tv General Lees Headquarters in Gettysburg CSPAN March 5, 2017 10:00pm-10:19pm EST
>> interested in american history tv? visit our website, c-span.org /history. you can preview upcoming programs and watch college lectures, archival films, and more. american history tv at c-span.org/history. >> for three days, in july, 1863, the union and confederate armies faced off in gettysburg, pennsylvania. one of the most decisive battles of the civil war. next on american artifacts, we visit confederate general robert e. lee's quarters. -- gettysburg headquarters. a nonprofit organization purchased the house and
surrounding land in 2015. we talk with jim lighthizer and gary aleman of the trust about the property's history and restoration. >> this house is significant to the battle of gettysburg. one of the most, if not the most, important battle of the civil war because it was the epicenter of the confederate effort. this is the headquarters, this is where robert e. lee was. this is the building in which he made crucial decisions during the course of those three days of that battle that literally determined the outcome of the battle. this property, when we bought it, looks nothing like it does right now. it was a hotel complex with a pub/restaurant attached to it. envision a 40 or 50-room 1950's style motel, with a restaurant/saloon attached to it. all surrounding this building that i am standing in, it was lee's headquarters.
his headquarters were hidden in plain sight. what we did to restore this site was first to get rid of the 20th century. that was to tear down and move out all of the debris that encompassed the hotel, or motel to be more precise. the restaurant/pub. then we had to restore it. we had to tear out something like 15 different structures, including the swimming poor and a gift shop, those type of things. this thing was layered with 20th century commercial establishments. re that stuff out and restored everything to the way it looked the way robert e. lee would recognize it in the 19th century. the civil war trust is an american heritage land and preservation organization, with the emphasis on saving the battlefields from three different wars.
the revolutionary war, the war of 1812, and of course the civil , war. saving the battlefields where the issues that created and defined this country were settled. we saved that land. in addition to that, we have a strong education component. we use that land as an educational platform, outdoor classroom to teach americans about their history. the national park service is our number one partner. we work very closely with them to buy land that they either cannot buy, for whatever reason, they cannot move fast enough or don't have the money appropriated. we can then buy the land. we restore the land, then we turn the land over whenever possible to the national park service to add to national park service parks that already exist. we enhance their product, if you will. >> gettysburg is not such a small town at the time of the civil war. there were churches, inks, to
-- banks educational institutes , two and houses like this one dotting the countryside. you have rural living with people tending small farms. this is one of the 10 roads that lead into gettysburg, and one of the many houses where you will have more than one occupants living life. the battle of gettysburg would descend upon this town and forever change it. as robert e. lee arrived on the field on 1863, that is one of the bloodiest days already. thlee comes upon a horrendous scene with hospital operations beginning. the union army in full flight. it made him happier that his side was winning, but he would've seen a scene of incredible devastation to not only humans, but to the terrain, to the structures, to the fences , and just debris all over the face. this house was owned by a very
famous individual, he is a radical republican congressman. really into the abolition movement. he purchased this house in trust for a widow named mary thompson. thompson had eight children. by the time of the battle, they had all grown and she was alone, probably with a small dog. mrs. thompson is thought to have been here in the house as robert e. lee and the confederate army descended upon it. there are not good accounts counts as to how she may have interacted, or not interacted with general lee and his staff and anybody else around, but we know she is part of the recovery hospital operations. we do not know if the lot more than that. by the time robert e. lee arrived on seminary ridge, his staff already selected this general vicinity as the headquarters of his army. the army of northern virginia. the headquarters location is already selected. what a headquarters is, is a
very difficult question to answer. is the headquarters where the general actually is? is it where the tent is, is it where the general is conducting most of his work? it is tough to answer. here is how it comes down. we know the general robert e. lee used this house. we know he was a man about the field and would have conducted numerous tasks on horseback in his tent and things like that. incredibly, we do not have a great detailed account about what he did and where, other than we know that he used the somewherehis tent was outside the house. we know he also made critical decisions. the battle of gettysburg lasted three days. the first date that confederates win overwhelmingly. as the confederates buckled the union flanks, the union army pulled back to this ridge, seminary ridge. there are 25 cannons, thousands of troops lined up as the southerners started to push on either side. the union line in this particular area, just west of
the house was particularly strong. cannons are blazing away trying to push in this direction. eventually, the flanks are so crumbling that this is the last position to hold. in other words, on the first day of the battle of gettysburg, this is the last union position. the southerners finally drive the union army away from this ridge. the union retreats down what is now route 30. it was an unfinished railroad then. the southerners occupied this ridge at this point. then they lay out their cannons on this ridge as well because it is a commanding ridge with a great view towards the town of gettysburg and the height the union would later occupy. we know all of this because gettysburg is the greatest battle of the civil war and people tended to write a lot about it. people came here right afterwards. there was an early historian who collected people stories. their maps made within years of the battle. there's a map of the burials made within a year of the
battle. that actually shows a union and confederate soldier on this property itself. that testifies to the severity of the fight, and all of the accounts, maps, photos, everything else, really bolster that. the postwar history of the house is interesting as well. here you have one of numerous houses on the battlefield. remember, civil war battles are usually fought in people's backyards. weatherbee in a rural setting on a farm or right outside of the house in a town. this civil war is fought in people's houses and on their lands. this was no exception. nobody thought of preserving all of every bit of every battlefield. you cannot do it. this became one of numerous places, right along a major route where people could stay and receive travel services. it eventually became a tourist area. they had cabins and a full motel complex. during that time, there might have been some untoward things
going on in the house to wear battlefield guides stopped taking people to the headquarters. they stopped telling people about lee's headquarters because bawdymight have been a house running out of the house. if they talked about it, they might explain why they could not go in. they do not want to expose their tourists to that. that is one of the many reasons. it had become a booming complex. the former owners were generous enough to deed the numerous artifacts that they still had in their holdings from when this house served as general lee's headquarters museum for eight decades. it was a very popular museum at the time. right away, we wanted to identify everything that was associated with the house and feed those to the national parks
service who will be the ultimate steward of this property. we wish there was more, but we are happy to have the few things we have. we have the original deed to the house. it says that thaddeus stevens is purchasing a house in trust for mary thompson. great stuff. i think the best artifacts would be a lock plate from a door that is known to be removed from mary thompson's house and taken across the road to serve as a map table. almost certainly something robert e. lee and other staff members would use to conduct the battle of gettysburg. we not only have a lock plate from it, but there is also a piece of the door well documented from that. it matches up with another piece of the door that supposedly came from the door as well. this is what the park service and other museum curators do in trying to ensure the proper not the rest provenance is correct.
it is really cool. the door was removed and used as became famous.it it became of great interest to people. in the 19th and early 20th century, people were interested in mementos. the craze was bigger back then. people would crave a piece of the door robert e. lee used. it was cut up and sold to people. i guess i am glad something like that happen. i wish we had the entire door, but if not, i will take a small piece of it. one of the most compelling pieces to come out of the collection associated with the house is a pair of bullet riddled shutters. from the photos, there are not shutters on the mary thompson house itself. but there are numerous outbuildings associated with this house. there are clearly bullet holes and they are really compelling when you see this visual example of the battle of gettysburg, that it affected people's houses even going through their shutters.
imagine being a family at gettysburg at the time. we are really pleased to have a chair, which is a mid-19th century painted chair thought to have been at the house at the time. happily apparently it was not in , the house during the fire that gutted this place. there is more than one chair. i believe there is a table and thanks thought to have been here when robert e. lee was here. we are fortunate to have any of this. there were another 100 artifacts, and we opened up to the national park service to have and add to their collection anything they wanted. we ended up deeding it to places like this fort mchenry and cedar , creek, other battlefields which could benefit from things in the collection traced to people who were connected with those places. the civil war trust purchases and preserves the hallowed ground where citizen soldiers made this country what it is
today. some of the major decisions of american history have been decided on battlefields. a lot happened elsewhere, but they were ultimately decided to -- through military victory. the civil war trust preserves that land, where the soldier s struggled. not necessarily in the prisons, hospitals, forts, cemeteries, those places are very important. we save those places if there is also fighting at those places. when the civil war trust became interested in this property, historians had long known that we would be lucky to have the resources we have. the famous photographer arrived on the scene within two weeks of the battle of gettysburg and recorded six photos of or from this property. he recorded four of the houses with matthew brady with the widow mary thompson. then he went to a home next door and took the most famous panoramic photo of the town of
gettysburg, just as it appeared during the battle. and then he went across the road and recorded may be the most famous photo of the civil war. it is of three confederate prisoners standing dignified with some of the hills of gettysburg in the background. we have a very not only come compelling story to tell with these photos, but a great ability to get down to the details of which stones in the house were where, and which features were actually part of the complex at the time. this stone house is not unlike a lot of other mid-19th century stone houses in the vicinity. you have an idea of what these things looked like inside and out. this particular house was gutted by an interior fire 120 years ago. it burned to almost a shell. all of the outdoor stones and indoor configurations are in the same place. but the house itself, we do not have a good record of what it looked like because of the fire.
afterward, this became part of a tourist complex. there were hotel buildings all around it. the house itself changed so they could put a guest room upstairs in the house. they added dormers. we knew that there were no dormers at the time of the civil war. our restoration plan focused on the exterior. how could we remove these doors them -- dormers put the arbor on , the front of the house, restore the doghouse. when it came to the interior, we acquired the house and it was a museum for eight decades. we need we had to remove the museum cases. once we did that, we opened up the house into what it likely was at the time. a standard four-room house. there are two different fireplaces here. we have good reason to think, very good reason to think that it is in approximately the original configuration. >> the reason it is important to save parts of land like we have
here is because it is american history. these other places where america was created and defined. this is who we are. the battlefields, whether you are talking about the declaration of independence, the united states constitution, the emancipation proclamation, documents that were huge in american history are useless unless they are ratified by winning wars. what these places do, what these pieces of ground do is, they teach american public about how to become better citizens. because it teaches them about their history. these are where the great things happened. i personally believe that humans crave a sense of place. they want to be there, they want to be in authentic places where real, important things happened. real, important things happen on the mesh happened -- happened on these places, on these grounds. americans can come to these
places and stand where great things happened and be there. >> for more information about lee's gettysburg headquarters and the work of the civil war trust, visit their website civil war.org. wrecks who will win -- >> who will win the grand prize of $5,000? join us for the announcement. we asked middle and high school students to produce documentaries telling us the most urgent issue for our new president and congress to address in 2017. we received over 2900 entries from 26 states, plus the district of columbia, england, singapore, and taiwan. students competed for the chance to win $100,000 in prizes. you can log onto our website 30 minutes before the big announcement to view all 150
winning documentaries. theure to watch announcement of our 2017 grand prize winner wednesday, march 8, at 8:00 a.m. eastern on c-span. >> all weekend, american history tv is featuring san jose, california. aaff recently visited showcase of the city history. in 1943, the international business machine corporation or ibm opened its first west coast manufacturing facility in san jose. later, the city was dubbed the capital of silicon valley. learn more about san jose all weekend here on american history tv. >> james lick was a wealthy businessman.