George Armistead was born April 10, 1780, in Newmarket, Virginia. He began his military career during the Quasi War with France in 1799 as an Ensign in the Seventh Infantry Regiment, rising quickly to Second and then First Lieutenant by May 1800. Following the Quasi War, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the artillery, rising to Captain in 1806. During the War of 1812, he and four of his brothers served in either the regular army or militia. Armistead was promoted to Major of the Third Artillery Regiment in March of 1813 and distinguished himself at the capture of Fort George in Canada. He was given the honor of carrying the captured battle flags to President Madison in Washington. Upon his arrival, he was ordered to take command of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. As commander of the fort, he ordered a large garrison flag from Mary Pickersgill, the same flag that would inspire Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Armistead successfully defended the fort against a prolonged British bombardment, earning a Brevet promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. He would remain in command of the fort until his death three years later on April 25, 1818. He was the uncle of Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who was mortally wounded at Gettysburg; they are buried side-by-side in Baltimore.
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