When it became obvious that there was going to be a shooting war between the North and the South, there were days of immense personal conflict to a great many regular army officers. Among them, of course was Robert E. Lee, who was one of the most famous officers in the army, and to whom Winfield Scott offered top command of the Union army. Lee took a day or two to mediate over this. As a professional army officer, naturally, this was not the sort of thing a man turns down lightly. But he finally refused it on the grounds that he was, after all, a loyal son of Virginia. We don’t have that sort of loyalty to homeland these days. But they did then. Lee had it as did a great many other men. Lee had to go with his state and so turned down the promotion and became a General in the Confederate army.
Other officers on lower levels had the same problem. There was a very poignant incident that occurred in what was then the little town of Los Angeles. In an army fort close by to the town, one night in the spring, a farewell party in the officers’ quarters was given for some of the officers who were resigning their commissions to go South, as Lee had done. Others were staying in the Union army. One of the latter was a Captain name Winfield Scott Hancock. During the course of the evening, an old friend, Captain Lewis Armistead, came to him. With tears in his eyes, Armistead took Hancock’s hand and gripped it saying, ” Hancock, you’ll never know what this is costing me, but good-bye, good-bye”.
As they were saying good-bye, a woman who was present, the wife of one of the officers, sat at the piano and sang the haunting tune “Kathleen Mavourneen” – “when will we se each other; it may be for years and it may be forever”.
Armistead went to Richmond; Hancock to Washington. In July of 1863, these two old friends who had not seen each other since that spring evening in Los Angeles crossed paths at the battle of Gettysburg. Hancock was in charge of the Union line Cemetery Ridge around that famous landmark, the “little clump of trees”. Pickett’s charge was heroically moving forward and at the spearhead of it was a man who carried his felt hat on the point of his sword and waved it high over his head so that his soldiers could see it; that man was General Lewis Armistead. As the Confederates reached the Union line and broke into the middle of it, Hancock was shot down with a wound in his thigh.
Armistead reached a battery in the center of Hancock’s line, placed his hand on the muzzle of one of the cannons, waved that hat on the point of his sword and then was shot. He lived just long enough to ask the officers who tried to pick him up and tend him to give his love to General Hancock. It was that kind of war.