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Civil War Trust

Frequently Asked Questions

Saving Lee's Headquarters

Faq header
Jim Lighthizer at the July 1, 2014, press conference announcing the campaign to preserve Lee's Headquarters. (Civil War Trust)

On July 1, 2014, the Civil War Trust joined with the Department of the Interior, Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett, and the Gettysburg Foundation to announce the beginning of a national fundraising campaign to protect four acres of the Gettysburg Battlefield, including the building that served as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s headquarters. The property contains a modern hotel complex that will eventually be removed, allowing the site to return to its wartime appearance prior to its donation to the National Park Service.

A project of this magnitude has many complexities. While it is inappropriate to finalize all details of our long-term plans before the Trust takes ownership of the property, the following outline answers many of the questions that have been raised by our members.

Question: So many people have fond memories of the hotel and restaurant. How were the owners persuaded to sell?

Civil War Trust: Many of us within the Trust have the same bittersweet feelings. Rest assured that the Trust only works with willing sellers, paying fair market value for the land it preserves. This transaction was no different, as this powerful statement from the sellers, the Belmar Partnership, to the Gettysburg Times:

“Our franchise agreement with Quality Inn is coming to an end and, rather than renew, we made the difficult decision to sell the property. We came to the decision after many months of careful consideration. But, in the end, we felt that General Lee’s Headquarters and the surrounding property are true national treasures that must be preserved and safeguarded…. We are secure in the knowledge that the Headquarters, and the hallowed land that surrounds it, will be protected and restored to its original glory or serve as an educational resource for generations to come.”

Question: It’s already a museum, doesn’t that mean it’s protected?

Civil War Trust: The current owners have been wonderful stewards of the headquarters site and we applaud them for their commitment. However, with their decision to sell at the end of their franchise agreement, there was no guarantee that any future occupants would maintain a similar level of care. No easements or other formal steps toward preservation have ever been placed on the land or the Lee’s headquarters building, so few checks would exist for a new owner wishing to build a much larger facility. If the historic buildings were demolished, preservationists would have no recourse whatsoever.

Question: What about the museum collection?

Civil War Trust: The Civil War Trust is exceptionally grateful that we will be the recipient of a remarkable donation by Belmar Partnership: they will donate to the Trust most of the artifacts currently housed in the Lee’s Headquarters Museum. Despite rumors to the contrary, we will NOT sell the collection, although we anticipate that it will be moved for preservation and safekeeping, especially during the restoration phase. We will work with the National Park Service to find an appropriate home in Gettysburg for these treasures.

Question: What is the timeline for restoration of the property and donation to the Park?

Civil War Trust: The Trust anticipates finalizing the purchase and taking ownership of the property in early 2015, provided we are successful in raising the $5.5 million purchase price. After that time, the current businesses will cease operation and we will begin a restoration phase. The initial focus will be on removing non-historic buildings, but our eventual goal is to have the property resemble its 1863 appearance as closely as possible. This work will be done in consultation with qualified historians, archaeologists and other experts. At present, the land is outside the authorized boundary of Gettysburg National Military Park, meaning it is not eligible for immediate donation to the National Park Service.

Question: Will we still be able to go into the building?

Civil War Trust: The Trust is in the process of formalizing a stewardship partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation, the nonprofit partner that owns and operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, and whose mission is focused on preservation and education. The Foundation also owns the Gettysburg Lincoln Train Station, which will eventually be donated to the National Park Service once boundary legislation is passed by Congress; owns the Rupp House, and the George Spangler Farm, both of which are used for educational and interpretive programming; and plays a role with the National Park Service in the management of the David Wills House. Specific details relating to public access will be publicized when appropriate, after the Trust takes ownership of the property in early 2015.

Question: Doesn’t the Trust focus only on battlefields, not buildings?

Civil War Trust: Even setting aside the presence of the Lee’s headquarters building, these four acres are some of the bloodiest unprotected land on the Gettysburg Battlefield. On July 1, 1863, heavy fighting took place around the home of 69-year-old widow Mary Thompson, a building co-owned by U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (who, as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, was instrumental in passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution). Retreating federal soldiers formed a new line on Seminary Ridge and three guns of Battery B, 4th U. S. Artillery were positioned around the Thompson house, delivering raking canister fire into the Confederates. Brig. Gen. Alfred Scales reported that his North Carolinians “encountered a most terrific fire of grape and shell on our flank, and grape and musketry on our front. Every discharge made sad havoc in our line, but still we pressed on at a double-quick.” Eventually, they could go no further; every field officer in the brigade, save one, had fallen. The 13th North Carolina lost 150 of 180 men under the hale of 57 canister rounds expended by Stewart’s battery. Eventually, however, the Confederate tide seized the ridge and the Federals fell back through town.

Question: What will become of the current businesses and their employees?

Civil War Trust: The Quality Inn at General Lee’s Headquarters hotel will remain in operation under the auspices of Impact Hospitality until early 2015. As noted by Impact Hospitality in an article in The Hanover Evening Sun, the hotel’s 24 employees will either receive severance packages or be reassigned to one of Impact's three other properties in the area.

The Appalachian Brewing Company, a Harrisburg-based chain, currently operates seven restaurants in the area — including a recent addition at Gateway Gettysburg, on Route 30, east of town. The company is actively seeking a second location in Gettysburg, allowing it to maintain two facilities in the community. Employees of the Lee’s Headquarters location will be reassigned to one of the other brewpubs, as noted by the general manager in a recent article.

Question: How does this impact the local economy?

Civil War Trust: The preservation of this property will change its tax status, reducing the amount collected by local municipalities in certain categories. We intend to address this – and maintain a positive relationship with local governments. For example, the Gettysburg Foundation provides payments in lieu of taxes related to many of their preserved properties, an arrangement that we are also open to pursuing in this instance. Other tax categories, notably the “pillow tax,” should not see a decline, as visitors to Gettysburg can find accommodations at other nearby Gettysburg hotels.

Lee's Headquarters on Map
Lee's Headquarters in the background of a map poster present at the July 1, 2014, press conference (Civil War Trust)

Question: Is there truth to conflicting reports about the location of Lee’s Headquarters?

Civil War Trust: Mary Thompson, who had remained in her home through the fighting left Gettysburg briefly, but returned and lived in the house until her death in 1873. Around the turn of the century, articles began appearing in newspapers that challenged the well-accepted fact that Lee had made his headquarters at the Thompson House. The most notable example came in 1907, when Henry S. Moyer published an article stating that in the spring of 1874, he had interviewed a woman residing in the Thompson House who stated that Gen. Lee had never been present there. Moyer further claimed that a “good friend” had spoken to Gettysburg historian John Bachelder, whose interview with the Confederate commander revealed that the headquarters had been in an apple orchard across the street. No other evidence exists for an interview between Lee and Bachelder.  

The same year as the Moyer article, the longtime tenant of the home, Emma Feister, was arrested for “keeping a bawdy house.” Perhaps to avoid discussing this scandal, some historians chose to ignore the numerous contemporary accounts that corroborate the Thompson House as Lee’s official headquarters.  In 1919, the Gettysburg National Park Commission erected a marker bearing a fabricated Lee quote from the Moyer article across the street from the Thompson House. The presence of this marker has greatly perpetuated the “apple orchard” myth.

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