General Lee's headquarters to get restoration
Over the decades, the stone house and grounds that served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's headquarters at Gettysburg sprouted a motel, restaurant and other modern structures. It dismayed preservationists and Civil War buffs keen on historic authenticity.
Now, after a $6 million restoration that erased decades of development at the 4-acre site, the property in Pennsylvania looks much as it did in July 1863. That is when Lee suffered defeat in a bloody three-day battle. It turned the tide of the war.
"If Robert E. Lee would ride up tomorrow, he would recognize his headquarters. And for over 100 years that wasn't the case," said James Lighthizer. He is president of Civil War Trust. It is the nonprofit that bought the house and grounds from private owners. Then the trust completed the restoration.
The site now includes a walking trail and interpretive signage. Plans call for the property to be turned over to the National Park Service.
The area around the circa-1830s house was the scene of heavy fighting on the battle's first day. Its strategic location was atop Seminary Ridge. That made it an ideal spot for Lee's battlefield headquarters.
"He's dictating and writing a lot of orders. He's using that as a base from which to observe the enemy. And he is responding to crises and events as they occur," said Garry Adelman, Civil War Trust's director of history and education.
The occupant, a widow named Mary Thompson, is believed to have remained in the home during the battle. She lived there until her death in 1873.
The home was left out of Gettysburg National Military Park. It was gutted by fire in the late 1890s. By 1921, it had become General Lee's Headquarters Museum. The museum was a commercial venture that transformed the surrounding property.
"Without question, this was one of the most important unprotected historic buildings in America," Lighthizer said.
Civil War Trust acquired the property in January 2015. The trust bought it after a fundraising effort. It included major gifts, grants and smaller donations. More than 11,000 people contributed.
Workers removed dormers that were added to the home in the 1900s. They replaced the roof, fixed the interior and demolished all modern buildings, including a Comfort Inn. The land was returned to its 1863 contours. Fencing was installed to replicate what was there at the time. An apple orchard - another feature of the Civil War-era landscape - will be planted in the spring.
"It was by far the most complex restorative effort we've ever done, and nothing else is even close," Adelman said.
With nearly all work complete, Gettysburg National Military Park plans to expand its boundaries to include Lee's headquarters.
The park service will use the house for special programming. It will be open to the public several days a year, including around the battle's anniversary. That will be similar to how it operates Union Gen. George Meade's headquarters.
"We're not the oldest democratic republic in the world by accident," Lighthizer said. "We went through a lot of trials and tribulations. This site marks one of the pivot points in how we remained a democracy, how we remained a unified nation."
"And that story needs to be told."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was the home left out of the Gettysburg National Military Park?
Write your answers in the comments section below