ARMISTEAD AT THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG.
Extracts from Letters Written by Dr. R. W. Martin to
Rev. JAMES POINDEXTER.
When Armistead's Brigade was in line of battle a short time before the advance was ordered, the general marched up and down in front of his troops encouraging them in every way and said these words: "Men, remember what you are fighting for. Remember your homes, your firesides, your wives, mothers, sisters and your sweethearts."
When the signal guns were fired Armistead instantly called attention, and instantly every man was on his feet. After a few words he walked to the front of the Fifty-third Virginia Regiment, his battalion of direction, and addressed the color bearer, "Sergeant, are you going to put those colors on the enemy's works over yonder?"
"Yes, general, if mortal man can do it."
He then exhorted the men to follow their colors and to remember the brave words of their color bearer.
When the advance commenced Armistead placed himself in front of the colors of the Fifty-third Regiment, and from that point watched and directed the advance until within a short distance of the enemy's line. When approximating the advance line General Kemper rode up to him and said, "General, hurry up, my men can stand no more."
He quietly turned to the officer commanding his battalion of direction and said, "Colonel, double quick." The double quick soon quickened into a run, the run into a charge, Armistead all the time in front of his line of battle, and when the desperate effort came and the final rush for the rock fence was made he dew his sword, put his hat on the end of it, called upon his men to follow, rushed over the rock fence and was shot just as he reached the enemy's guns between the two lines in the bloody angle, thus sealing with his life's blood the high water mark of the rebellion.
As Armistead was carried from the field he met Hancock as he was hurrying to the front. They recognized each other, and Hancock dismounted and grasped his hand and told him how sorry he was to see him wounded. Armistead returned his kindly expression and told him the wound was mortal and that he had on his person some things that he wish to entrust to him to be returned when opportunity presented to his people in Virginia. Hancock accepted the commission and tried to persuade Armistead to look upon the bright side, that he probably was not so seriously hurt as he feared, excused himself by saying he was compelled to hurry to the front, left Armistead, promising to see him the next day. In a short time he was wounded himself and they never met again.
This was related to me as I lay on the ground back of the battle line where hundreds of wounded were carried after the fight, by one of Hancock's staff, who rode up just about dusk and found a number of men congregated about me. When he found I was a badly wounded "Johnny Reb" Colonel he dismounted, drove everybody away that I might have fresh air, and commenced a conversation.
When he found that I was of Armistead's Brigade, he said, "Armistead, Armistead. I have just left him, he is mortally wounded," and then related the above, and said, "I will have you taken care of," etc.
Armistead lingered through the 4th and died on the 5th, leaving an example of patriotism, heroism and devotion to duty which ought to be handed down through the ages.
Here's my heart and hand.
Sincerely and truly,
R. W. Martin,
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 39, pp. 186-187)