Here, we move forward on the American History timeline to learn about a hero from the War of 1812 and his nephew who fought at during the Civil War.
War of 1812 Hero: George Armistead
Born during the Revolutionary War on April 10, 1780, George Armistead commissioned in the Seventh Infantry Regiment in 1799. By the War of 1812, he had transferred to the artillery and was a major in the Third Artillery Regiment. He took a major role in the capture of the British stronghold, Fort George, during 1813. When Armistead arrived in at the White House to present captured British flags to President Madison, he received command of Fort McHenry, which guarded the approach to Baltimore, Maryland.
Armistead commissioned the forty-two by thirty foot United States flag which flew over Fort McHenry when the British squadron arrived in September 1814. Armistead had spent an incredible amount of time and energy preparing the fort’s defenses and held the stronghold, keeping the British out of Baltimore. During the British bombardment, a young American lawyer watched from the harbor and penned the poem which later became the words for the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
George Armistead only lived four years after his historic defense at Fort McHenry, dying in 1818. Though not a Founding Father, George Armistead defended the fledgling American nation at a important point in history and was honored and remembered by the country for his courage.
Nephew: Lewis Armistead
One of George Armistead’s nephews was Lewis Armistead. Born in North Carolina in 1817, this Armistead attended West Point for a short time, eventually dismissed for unruly behavior. He entered the U.S. army anyway, fought during the Mexican-American War, stationed in the western territories and California, and promoted to brevet major.
When the Civil War began in 1861, Armistead resigned his United States commission and escaped from California to fight for the Confederacy, commissioning as colonel of the 57th Virginia Infantry. Promoted to brigadier general in the spring of 1862, he led a brigade in George Pickett’s division from the Peninsula Campaign to the Battle of Gettysburg.
At the beginning of April 1862, Lewis Armistead became a brigadier general, commanding a brigade in General Pickett’s division. He led his troops in a famous charge at the Battle of Malvern Hill (toward the end of the Seven Days Battles) and took an active leadership role on the battlefields at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
Pickett’s Division was one last large Southern units to arrive at Gettysburg and consequently did not see action on the first or second days of the battle. Consequently, they were “rested” troops for the Confederate plans on the third day of fighting.
On The Fields at Gettysburg
Armistead’s brigade formed part of the attack forces ordered to advance on the center of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. At about 1 p.m., a Confederate artillery barrage began and lasted for approximately two hours; waiting Confederate infantry came under fire as Union cannon replied.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Pickett ordered the infantry attack to advance. As a brigade commander, Armistead had multiple difficulties: leading an attack across an open field under cannon and rifle fire and constantly shifting his line to the left and center to reach to objective point. He decided to lead on foot (not horseback) and led the advance of his brigade. Armistead’s brigade was one of the last Confederate brigades to reach The Angle on Cemetery Ridge because of their position in the advancing line.
Armistead and his surviving men reached the stonewall and crossed it. Some accounts mention the general directing his men and putting his hat on his sword at some point in the charge. Near a temporarily captured Union cannon, Armistead was wounded and remained behind as the survivors of his brigade retreated as the Union soldiers counterattacked. Taken prisoner, the wounded brigadier general was transported to a Union field hospital and, despite medical care, died two days later.
It’s a twist of irony in history and family history that George Armistead defended the now-famous Star-Spangled Banner during the War of 1812 while just few decades later his nephew, Lewis Armistead, would help lead a charge to capture a defensive position where United States flags stood. Both George and Lewis died as a result of their war actions, one from the effects of his work on the defenses, the other as a result of battlefield injuries. In unique ways, both Armisteads entered the pages of U.S. History.
P.S. This concludes our July series. Do you know of other descendants of Founding Father or other Early American leaders who fought at Gettysburg? Tell us in a comment!