Lydia Leister was a widow and mother of six when the Union and Confederate armies converged on Gettysburg in 1863. Like others in the town, she fled her home during the battle. By the time she returned to her home, she had lost nearly everything.
The Union commanding general, George Meade, had made his headquarters in the Leister home, located on Taneytown Road just over the hill from the Angle. During the Confederate bombardment preceding Pickett’s Charge, shells meant for the Union positions at the Angle overshot and hit Lydia’s property instead, damaging the house and killing soldiers’ horses tied in the yard.
When Lydia returned, she was probably relieved to see that her house still stood, but that feeling must have been dampened by the stench of sixteen horses lying dead around her home and the fact that her fences had all been destroyed. She would have seen that her entire crop of wheat had been trampled into the ground by passing soldiers. She had put in extra wheat that year, hoping to pay off her land. Now, she would be lucky if she had enough to get her family through the winter.
Getting closer to her house, Lydia would have seen that both posts supporting her porch roof had been blown away. Looking up, she would have noticed a hole in her roof, maybe also the hole in the end of her house. Running inside, she would have seen that the shot that came through her roof had knocked out a rafter, and that another shot through her house had destroyed a bedstead. She may even have had water in her house from the July 4th rain, coming through the hole in the roof. Wandering through her house, Lydia would have noticed that all of her food had disappeared, except for a little bit of flour.
But the loss and destruction did not end for Lydia on July 4th when the army left the area. The rotting horses in her yard spoiled her spring so that she had to have a well dug. Her peach tree was killed when dead horses were burned near it.
By the time a correspondent visited two years later, all Lydia had received for her losses was a few dollars from selling the bones of the dead horses. The correspondent found a woman “centered in her own losses” and caring nothing for the broader picture of what the country may have lost or gained by the battle. Can we blame her?