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The Friendship of General Hancock and Armistead

By Rebecca Hinkle
On April 11, 2018

Armistead (left) and Hancock (right) were good friends for 17 years and both wounded during Pickett's Charge during the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Photo Courtesy of Fine Art America

When the Civil War began in 1861, many families and friendships were torn apart. It was a difficult war and it was hard when people signed up knowing there was a very strong possibility of not seeing their family and friends again, and it was even more difficult knowing that they were going to have to fight against a close friend or relative because of this war. This was the case for two friends on opposing sides during the Civil War, General Hancock of the Union army and General Armistead of the Confederate army. 

 
General Winfield Scott Hancock was born on Feb. 14, 1824, in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania. According to History.com, Hancock attended Norristown Academy briefly until 1840 when a congressman nominated Hancock to the United States Military Academy at West Point and Hancock graduated 18th out of 25 students in 1844. 
 
The man who would become a good friend to Hancock before the Civil War was General Lewis Addison Armistead, who was born on Feb. 18, 1817, in North Bern, North Carolina. Armistead came from a famous military family as his uncle, George Armistead, was the commander of Fort Henry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Armistead attended West Point but left the school after difficulties with his school work and fighting with another student. After leaving West Point, his father helped him get a second lieutenant position in the 6th U.S. Infantry. 
 
Armistead’s life was filled with tragedy. He married Cecelia Lee Love, a distant cousin of Robert E. Lee’s, and they had two children, Walker Keith Armistead and Flora Lee Armistead. In April of 1850, Armistead lost his daughter and later in the same year became a widower. In 1852, the family home burned down in Virginia, and he took leave to help his family. He remarried in 1853 to a woman named Cornelia Taliaferro Jamison, but she passed away in 1855 due to a cholera epidemic. 
 
Hancock had an easier life as he had less tragedy. Hancock became a career soldier after graduation from West Point. He was also assigned a position in the 6th U.S. Infantry as a brevet second lieutenant and was a quartermaster in Minnesota and Missouri. He married Almira Russell in 1850 and had two children with her. It was during this time in the 6th U.S. Infantry Hancock and Armistead became friends. 
 
They were friends for 17 years and Hancock supported Armistead through his grief of losing his child and wife, but this did not last as the Civil War began. When the war began, Hancock decided to go with his home state of Pennsylvania and Armistead with his of North Carolina, but this did not cause bitter feelings between them as they planned to see each other after the war. They left from Los Angeles, California to go to their home states and begin fighting in the war that would take thousands of lives.
 
The two men did not see each other again until the Battle of Gettysburg that started on July 1, 1863. It was on the third and last day of battle that the two men were forced to fight against each other. According to the Gettysburg National Military Park, Armistead was a commander of one of General Pickett’s brigades. On the last day, the Confederate army planned a charge that was over a mile across open field to try and break the Union line, and the attack was named Pickett’s Charge. 
 
The march over the open field left the Confederate army open to canon and gun fire, and many Confederate soldiers were wounded and killed. Only Armistead’s brigade made it to the Union line, and as Armistead climbed over a barricaded wall he was shot and wounded. Not much further away, Hancock was shot in the same attack as he rode his horse and encouraged his men to continue fighting. The two friends did not get to see each other as they were taken to separate places for medical treatment. 
 
Armistead died on July 5, 1863, from his wounds, and before his death he had arranged that his Bible be delivered to Hancock’s wife in the case of his death. Hancock survived his wounds, but they caused problems for him throughout the rest of his life. Hancock ran for President in 1880 but lost to James A. Garfield. Hancock died on Feb. 9, 1886. Both Armistead’s and Hancock’s statues are at the Gettysburg National Military Park. 
 
The friendship of these two men is portrayed in the 1993 film “Gettysburg” directed by Ronald F. Maxwell and adapted from the historical 1974 novel “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. General Armistead is played by Richard Jordan and General Hancock is played by Brian Mallon. 

 

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