Inside the Leister House – July 2, 2013

By Avery Lentz ’14

As our readers certainly remember the summer of 2013 was the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. On the days of the July 1-3, 1863, the pivotal battle of Gettysburg was fought between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, possibly to decide the fate of the nation. By 1863, the death toll had reached catastrophic levels and both North and South were growing fatigued by war. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was looking for a final knockout blow against the Union Army. After his victory at Chancellorsville in May 1863, Lee took his army of 80,000 men north into southern Pennsylvania, slowly being pursued by Union Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army of 93,000 men. On June 28th, Hooker was replaced by Gen. George Gordon Meade.The two armies collided in Gettysburg two days later.

The first two days of the battle were extremely costly for both sides, racking up close to 15,000 to 20,000 casualties total every single day. The events that took place on the night of July 2, 1863 shaped the decisions and outcomes on July 3. General Meade called a council of war among his generals to find out what condition his army was in and whether they should continue to defend Cemetery Hill/Ridge. This pivotal meeting during this pivotal battle happened in the small quarters of the Leister farmhouse on Cemetery Ridge. It’s hard to imagine that people like Lydia Leister lived on the land that turned red with the blood of men in blue and gray.
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Prior to the battle of Gettysburg, the Leister Farm was not yet a possession of James and Lydia Leister and their six children. James had died in 1859, leaving Lydia a widow to raise the children on her own. In 1861, Lydia finally purchased a small, wooden two room house on the reverse slope of Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg. It had a small hayfield and several apple and peach trees. Ironically, Lydia’s sister, Catherine had married John Slyder whose farm was on at the base of Big Round Top. Both farms would be scorched by the heat of battle in July . Today, the Leister Farm is owned by the Gettysburg National Military Park and is part of the battlefield. The house itself isn’t open to the public, but people can still peer in the windows and try to imagine being there in 1863.

During the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I was given the rare opportunity to actually walk through the Leister House on the night of July 2, 2013. I must say that it was an extremely riveting experience to be standing in the exact spot at the exact time that General Meade was 150 years earlier. My internship as a Pohanka Fellow this summer gave me this opportunity as an actual Park Service employee. On July 2, there was a special “council of war” walking tour around 8:30 p.m. with over 500 people showing up for it. Before the wave of people descended on the house itself, my co-workers and I used the opportunity to get inside the house and capture the moment on camera. The pictures above are from that night. It was one of the crowning moments of my summer as a Pohanka Fellow.

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