Save Lee's Headquarters at Gettysburg

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

Jim LighthizerDear Friend and Fellow Battlefield Preservationist,

You have no idea how long I have been waiting to tell you about this one.

But as of 12:01 a.m. this morning, July 1, when a legal and binding confidentiality agreement expired, I now have the honor and privilege to reveal to you that the Civil War Trust is undertaking perhaps its most important preservation effort ever:

With your help, by the end of this year,
we will save Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg.

You and I have preserved a lot of hallowed ground over the years, closing in on 40,000 acres, to be exact.

But today, with the chance to save the bloodiest unprotected four acres at Gettysburg, as well as the stone house that Lee used at various times over several days…

… well, I don’t mind telling you that – in my humble opinion – this is without a doubt one of the most important historic preservation efforts in American history.

And it has been years in the making!

If you have not already done so, please look now at the special maps and photo study I have sent to you today, showing you exactly where this iconic site is.

Located along the Chambersburg Pike, on famed Seminary Ridge and immediately adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park, this land saw fierce fighting on the First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, 151 years ago today.

After the Union position on this part of the battlefield collapsed, Lee and his staff established his headquarters on this ground for the rest of the battle, bristling with Confederate artillery.

Here, late on that chaotic afternoon of July 1, Lee sent numerous aides and couriers to Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell, as he grappled with the rapidly unfolding events around Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill.

Here, while examining the heights of Cemetery Ridge through his field glasses, Lee told Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, “If the enemy is there, we must attack him.” To which Longstreet replied, “If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him — a good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so,” setting in motion a chain of events that determined the outcome of the battle, and igniting a controversy that lasts to this very day.

Here, on this ground, Lee’s bustling staff pitched their headquarters tents under his distinctive star-patterned flag. And it was here, at the Mary Thompson House — which stands to this day — where Lee spent several difficult days and restless nights, fretting over the absence of JEB Stuart, and wrestling with the heavy burden of command.

Ignored by those who first established the Gettysburg battlefield boundaries in the 1890s, and overtaken decades ago by development, this site was believed to be lost. But today, the Civil War Trust has the opportunity to purchase, restore and reclaim this irreplaceable part of America’s heritage.

Comparing Lee's Headquarters now to a historic photo

Have you ever found something that you thought you had lost forever?

Then you know exactly how I feel about these four acres of hallowed ground at Gettysburg, as well as the historic “witness house,” which one member of our Board of Trustees has described as “the most important unprotected historic structure in America.”

Let me tell you the story of how this amazing and wonderful opportunity came to be.

Naturally, we here at the Trust have had our eyes on this incredibly important piece of our country’s history for years, but saving the historic battlefield land and the Mary Thompson House used by Lee (and ironically co-owned by Pa. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens) also meant buying a property containing an operating hotel and restaurant, which naturally increased the price.

After countless hours of discussions, phone calls and meetings, finally, late last year we were able to come to terms on a deal to buy the property. But as there were fully functioning businesses running on the site, we were asked to hold off announcing the purchase of the property to the public, a perfectly reasonable request.

So, the Civil War Trust agreed to a confidentiality agreement, saying that we would not publicly announce the transaction until July 1 of this year.

And as I said before, you have no idea how many times I have wanted to shout it to you from the rooftops: “We are saving Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg!” but could never do so before today.

Of course, there is the rather important matter of paying for it all, without going into debt and without jeopardizing our other many worthy projects. And this is where it becomes not only one of the most important projects we have ever tackled, it also is one of the biggest ones financially.

The purchase price for the battlefield land, the historic buildings and the modern structures combined is $5.5 million.

That’s a lot of money in anybody’s book, especially when we have to close on the property in early January 2015.

However, the property owners did allow us to speak – quietly and in confidence – one on one with major donors who might be inclined to make larger gifts to this effort. That is exactly what the board, staff and I have been doing over the past few months.

And quite frankly, the response has been both humbling and overwhelming.

Nearly everyone we have spoken with has – almost instantaneously – grasped the enormous significance of this project. In many cases, all we have had to do is make a phone call or send an e-mail saying, “We’re working to save Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg,” and the immediate response has been, “Where do I send my check?”

In fact, as of today, we have raised $2.9 million in gifts (including a generous corporate gift from FedEx), working with one dedicated person at a time. That is fully 45% of the total we need to save this iconic place. But it gets even better…

We are also applying for (and anticipate receiving) up to $1.5 million in federal matching grant money from the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program for this effort – one of the largest grants ever made, showing that our partners at the federal level also recognize the true worth of this effort.

So as it stands right now, we have lined up $4.4 million of the $5.5 million we need to save Lee’s Headquarters (which, by the way, we have been referring to as “Project X” in all of our internal communications. We Civil War buffs all know that bad things often happen when confidential documents fall into the wrong hands, but we were able to avoid that!).

We are 80 percent of the way there, with a still-formidable $1.1 million to raise in the next 180 days, between now and December 31 of this year. So we absolutely still have a huge job ahead of us, especially considering that we have an astounding number of absolutely crucial preservation projects either already in process or about to break.

But I must tell you in all frankness that this has been one of the most scrutinized transactions we have ever attempted – and rightly so.

The Board of Trustees and I absolutely did not want to find ourselves in the situation where we went after Lee’s Headquarters, but were then unable to save anything else… even though every single one of those dedicated ladies and gentlemen understood at a glance how important it was for us to try to save this place.

For months now the Trustees, staff and I have been hammering out a comprehensive plan, dissecting every possible detail, projecting how this deal will affect our cash flow and business operations for the next few years, getting advice from legal counsel, soliciting criticism, telling everyone to try to poke holes in our plan and financial targets, all so that we could answer any objections and fix any problems before “taking the plunge.” And all of it under a cloak of secrecy that would be a model for the CIA!

After all of this effort, I believe – no, I know – we have a fiscally-sound, real-world, responsible plan, while still managing our resources to fulfill our battlefield mission throughout the rest of the nation. It will not be easy, but we can do it.

Let me restate that: We can do it, if you will help.

And I pray you will, because if we are unable to raise the final amount we need, I shudder to think what will become of this place.

Quite frankly, today, this property is one of the most threatened historic landmarks in America.

Since 1921, it has been a commercial enterprise, preventing restoration and full interpretation of the site. The property is further threatened by its zoning, which presently allows for much more intense development that could include up to 23 different uses, among them are a much larger hotel, apartments, offices, and other entities, all of which would loom over the battlefield. (The zoning permits a 45’ building height, which could accommodate four-story buildings.)

Think of that, my friend. The site of Robert E. Lee’s headquarters, hallowed ground within close sightlines of the famed railroad cut, the Lutheran Seminary cupola and the woods where Union General John Reynolds was killed, could easily – easily – be redeveloped into a massive 125+ room hotel, a large apartment complex, or a “modern” office park or strip mall, complete with a tattoo parlor and liquor store.

Finally, the historic Lee’s Headquarters (Mary Thompson House) is not even protected by a conservation easement, which means it could be demolished at any time!

If you are anything like me – if you care even remotely about preserving the important parts of our nation’s rich history – that mental image of bulldozers smashing down Lee’s Headquarters fills your heart with dread.

That’s why, earlier today at Gettysburg (with, I have to admit, my heart racing at the significance of it all), we held a press conference to announce to the nation our campaign to save this absolutely crucial piece of our country’s history. (Please visit for photos, video and the latest updates on this event.)

Standing in same fields of Seminary Ridge, where 151 years to the very hour some of the hardest fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg raged, I announced our determination not only to buy the property to prevent any future devastating development, but that once we had saved it, we will also remove all of the modern structures and restore the land to its historic appearance!

Never protected in the original boundaries of the battlefield park… in private hands the whole time, and commercially developed since 1921… we are actually fortunate that this land is not even further compromised than it already is, and that we still have a chance to save it and restore it.

But make no mistake – this is our last chance, right here, right now. If we do not save this property in the next 180 days, we may never have another chance.

I’m no Pollyanna. I know asking you to help me raise $1.1 million – on top of the many other important hallowed ground purchases we have made of late – is asking a lot. But I hope you will agree this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it is worthy of our absolute best effort to save it.

And in the end, my friend, whether you “lean” Union or Confederate, whether you have a Billy Yank or Johnny Reb in your family tree, or even if you just enjoy studying about the people and events surrounding this most important time in our nation’s history…

… wouldn’t you like to say you had a hand in saving – for all future generations – Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg?

You can do the math. If you and I can raise $1.1 million before the end of the year, we can complete this $5.5 million transaction. That’s a $5-to-$1 match of your generosity!

It is a big task, but if I have your help, I know we can do it, and make history by saving history.

We’ve come so far that it would be a tragedy to turn back now. If we lose this final chance to save this land, you and future visitors studying the First Day at Gettysburg will have the historic view blighted by hideous, intrusive, invasive modern development.

This place is one of those “hinges of history” that I like to talk about. Without Lee’s Headquarters, you cannot tell the full story of Gettysburg, and without Gettysburg, you cannot tell the full story of the Civil War…

…and I’ll even go so far as to say that without all of the above, you cannot tell the full story of this nation. That’s how it is with Civil War battlefield land, my friend, and that is why the work we are doing together is so important.

Every additional piece of hallowed ground we save not only protects and enhances all of the hard work we have done before, but also leads us on to our next challenge…

…which, in turn, leads directly to us today, to our concept of America and its history and its promise, as important and immediate as any other place and event in our lives.

Will you help the Civil War Trust save Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg?

If so, and if you will commit at least $26 to this effort, to say “thank you” it will be my pleasure to send you a specially designed Trust t-shirt that features the battle map view of the Lee’s Headquarters, and proudly notes, “I Helped Save Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg!”

tshirtMany of your fellow members have told me how much they appreciate our Trust t-shirts that show the actual hallowed ground they have preserved – plus it’s a great way to help spread the word of our crucial mission and successes.

Even if you are not a t-shirt wearer, you probably know someone who is, and who would appreciate one as unique as this.

If you are able to help with a gift of $50 or more, I will also send you a copy of a very special book by historian Tim Smith entitled “The Story of Lee’s Headquarters,” giving you the full, complete and unvarnished history of this site (including the story of how, in the early years of the 20th century, the home may have been used as a “house of ill repute,” of all things).

This special preservation edition has been printed exclusively for dedicated members of the Civil War Trust like you who donate $50 or more to this historic effort.

Finally, if you are able to donate $100 or more, I will also add your name to our Roll Call of Honor donor display, which will stand in perpetuity on this property at Gettysburg, so that you can bring your children and grandchildren to this spot – once it is restored (anticipated completion in early 2016) – and show them that you played a major role in saving this historic landmark.

If you are able to give even more to this effort, it will be my honor to increase the size of your name as it appears on the Roll Call of Honor. I hope that you will seriously consider how large you would like your name to appear on this permanent marker. It’s going to be there a long time.

My friend, I will be the first one “over the top,” so to speak. If you will look on the back of your map, you will see a copy of my personal check, made payable to the Civil War Trust, for $1,000. I could not, in good conscience, ask you to contribute to an effort that I was not willing to put my own hard-earned cash into as well.

Please help the Civil War Trust take full advantage of this opportunity to raise the final $1.1 million we need to save Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg by the end of this year. I can’t thank you enough for all of your help. Please reply as soon as you possibly can.

Humbly yours, ‘til victory is ours

Jim Lighthizer

UPDATE: Still have some questions about this opportunity? Read our Frequently Asked Questions about saving Lee's Headquarters 

P.S. I can only pray that I have done a good enough job convincing you how important this effort to save Lee’s Headquarters truly is. Remember, the Board of Trustees, staff and I have already worked behind the scenes for many months to line up the $2.9 million in private donations and up to $1.5 million in anticipated government matching funds.

Now, I place the future of the Lee’s Headquarters in your hands. Look at the map and photographs I have sent (and visit our website at for even more!) See that I have put $1,000 of my own money into this fight already. Tell me that you would like to claim your reserved copy of Tim Smith’s book on this iconic landmark, and have your name included on the battlefield Roll Call of Honor display…

…but even more than all of this, decide today what you want your battlefield preservation legacy to be. Personally, I cannot think of too many better things I could say than, “I helped save Lee’s headquarters.”

I want to pass on to you another comment that a dear friend and leadership donor to this effort said about the Trust: “Good luck, and keep pushing. I'm behind the great deeds you guys are performing...the country should be so very proud of you all.” You realize, of course, that he’s talking about you – YOU are responsible for the “great deeds” he mentions! And, for what it’s worth, I’m sure proud of you!

Thank you very, very much. Remember, we have a hard and fast deadline of 180 days. Now, please let me hear back from you as soon as possible. Thank you again.

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