“Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery.”
Isaac Erwin Avery was born in Burke County, North Carolina, one of sixteen children, on December 20, 1828. Three of the brothers were killed during the Civil War and one was crippled for life. He attended the University of North Carolina for one year but left to run a plantation owned by his father.
He formed Company E of the 6th North Carolina Infantry Regiment and was named its captain. He led the company at the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Seven Pines. In the summer of 1862, he was promoted to the rank of colonel. He was wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill and missed the subsequent battles of Second Bull Run and Antietam. After the Battle of Fredricksburg, the 6th North Carolina Infantry Regiment came under the command of Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke. Hoke was wounded at the Battle Chancellorsville in May 1863 and Avery temporarily assumed command of the Hoke’s Brigade for the Gettysburg campaign. On July 1st Avery led his unit north and east of the town but their advance was stopped by Federal artillery fire from Culp’s Hill. On July 2nd Major General Jubal Early ordered Avery and the brigade of Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays to assault eastern Cemetery Hill. During the early evening attack Avery was struck in the neck by a musket ball and fell from his horse, bleeding profusely. His wounding went unnoticed for some time. The uncoordinated attack failed badly and Avery was discovered sometime later by several passing soldiers. As his aide and former business partner, Major Samuel Tate knelt by his side Avery, unable to speak from his mortal wound and with his right hand useless from the paralysis, scribbled these deathless words with his left hand and gave it to Tate. It said: “Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery.”
He died the following day in a Gettysburg field hospital. He was eventually buried at Washington Confederate Cemetery, part of Rose Hill Cemetery, in Hagerstown, Maryland.