The Civil War Trust announced that a campaign has been launched to preserve the Gettysburg headquarters of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The stone building, located on the west end of Gettysburg, on Seminary Ridge, was the Mary Thompson House at the time the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863 began. During first day of the battle, the largest of the Civil War, in which more than 51,000 were killed, wounded, listed as missing or taken prisoner, said Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust, during a Tuesday press conference, at Lee's Headquarters.
Early on July 1, 1863,Union troops occupied Seminary Ridge, the location of the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary In a frantic running battle, Confederate troops routed Union forces, who retreated through the streets of Gettysburg, traveling east to Cemetery Hill, where they took a defensive position.
After Union troops retreated, Gen. Lee, established his headquarters, which he would occupy through the three-day battle.
The building, named for Mary Thompson, who lived in the home, co-owned by Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, said Mary Koik, a spokesperson for the Civil War Trust. n addition to Gen. Lee Headquarters, the James Henry Thompson House, home of Mrs. Thompson's son, will also be preserved.
Currently, the Civil War buildings occupy the same four-acre property with the Appalachian Brewery and the Quality Inn, Koik said. In early 2015, the Civil War Trust will take over the property and raze the non-historic buildings.
“We've torn down smaller buildings, but these are the largest we will have ever removed,” Koik said. “Once the restoration phase begins, it should take nine to 12 months to complete. Eventually, the property will be given to the National Park Service, which is working with the Gettysburg Foundation. We're still working out what the terms of the public access to the site will be.”
Belmar Partnership, the former owners, will continue to operate their businesses until 2015, Koik said. In addition, Belmar Partnership plans “to donate a significant collection of Civil War artifacts” to the NPS.
Pennsylvania's First Lady Susan Corbett, attended the press conference, along with representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service, state and local officials, and representatives of the Gettysburg Foundation, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, and the Lutheran Theological Seminary.
“Projects like this — where we have the opportunity to save sites of indisputable significance to the outcome of the Civil War and, with it, the shaping of our nation — are exactly why the Civil War Trust exists,” Lighthizer said. “Ambitious efforts like the purchase of Lee’s Headquarters will be among the most permanent and meaningful legacies of the sesquicentennial commemoration.”
Beginning in 1921, a museum had operated from the house. Later a motel and restaurant were built.
“To the preservation community, this land was long considered lost,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor. “Thus, the journey we embark upon today is especially meaningful — we are not just protecting a piece of American heritage, we are reclaiming it for future generations.”
Some of the heaviest fighting on July 1, 1863, took place around the home. Retreating Union soldiers formed a new line on Seminary Ridge and three guns of Battery B, 4th U. S. Artillery were positioned around the Thompson house, firing vollies into the attacking Confederate troops.
After the battle, Brig. Gen. Alfred Scales reported that his North Carolinians “encountered a most terrific fire of grape and shell on our flank, and grape and musketry on our front. Every discharge made sad havoc in our line, but still we pressed on at a double-quick.” Eventually, they could go no further; every field officer in the brigade, save one, had fallen. The 13th North Carolina lost 150 of 180 men under the hale of 57 canister rounds expended by Stevens’s battery. Eventually, however, the Confederate tide seized the ridge and the Federals fell back through town, Lighthizer said.
That evening Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee arrived on the field and established his headquarters on the Thompson property. From here he dispatched and received couriers relaying the unfolding events at Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. On this land, Lee discussed with his lieutenants the attack that would come to be known as Pickett’s Charge, setting in motion a chain of events that determined the outcome of the battle.
After purchasing the property, the Trust will work closely Gettysburg Foundation — the nonprofit partner that owns and operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park and pursues a broad preservation mission including land, monument and artifact preservation, as well as battlefield rehabilitation — who will steward the property, ensuring its safekeeping and maintaining public access. The two organizations have a history of partnership stretching back to 1997. Eventually, this land will be donated to the National Park Service for incorporation into the existing battlefield park.
“In the protection of Lee’s Headquarters, the Trust and the Foundation have the opportunity to shepherd and safeguard one of the most exciting historic resources on the battlefield,” said Gettysburg Foundation chairman Robert Kinsley. “Together, we will see that this site is protected for future generations, and becomes the property of the American people.”
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, it has preserved more than 39,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 940 acres at Gettysburg. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.