Author Tom McMillan delves deep into the legendary story of two comrades whose friendship was torn apart at the Civil War’s turning point. The Battle of Gettysburg is considered the bloodiest single battle of the Civil War, with over 50,000 casualties in three days.

McMillan introduced his then-recent historical book, Armistead and Hancock: Behind the Gettysburg Legend of Two Friends at the Turning Point of the Civil War, at a symposium hosted by the Gettysburg Heritage Center on July 2, 2021, just days before its release. This dual biography/history narrative offers a fresh perspective on the famous stories of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead in the nineteenth century.

Historian Author Tom McMillian
Author Tom McMillan was speaking at a symposium hosted by the Gettysburg Heritage Center on July 2, 2021. (Screenshot: C-Span)

It was no secret that McMillan had referred to the four-and-1/4-hour movie Gettysburg (1993), which was also based on Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (1974) novel, depicting the horrific events of the Civil War. However, as the historian dives deep into the friendship of Hancock and Armistead, McMillan discovers a different side of the legend that changes the established narrative of the two gentlemen who became an apparent sentimental symbol of a nation torn apart—debunking decades of misconceptions.

McMillan has sifted through tons of newspaper archives with the help of his wife to find out where Hancock and Armistead were before 1861. The historian wanted to set the record straight on whether or not the relationship was as close as legend claimed.

19th century newspaper
McMillan found tons of information about Armistead and Hancock in 19th-century newspapers. The novelist was assisted by his wife in the extensive and painstaking research. (Screenshot: C-Span)

The historian deduced through his extensive research that, while Armistead and Hancock did not have that “almost brother” closeness, the two men were good friends while serving on the frontier and during the Mexican War. The shared experience formed a bond between the soldiers that lasted nearly 20 years until Gettysburg.

A brief biography of Armistead and Hancock

Lewis Armistead came from a well-known Virginia military family and was seven years older (born 1817) than Hancock (born 1824). Lewis enrolled at West Point in 1833 and, despite not graduating—during his third year on campus, Lewis was involved in a brawl that caused him to resign to avoid court-martial—he was commissioned on July 10th, 1839, just nine days after his last class graduated and received their commission dates. After that, Lewis went to war almost immediately in Florida.

When his father, Brig. Gen. Walker K. Armistead was assigned as commander; he had the opportunity to work alongside him. He was listed as one of his father’s staff as an aid and witnessed firsthand how a general runs an army.

The young Armistead stayed and served his term there until the early 1840s, when he was reassigned to the frontier at the Four Thousand, now known as Oklahoma. Lewis met Hancock for the first time there, contradicting the 1993 film’s implication that they first met when they enrolled at West Point.