Faced with the daunting task of leading an attack against Union forces at the top of a hill near the Pennsylvania hamlet of Gettysburg, Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead did something unusual to prepare.
He took off his hat, pierced it with the tip of his sword and held the sword and hat combination above his head as he led the troops toward Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863. It was an act depicted in numerous paintings of the Battle of Gettysburg.
About a decade before Armistead made his famous and ultimately fatal dash up that hillside, he was the No. 2 officer at Fort Dodge.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Don Smith, of Fort Dodge, holds a framed illustration of the sword carried by Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead at the battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Smith donated the picture to the Fort Museum. It’s on display in the Armistead cabin.
A display honoring Armistead at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village on Kenyon Road has recently been expanded with an image of the sword he carried at Gettysburg.
The 12-by-18-inch picture was obtained from the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., by Don Smith, a Civil War buff from Fort Dodge.
''The sword was just such an eminent part of his whole icon,'' Smith said Wednesday. ''We just had to have a picture of that sword.''
''It should have been there 50 years ago,'' he said of the picture.
According to information given to Smith by the Museum of the Confederacy, the illustration shows an 1850 U.S. Foot Officer's Sword.
It was picked up at the Gettysburg battlefield by a member of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry, museum officials wrote in a letter to Smith. They wrote that it was returned to veterans of the 56th Virginia Infantry during a Sept. 15, 1906, reunion.
Since it's an 1850 model, Smith believes the sword in the picture was the one Armistead had at Fort Dodge.
''That would be the sword he carried here,'' Smith said.
He said he tried to get a picture of the sword for the local museum 15 years ago. He said the Museum of the Confederacy wanted $100 for it then.
About two months ago, Smith made another attempt to get the picture. He sent a letter to the Museum of the Confederacy describing the Armistead exhibit housed in a cabin built in 1850. He also described how Cargill employees recently refurbished that cabin, which is the last remaining building from the original fort.
Museum of the Confederacy officials responded to that letter by sending a free copy of the picture.
Armistead was among the soldiers of Company E, 6th Infantry Regiment, who arrived at present day Fort Dodge on Aug. 2, 1850, and established a military post first called Fort Clarke. The name of the post was changed to Fort Dodge in 1851.
While in Iowa, Armistead had the rank of captain and was also what the Army called a brevet major, according to Smith.
''In other words, he was doing a major's work and getting a captain's pay,''Smith said.
He said Armistead was the second highest ranking officer at Fort Dodge.
The base was closed June 1, 1853.
Armistead was transferred to California, where he was stationed when the Civil War began in 1861.
A native of North Carolina, Armistead joined the Confederate Army.
On July 3, 1863, he was an officer in a division ordered to storm a Union position at Gettysburg in what became known as Pickett's Charge. Carrying his hat on his sword, Armistead made it up the hill. He was shot three times after climbing over a stone wall the Union troops were behind. He died on July 5, 1863, and is buried in Baltimore, Md.