Lee's Headquarters

For many visitors to Gettysburg, especially those driving from the west by way of the Chambersburg Pike, Lee's headquarters during his Gettysburg four-day stay might very well be their first historical landmark. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Civil War Trust (http://www.civilwar.org) and its thousands of donors that iconic stone house, along with the motel and the Appalachian Brewing Company across the street, are being purchased to preserve those properties as part of the battlefield's heritage.

Before the home of the 69-year old widow, Mary Thompson, was quickly and temporarily converted to become Lee's headquarters, a three gun Federal battery had been located around the stone house's area to help establish a spirited delaying action against A.P. Hill's advancing troops. Furthermore the Confederate army continued to advance down Chambersburg Pike into the village during the invasion of July 1863. Thus these properties have historic value over and above the happenstance of being where Lee's staff established his headquarters.

During the Civil War commanding generals established their headquarters in a variety of manners and locations, upon or near the battlefield. Often private homes were commandeered for such purposes but sometimes tents were used. And it is mistaken to think that a headquarters consisted merely of one structure or tent since some commanders had relatively elaborate layouts for their headquarters staff. Furthermore, most commanders were not confined or tethered to their headquarters during combat, often preferring to move closer to the battle lines for better control of the flow of the battles. But without much doubt the significance of the Gettysburg battle together with Lee's prominence as one of the great commanders help make the Mary Thompson stone house the most recognizable of all headquarters in the Civil War.

The Mary Thompson House is located next to other privately owned property as well as the motel and brewery that did not exist during the invasion of Lee's army in July 1863. Acquisition of these properties will enhance the continual restoration of the battlefield and its environs, hopefully into perpetuity. The motel and brewery will be razed with the terrain reshaped to its period contours. As longtime battlefield visitors realize, the battlefield has undergone growth and other substantial improvements over the past quarter century. In addition to the expansion of the battleground's footprint, other improvements include removal of the old observation tower, the purchase and removal of an auto dealership that had been located in the path of the Confederates' entry on July 1, the relocation of the Visitors Center, and the removal of hundreds of trees that had not been present during the period of the battle.

At the risk of sounding like a shill for the Civil War Trust, acquisition of Lee's headquarters represents a significant highlight of the Trust's accomplishments for this year. Some of these achievements include the purchase of 3.7 acres at Appomattox C.H., six more acres at Cold Harbor, 37 acres at the core of Glenville, six more acres at Shiloh, and the purchase of three tracts totally 338 acres at South Mountain. These most recent acquisitions are in addition to the thousands of other acres, most of which were threatened by commercial encroachments, accomplished over several years, and are vital and essential parts in the preservation of our nation's history that might otherwise be ignored if not forgotten.