Private Henry Armstrong was born in Albemarle County around 1834. Little is known about Armstrong's life before the Civil War. According to his service record, he stood 5 feet, 4 inches tall, with black hair and eyes and a "dark" complexion. Armstrong gave his occupation as fisherman and farmer.
Armstrong enlisted in the Union army on July 30, 1864, in Norfolk, Virginia. He served in Company G of the 38th US Colored Troops Infantry Regiment and worked as the company cook. His regiment participated in many crucial campaigns during the war, including the operations against Petersburg and Richmond and the Battle of Deep Bottom, where Armstrong took a saber blow to the head. Despite the severe wound, Armstrong continued with his regiment through the end of the war. He eventually mustered out of the army on January 25, 1867, in Indianola, Texas.
After the war, Armstrong moved to Norfolk, Virginia, then Gloucester County. On August 2, 1868, he married a Lucinda Jarley in Mathews Court House. According to Lucinda's neighbors, she had been married to a man in Maryland previously, although none of her neighbors knew the man.
In 1890, a Dr. James P. Weight confirmed the existence and severity of the saber blow Armstrong received at the Battle of Deep Bottom, claiming Armstrong was "almost totally incapacitated for manual labor." Armstrong began receiving a pension of ten dollars per month from the US government in 1891, but it was cut to six dollars a month in 1895 because the War Department lacked records for his wound. As part of his appeal process in 1895, a doctor diagnosed Armstrong with "vertigo" as a result of the saber cut, but another doctor in 1897 declared Armstrong's scar superficial and insufficient to cause brain damage. After Armstrong’s death, his wife Lucinda applied for a widow's pension, citing an illness. The War Department denied her application due to insufficient material in her file. Pension rejections and reductions were more common for Black veterans than white veterans.
Private Armstrong was profiled by the University of Virginia's John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History in 2017, as part of their "Black Virginians in Blue" digital project.
- Web. Henry Armstrong (38th USCT), Website, John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History: Black Virginians in Blue, April 6, 2021, retrieved July 28, 2021.
- Web. “Brave Boys of the Fifth”: The Service of Two Black, Albemarle-Born Soldiers of the Famous 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, Jane Diamond, Website, John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History: Black Virginians in Blue, July 4, 2017, retrieved July 28, 2021.