Lewis Addison Armistead was born on February 18, 1817, in New Bern, North Carolina. His parents were Walker Keith Armistead and Elizabeth Stanly Armistead. Armistead’s father and his father’s five brothers served in the War of 1812. His uncle, George, commanded Fort McHenry during the British attack that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. Armistead entered the United States Military Academy in 1833 but resigned in 1835 due to academic deficiencies and poor conduct. Following an incident in which he broke a plate over the head of fellow-cadet Jubal Early. Although Armistead did not graduate from West Point, his father obtained a second lieutenant’s commission in the United States Army for his son on July 10, 1839.
Armistead served in the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846–February 2, 1848), during which he received two brevet promotions for valor and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec (September 1847). Between the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846–February 2, 1848) and the onset of the American Civil War, Armistead served at many posts in the American West.
When the American Civil War began, Armistead resigned his commission on May 26, 1861, left his post in San Diego, California, and joined the Confederate Army. On September 15, 1861, he was commissioned as a major in the Confederate Army and promoted to the rank of colonel on September 23, 1861. Six months later, on April 1, 1862, Armistead achieved the rank of brigadier general.
Armistead served with Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Seven Pines (May 31–June 1, 1862), the Seven Days Battles (June 25–July 1, 1862), the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862), the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), and the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862).
Death at Gettysburg
During the Battle of Gettysburg, Federal soldiers shot Armistead three times while leading his brigade during Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. During the charge, Armistead’s brigade got further than any Confederate troops, reaching their objective before being driven back by a Union counterattack. Some historians refer to Armistead’s advance as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. Although doctors did not believe Armistead’s Gettysburg wounds to be serious at first, he died in a Union field hospital two days later, on July 5, 1863.
Armistead’s gravesite is in Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery, in Baltimore, Maryland.