Lewis Armistead was born into a military family in 1817 in the town of New Bern, North Carolina. His father and all of his uncles were soldiers. One uncle, George, was the commander of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. Uncle George’s successful defense of the fort inspired a song called “The Star Spangled Banner.” You may have heard about it.
Needless to say, Lewis was destined to be a soldier, and like most military brats, he went to West Point. He didn’t do well in French class, and he broke a plate over the head of another cadet, so he was kicked out of the Academy. But he remained in the Army, serving honorably across the country, and when the Civil War broke out, he chose the Southern side and served as a Brigadier General.
On July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Armistead had the good fortune of being right in the middle of a charge ordered by Robert E. Lee and lead by General George Pickett. You may have heard about it:
When your day begins at a place called “Seminary Ridge” and ends at a place called “Cemetery Ridge,” you have good cause for concern. But Armistead, the son of soldier, got to it.
His pre-game speech lives on in Civil War glory (at 3:00):
For your lands, for your homes, for your sweethearts, for your wives!
For Virginia! Forward! March!
Armistead hit all the high-notes with this one and got his men right in their hearts. Fight for your home and those you love. What else do you need for motivation? It reminds me a lot of this one:
Sam “Stonewall” Jackson was talking about Richmond, CA, not Richmond, VA, but you get the point. These speeches always work, and Armistead got all the caps in the air:
And so he and his men marched, then ran, uphill in a open field into a barrage of artillery fire. Note the consternation on the man’s face:
Armistead made it all the way to the top of Cemetary Ridge (the exact worst possible place a human being could be on Planet Earth on July 3, 1863).
His men were the only Confederate troops to break the Union Lines, at a place called “The Angle” (see map above). For a minute, victory was in sight. Their valor and glory would live in infamy:
But the Union troops quickly closed the lines, and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. As soon as Armistead laid his hand on a Union cannon, he was shot:
Armistead died of his wounds two days later. He’s now buried next to his famous uncle.
His death is a testament to the power of high ground, both moral and practical. You might say that he, like many others on that ridge in grey suits, were destined to fail.
Cumberland on the Front Lines
A few months ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Museums, Vetoes, and How the Sausage Gets Made” where I analyzed how Republican legislators in North Carolina are adding “pork” to the budget to encourage swing Democrats to override Governor Cooper’s expected veto.
Well, as predicted, Governor Cooper vetoed the budget, and Republicans are looking to pick off votes for an override. In his press release, Cooper argued the Republican Budget didn’t expand Medicaid, didn’t give enough to public education, and harmed lower and middle class citizens while favoring the wealthy.
Cumberland County is now on the front lines of this budget battle, and local business groups are piling on the pressure. One group called “Vision 2026” is taking out ad space, encouraging legislators to vote for the budget. One ad includes a list of earmarks for Cumberland County, the largest and most notable being the Civil War Museum:
Their battle cry is very similar to General Armistead’s: “Fellow Citizens,” it says. “This is not about party, this is about our community.”
Attached to the ad was a list of supporters that includes the veritable “who’s who” of the political and business community in the area:
And so our Democratic legislators are faced with some difficult choices:
Where do their loyalties lie? With their Party? With their Governor? With Cumberland County? Are state-wide problems more important than a Civil War museum?
Do these legislators represent the citizens of their district or all of North Carolina?
If they “Fight for Cumberland,” will they face a primary challenge by another Democrat for not being loyal to the party. If they “Fight for North Carolina,” will they face scrutiny and lose support “back home?”
Will they die on the hill next Spring, like Armistead?
Where’s the High Ground???
It’s an interesting question, and there’s no easy answer.
Democrats were elected in 2018 under a promise to “break the super-majority” of Republican rule in the North Carolina Legislature. They succeeded, in the face of overwhelmingly-gerrymandered districts that were rigged against them. They made it up the hill. So what was it all for???
Are they breaking their promise to voters if they vote for this budget? Or are they simply doing what’s best for Cumberland County?
I’ll put it to a vote:
If you’re a Democrat and you had to think twice about a “yes” or “no” question, you understand the problem. No matter what happens, someone is going to end up angry. That’s how you know this is an important issue.
And in case you’re wondering, Armistead’s last words were an apology to Union General Winfield Hancock, his close friend and the commander of the forces that had destroyed Armistead and his men on Cemetery Ridge:
Thanks for reading.