The Moment We’ve all Been Waiting For: Lee’s Gettysburg Headquarters Opens

By Savannah Rose ’17

On October 28, 2016, the doors of the Mary Thompson house located on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg opened before a crowd of over one thousand Civil War Trust members and Civil War enthusiasts. In 2013, the Civil War Trust purchased a portion of land on Seminary Ridge, land covered with a motel, a brewery, a restaurant, and the Mary Thompson house, which some know as the headquarters of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Since purchasing the land the Civil War Trust, in partnership with other organizations, has worked to restore the Thompson property to its 1863 appearance by tearing down numerous contemporary buildings and restoring the house used by Lee during the Battle of Gettysburg. This past Friday, I walked my way up to Seminary Ridge, excited to see the finished project after watching the spot’s restoration for years.

Visitors wait in line to enter the newly restored Mary Thompson House. Visitors will now see the structure as Confederate General Robert E. Lee would have seen it when he arrived on July 1, 1863. Photo courtesy of the author.
Visitors wait in line to enter the newly restored Mary Thompson House. Visitors will now see the structure as Confederate General Robert E. Lee would have seen it when he arrived on July 1, 1863. Photo courtesy of the author.

When I got to the top of the ridge, braving the cold and the wind, I found the attendees surrounding a small stone house. The scene seem so different than it did just a few years ago when I entered the restaurant that once stood on the site. The crowd amassed near the house where the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band stood with a small podium, filling the air with Civil War music. Lee’s headquarters remained closed as more people began to arrive. Continue reading “The Moment We’ve all Been Waiting For: Lee’s Gettysburg Headquarters Opens”

Report from the Headquarters: A Reflection on the Lee’s Headquarters Public Forum

By Elizabeth Smith ’17

On October 6, approximately seventy people gathered at the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center to attend a public forum discussing the future of the site commonly referred to as Lee’s Headquarters. The property is located on Buford Avenue near the Lutheran Seminary and the Seminary Ridge Museum. On July 1, 1863, the area was the site of several artillery pieces, part of the Union retreat route through the town, and on July 2nd and 3rd, it would serve as Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters. After the battle, the site would serve as one of the first automotive tourist spots for the millions of visitors who traveled to view the first day’s battlefield. Small cottages, motels, and eventually the Quality Inn would emerge to cater to the mass of tourists.

Photograph by J. Stephen Conn, via flickr.com.
Photograph by J. Stephen Conn, via Flickr.

The forum began with information relating to the work and reports that have already been completed regarding the Lee’s Headquarters site. These reports detailed what, if any, adverse effects the demolition of the buildings currently on the site—specifically the old Quality Inn motel—would have on the environment and future archeology. The tentative answer is that the removal of the motel would have no such effects. Representatives from the Civil War Trust, the organization that purchased the land, spoke about their goals for the Lee’s Headquarters’ site. Their mission is to either demolish or remove the buildings on the site to another location in order to restore the view of the first day’s battlefield, replant the orchard that use to be on the site, put in period-accurate fences, and create a simple battlefield trail that will tell the story of the battle, the headquarters, and the tourist industry that thrived in the years following the battle. Continue reading “Report from the Headquarters: A Reflection on the Lee’s Headquarters Public Forum”

Point/Counterpoint: Questions of Historical Preservation


By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Heather Clancy ’15

Bryan: Events of the past year here in Gettysburg have been momentous for historical preservation. On July 1, 2014 the Civil War Trust announced that it plans to purchase a four-acre plot of land opposite the Lutheran Seminary. On this land sits the original building that housed Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters during the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee’s Headquarters does not sit alone, however, sharing the property with a Quality Inn and an extremely popular local restaurant, the Appalachian Brewing Company. The Civil War Trust plans on removing these modern buildings and placing a conservation easement on the property in order to ensure its protection and return the landscape to a more nineteenth-century vista. The importance of such an event seems to be self-evident to many historians and so-called ‘Civil War buffs,’ but reactions in Gettysburg itself have been rather varied. This debate has intrigued me, leading me to reconsider notions of historical preservation and ask a question that may seem heretical: what is the value of further preservation?

Heather: For this particular site, preservation and the return to an approximation of its 1863 appearance is easily defensible. Lee’s Headquarters was the location of some of the key tactical planning moments of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was here that the Confederate general and his officers triggered many of the actions that would decide the fate of this small town and the armies that had gathered on its rolling hills and fields. By acquiring the land on which the structure stands, the Civil War Trust has enabled the transition of Lee’s Headquarters to the National Park Service for maintenance and interpretation. Once under NPS supervision, the headquarters will be able to be incorporated into the existing interpretive framework of Gettysburg National Military Park, enriching the experiences of thousands of visitors who come to the park to hear the story of one of our nation’s countless military turning points. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: Questions of Historical Preservation”

Striking the Balance: Bringing Peace to the Battlefield of Preservation

By Matt LaRoche ’17

Most Gettysburg residents took note this past winter when the Appalachian Brewing Company’s branch restaurant near the Lutheran Seminary closed. The Civil War Trust bought the land for its historical value; the structure and an adjacent hotel surround the Mary Thompson House, General Lee’s Headquarters during the battle. From the moment of purchase, the plan had been to demolish the buildings, sow grass, and transfer the four-acre lot to the National Park Service as a prized addition to the park. Most onlookers probably think that the tale is told as soon as the land is bought, cleared, and promised to the park. However, that thinking only pans out in a vacuum. In reality, the results of this purchase—as with any large purchase of land in a community—cannot be foreseen. Too many different actors are involved in and affected by something as simple as the demolition of a couple of businesses and the placing of a conservation easement on a property. And for those who stand to be affected by this purchase, controversy is pervasive and understandable.

A modern photograph of Lee's Headquarters at Gettysburg (l) with the Appalachian Brewing Company and a glimpse of The Quality Inn to its right. Appalachian Brewing Company.
A modern photograph of Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg (l) with the Appalachian Brewing Company and a glimpse of The Quality Inn to its right. Appalachian Brewing Company.

Continue reading “Striking the Balance: Bringing Peace to the Battlefield of Preservation”