield (Mass.) Republican that told the story of a reunion of survivors of the Philadelphia brigade and the Confederates at "the Angle" in Gettysburg. They returned Armistead's sword, which they had captured 43 years earlier.
"I wonder where the sword is now?" asks Young.
A monument at Gettysburg to Armistead, the only Confederate monument within Union lines, marks what is known as the High Water Mark. It notes the farthest advance made by Southern troops into the Union lines during the battle.
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