When the North and the South met in the southern Pennsylvanian town of Gettysburg, many in the town fled. People left their homes, farmers abandoned their fields, and the others took the last train out of town. At the time of the battle, Gettysburg had a population of 2,300.
The armies co-opted buildings, farm fields, orchards, and roads for their own uses. General Lee set up his headquarters northwest of town in a house.
In Gettysburg, east of Cemetery Ridge, General Meade’s headquarters was set up in a small, two room farmhouse. The farmhouse on Taneytown Road, belonged to the Leister family. The widow Lydia Leister and her children had left their home before the battle. The house was perfectly situated behind the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.
Perhaps the house was a little too close to the line because it was damaged during the Confederate artillery assault that preceded Pickett’s Charge.
When you see the house today, it is amazing to note that the building is very small. It is even harder to imagine the Meade’s “council of generals” that occurred here in the cramped front room on the evening of July 2, 1863. The room was filled with twelve Union generals. This perhaps was one of the most important meetings of generals, in the entire Civil War because the Union was on the cusp of the turning point of the war but they one more battle to fight, on the last day of fighting on July 3 at Gettysburg.
When Lydia Leister returned to her farm house after the battle, she found it damaged and there were seventeen dead horses in her yard. Her orchard was destroyed and her horse and cow were gone. She was never really compensated by the government for the damage incurred. This is the sort collateral damage of war that we don’t often hear about in history. The people, the civilians, who suffered because a general chose their town as a desirable place to make a stand and fight.
Amazingly enough, there was only one civilian causualty during the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 3, Jennie Wade was baking bread in her sister’s house on Baltimore Street when a Confederate’s sniper round passed through two doors and hit Wade in the back. She had been baking bread for Union troops.