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.