Visiting Headquarters

LeesHQ-FarSideOfRoadPerhaps the gray day made headquarters seem quieter than normal. Situated along Route 30 on the northwest corner of Gettysburg, General Lee’s HQ usually has the feel of a place where something’s going on. It was certainly like that on July 1, 1863, when Lee made his headquarters there after a pretty brutal day of fighting that finally saw his men gain the upper hand. And it was like that on July 1 of this year when the Civil War Trust announced an exciting new fund-raising initiative to purchase the property—which it has called “one of America’s most significant unprotected sites.”

I stopped by the headquarters several days ago while I was in Gettysburg for a photo-taking expedition for an upcoming Emerging Civil War Series project (details coming soon!). It had been raining for most of the afternoon, so I was good and drenched. My footwear was so soggy it squished as I walked.

Lee’s headquarters squatted against the drizzly weather as though keeping its chin up despite the gloom. And indeed, the steady rain by then had given way to something more like a mist, and the clouds westward showed signs of lightening.The promise of better weather was on the horizon. I could not have asked for a better metaphor had I tried.

Licensed Battlefield Guide Timothy Smith gives a VIP tour as part of the Civil War Trust's announcement (photo courtesy CWT)
Licensed Battlefield Guide Timothy Smith gives a VIP tour as part of the Civil War Trust’s announcement (photo courtesy CWT)

The Trust is seeking to raise $1.1 million dollars to secure the headquarters and the adjacent four acres. Certainly the project is one of the most high-profile projects they’ve undertaken in a long while.

A lot of questions and a few rumors have floated around the internet since the Trust’s big announcement, so the folks at the Trust have put together a FAQs page to address them. There’s some great stuff there.

And for folks as excited about this project as we are here at Emerging Civil War, you can get a virtual taste of the July 1 festivities thanks to some video the Trust has posted from its press conference that day:

Civil War Trust President Jim Lighthizer
Civil War Trust Chairman Emeritus John Nau
Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor
Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett
Gettysburg Foundation’s Bob Kinsley

The sun certainly shone brightly on that press event—literally and figuratively. But on the dreary day I stopped, I was glad for the quieter environment. It was, of course, an excellent opportunity to reflect on the events that swirled around that property 151 years earlier…but it was also an excellent opportunity to reflect on the good work centered around that property today. It’s easy to forget that so many of the sites we visit and the landscapes we enjoy are available to us because the devoted energy of preservationists saved those places for us. When we lose such places, we lose the tangible ability to remember the stories that took place there, which is the first step in forgetting. Preservationists are the first line of defense in ensuring that such forgetting doesn’t happen. The places they give us allow us to remember.

I think that’s especially important in a place like Gettysburg, which has become so shrouded in romance, mythology, pop culture, and consumerism. The story can be hard to see, and truths can be hard to discern. The more we can do to bring clarity to our history, the better we can understand it—and understand why it still matters.

A breeze kept blowing life into the Confederate flag that hung damply outside the headquarters. I watched it flutter, billow wide open and twist and flicker, and then drift back against the flagpole until the next gust brought it back to life.

The winds look favorable indeed.



2 Responses to Visiting Headquarters

  1. The best thing about this acquisition is the way it will open up interpretation of the July 1 fighting, especially the afternoon climax on Seminary Ridge. The visuals once the Brewery and the Quality Inn are gone will be very different. I look forward to that.

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