Maui's Civil War Hero
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On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the site of one of the bloodiest conflicts of the American Civil War. Gettysburg marked what many now consider the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. Far less well known is the role a Maui-born officer played in that Union victory.
Samuel C. Armstrong was captain of the 125th New York Volunteer Regiment, an infantry company. On the crucial third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, he and his men halted the audacious rebel attack known as Pickett’s Charge, the South’s “high-water mark” of the war.
“We turned the rebel flank,” Armstrong wrote to his family back home in Hawaii, “and no wonder, for we did terrible execution. . . . It was one of the severest fights of the war and a glorious success for us.”
Armstrong’s bravery earned him promotion to major. In November 1863, he was given the rank of lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the newly formed 9th Regiment of United States Colored Troops. The son of abolitionist missionaries, Armstrong relished the opportunity to lead these former slaves into battle to end slavery in America.
Born in 1839 in Wailuku, Armstrong was raised as a subject of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and was a lifelong friend of David Kalakaua, the future “Merrie Monarch."
Armstrong enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts. In August 1862, he joined the Union Army, though as a citizen of Hawaii, he was under no obligation to do so.
“I was a Sandwich Islander, who had no local sympathies; but seeing the great issue be that of freedom or slavery for four million souls, I had given myself cheerfully and counted no sacrifice too great for the cause,” Armstrong wrote.