News & Opinion | May 27, 2018 9:50 am

This Memorial Day, Remember Generals Lo Armistead and Win Hancock

Peggy Noonan reminds The Wall Street Journal readers of moral behind Civil War showdown between friends.

A wide view of a portion of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1-3 July 1863. This series of battles, taking place over three days between Union forces led by Major General George G. Meade and Confederates led by General Robert E. Lee, was a crucial point in the Civil War. Lee's defeat caused him to break off his planned invasion of the North. An 1884 color illustration.  (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)
A wide view of a portion of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1-3 July 1863. This series of battles, taking place over three days between Union forces led by Major General George G. Meade and Confederates led by General Robert E. Lee, was a crucial point in the Civil War. Lee's defeat caused him to break off his planned invasion of the North. An 1884 color illustration. (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)

On the eve of Memorial Day, columnist Peggy Noonan paid touching tribute in The Wall Street Journal to a tragic tale involving close friends serving opposite sides during the Civil War.

The saga of generals Lewis “Lo” Armistead and Winfield Hancock has been immortalized in Michael Shaara’s classic novel, The Killer Angels, but it is worth revisiting.

Armstead, 46, was at the side of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s 70,000-man Army of Northern Virginia in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1963. Across the field of battle was Armstead’s close friend from their days together in the U.S. Army, Hancock.

The Confederate’s fate was sealed on July 3 during the infamous Pickett’s Charge, in which he served as  Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s brigade commanders.

“At some point Armistead heard who was up there waiting at the stone wall. It was the Second Corps. It was led by Win Hancock. Armistead knew: He wouldn’t break,” writes Noonan.

Armstead died from wounds sustained in the charge; his friend had also been wounded but survived. Though they never saw each other again after bidding goodbye at the start of the war, Armstead sent a posthumous gift to Hancock’s wife: his personal Bible.

To Noonan, it’s a story that resonates more than 150 years later, at a time when the country seems almost as divided.

“Happy Memorial Day. Show generosity to a foe this weekend. Or better, be brave and show love,” she wrote.