Lewis Addison Armistead, known as Lo or Lothario to family and friends, was born Feb. 18, 1817 in New Bern, North Carolina to Walker and Elizabeth Armistead. Like many officers of the day, Armistead was born into a well-to-do family. His grandfather was a U.S. Congressman, and his uncle served as North Carolina’s governor during the civil war, according to Charles Thomas Johnson’s in the “Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A political, Social, and Military History.”
Lothario’s military career began in the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. Eventually, however, Armistead resigned from the school due either to academic problems or for disciplinary reasons. Historians and scholars still debate the true reason for Armistead’s resignation. Some historians believe Armistead struggled with French and couldn’t stay academically eligible. But, according to the “Resignation of Cadet Lewis A. Armistead,” in the National Archives, Armistead was dismissed from West Point after smashing a plate over the head of Jubal Early, a cadet who would later become a general for the Confederate Army and fight alongside Armistead during the Battle of Gettysburg, during an argument.
Though Armistead was dismissed from West Point he managed, with help from influential family members, to receive a commission as a second lieutenant in July of 1839. Armistead was promoted in 1844 to first lieutenant.
In 1846 the United States entered into war with Mexico. Armistead served as a captain in several campaigns during the war and was wounded at Chapultepec. Quickly thereafter he was promoted to major. After the war, Armistead continued serving in the Army. He was stationed at a plethora of frontier posts through the course of the next decade before the beginning of the Civil War. Armistead spent time in Kentucky, Kansas and many other states and territories. He participated in many campaigns against Native Americans — most notably against the Mojave in what is now Ft. Mojave, AZ.
When the Civil War broke out Armistead was in command of New San Diego Depot, San Diego, near his close friend Winfield Scott Hancock who served as a quartermaster in Los Angeles. The pair served together during the Mexican/American War. Before Armistead and Hancock headed for the war, Armistead to fight for the Confederate Army and Hancock to fight for the Union Army, Armistead said at a farewell party to his dear friend “Goodbye. You can never know what this has cost me,” according to Robert Krick’s “Armistead and Garnett: The Parallel Lives of Two Virginia Soldiers.”
By the time Armistead arrived on the battlefield of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, he had served under several major Confederate generals such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and Maj. Gen. George Pickett at Fredericksburg, Antietam and the Second Bull Run etc. He also had risen from the rank of major to brigadier general.
On July 3, 1863, Armistead led his soldiers from the front during Pickett’s Charge. His brigade got farther than all others, and they reached their objective. However, they were quickly beaten back by the Union soldiers, which interestingly enough and unbeknownst to Armistead were led by Hancock, according to Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.”
Armistead was shot three times while charging his objective, and using Masonic symbols asked and received assistance from a Union officer who was also a Free Mason. Learning of Hancock’s whereabouts, Armistead asked the Union officer to see his friend, but Hancock had also been wounded defending the line. Armistead was taken to a Union field hospital where, despite none of his wounds being life threatening, he died from a fever.
Though, throughout Shaara’s book, Armistead was constantly trying to see his old friend Hancock during the Battle of Gettysburg, he was unable to before he died — even though they were presumably within a very short distance of each other. Brig. Gen. Armistead is buried in Baltimore.
Johnson, Charles Thomas. “Lewis Addison Armistead.” In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.
Krick, Robert K. “Armistead and Garnett: The Parallel Lives of Two Virginia Soldiers.” In The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond, edited by Gary W. Gallagher. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001.