Lydia Leister: A Remarkable Woman in American History

Lydia Leister: A Remarkable Woman in American History

In the annals of American history, countless remarkable women have played pivotal roles behind the scenes, contributing to significant events that shaped the nation. Among them stands Lydia Leister, an unsung heroine of the Civil War, whose unwavering dedication and support left an indelible mark on history. This article sheds light on the life and contributions of Lydia Leister, a woman whose impact went far beyond her humble farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

The Life of Lydia Leister

Lydia Leister was born on January 8, 1812, in the quaint town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She was raised on her family’s farm, instilled with values of hard work and kindness. She married James Leister, a farmer, in 1833. Life was typical for the Leisters until 1859 James passed away, leaving Lydia and their six children to tend the farm. Little did Lydia know that her farmhouse would become an integral part of one of the most significant battles in American history in just a few years.

The Battle of Gettysburg and Lydia’s Farmhouse

In the scorching summer of 1863, the sleepy town of Gettysburg was thrust into the heart of the Civil War. Like many residents, Lydia and her children fled their home to safer ground. During the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, Lydia Leister’s farmhouse, located strategically on Cemetery Hill, became a makeshift headquarters for the Union Army. General George G. Meade utilized the house as a crucial command post, where his infamous war council was held on the evening of July 2.

The Aftermath of the Battle

When the Battle of Gettysburg concluded, Lydia Leister’s farmhouse bore witness to the immense human cost of war. Lydia Leister returned home to find her home riddled with shot holes and seventeen dead horses lying in her yard. An artillery shell had knocked down the porch supports by Confederates that had overshot their intended target on Cemetery Ridge. In an effort to clean up some of the carnage soldiers burned several horses but their proximity to
her best peach tree destroyed it. Her cow and several horses she owned had ran off. Two tons of hay that were stored in the barn were now gone. The fence rails around her property were all burned and her wheat crop for the year was trampled.

Many of the farmers filed claims with the Federal government after the battle, but few received much, if any, restitution for the devastation they suffered. Lydia was one of those who received nothing. Being resourceful, Lydia burned the bones of the horses in her yard and sold the ash/bone mix as fertilizer at fifty cents per hundred pounds. She made about $30.

Like other Gettysburg natives, the hard-working widow repaired her home and replanted her fields. She did well enough to purchase an additional seven acres in 1868 and added a two-story addition to the house in 1874. At the age of 72 Lydia decided that farm life was no longer something she could continue. She sold her farm to the Gettysburg Memorial Association in 1888. She purchased a lot in town near the Dobbin House on the Emittsburg Road. She took the two-story addition she had built in 1874 with her. Later she added a two-story addition to the back of the structure. She lived her until her death in 1893. The Gettysburg Memorial Association leased her farm to tenants until 1933 when the National Park Service took the property over. They continue to maintain the site today.

If you are looking for an historic site in the heart of Gettysburg to stay during your next trip consider the Tillie Pierce House Inn and our room named after Lydia Leister! The suite is a lovely room with soft, creamy toned wall that help to highlight its lovely blue and white gingham and floral quilt atop the queen size bed and is located on the second floor of the house towards the back of the building and is overlooking our garden area. The suite has a private powder room and a cozy sitting area with a sofa and television. This sofa can also pull out to be a single bed, making this suite available to accommodate three people.