As a regular occurrence, Civil War officers picked houses near the battlefields to commandeer as their headquarters. Both General George Meade and General Robert E. Lee chose houses in Gettysburg. Ironically both were owned by widows. Meade took over the home of Lydia Leister, chasing her and her six children out to fend for themselves.
General Lee’s headquarters was located near the Lutheran Seminary and in the vicinity of some of the fiercest fighting of the first day of the battle. His headquarters were in a stone home owned by Mary Thompson, a feisty 70 year old who had eight children, who chose to remain in her home throughout the battle. General Lee spent time on July 1 at the house and slept there that evening, but spent little time there during the next two days. His staff and officers camped in the immediate area around the house. Confederate batteries around the house kept the headquarters guarded and its inhabitants safe. Captain Willis Dance and Captain Benjamin Smith led the batteries as part of a brigade commanded by General Junius Daniels.
It is interesting to note that even though “Widow” Thompson (as she was called locally) lived in the house, it was actually owned by Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens had a law office in Gettysburg and was a United States Congressman during the Civil War. Ironically, the Confederate army had burned Steven’s blacksmith shop located at Caledonia, west of Chambersburg, on their way to the battle. Stevens himself was a die-hard opponent of slavery.
The House was in private hands right up until 2015 when it was purchased by the Civil War Trust. It operates as the General Robert E. Lee Headquarters Museum. The museum is open mid-March – November 9-5 with longer hours in the summer. An admission fee is charged.
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