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Witness trees join battlefield fight.

Offspring of these old monarchs that survived shot and shell are helping fund the purchase of historic Civil War landscapes.

The last of the old veterans who wore the blue and gray of America's Civil War died almost half a century ago. But surprisingly--and poignantly--a small host of living witnesses survive to this day.

These venerable bystanders are trees. The shot and shell of great battles crashed around them. They sheltered famous commanders, served as signal platforms, shaded the wounded, or simply formed part of the landscape at a crucial place and day in the Civil War--the tragic, watershed event of our nation's history.

Now these trees are playing a role in a national movement launched by The Civil War Trust to ensure that the historic landscapes of the Civil War--the battlefields where thousands fought and died for their beliefs--are preserved and protected.

The nonprofit Trust has joined with American Forests' Famous & Historic Trees program to collect seeds from these "witness" trees. Seedlings from the trees profiled here and many others are grown at the Famous & Historic Trees nursery in Jacksonville, Florida, and are available to anyone who would like to plant a living remnant of the Civil War's vital history.

The program allows participants to join with The Trust in its campaign to acquire endangered battlefields. Only an estimated 15 percent of significant Civil War battlefields are preserved, and key sites are at risk of being lost. A portion from each Famous & Historic tree sale will go to the Trust for this purpose.

It these witness trees could talk, what stories they would tell--dramatic events that marked a period of idealism, courage, and sacrifice unparalled in our history.

Today our only living witnesses to the Civil War are mute. But if we listen, they do talk to us--if we are willing to remember the past and learn from the lessons of history.

A catalog of Civil War trees is available from Famous & Historic Trees, 8555 Plummer Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32219; 800/677-0727. Battlefield trees are $35 plus $7 shipping and handling. Witness trees--specifically mentioned in period writings or seen in drawings or photographs--are $50 plus $7 shipping and handling. A portion of each purchase goes to The Civil War Trust to help preserve these historic sites. The trees described here, with the exception of the Antietam sycamore, have just been added to the inventory and do not appear in the catalog.

For a Civil War Trust brochure and membership information, write 1225 Eye St. NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20005; 202/326-8420.

BIGELOW'S BATTERY OAK

This swamp white oak, which today measures 15 feet around, witnessed some of the most desperate fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg. The 9th Massachusetts Battery under Captain John Bigelow was decimated here on July 2, 1863. The unit, fighting alone and virtually unsupported, was outnumbered and overrun by Confederate infantrymen advancing on the crumbling Union Line.

The battery's bugler, Charles Reed, made this sketch as he waited to go into action. The oak is at the right, serving as headquarters for General Daniel Sickles, commander of the Union Third Corps, who is standing in the shade with his staff.

The battery advanced and set up a heavy fire, but was driven back into the corner of a farmyard where the tree stands. Bigelow was ordered to hold this position "at all hazards" to give federal forces in the rear time to regroup. The battery lost almost half of its 92 men, four of its six guns, and 80 of its 88 horses. Bigelow, hit twice, was brought to the rear by Reed, who later received a Medal of Honor for the deed.

ANTIETAM SYCAMORE

This giant stands at the end of Burnside Bridge on Antietam battlefield in Maryland, where on September 17, 1862, it witnessed the bloodiest day in American history. Of that day's 23,000 casualties, a number fell at the bridge that morning during a series of vain attacks by Union General Ambrose Burnside. This wartime engraving shows the 51st Pennsylvania and 51st New York Volunteer regiments finally storming the bridge in the face of spirited resistance by Georgia troops on the far shore. The young sycamore is clearly visible at the near end of the bridge.

PICKETT'S CHARGE WALNUT

This rather spectral black walnut on the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania is the only tree left known to have witnessed that famous assault: Pickett's Charge.

The tree stood along the Union line of battle near a coppice that was the focal point of the grand Confederate attack on July 3, 1863. The battle of Gettysburg, with its 45,000 casualties, is often regarded as the turning point of the war and the Confederacy's "high tide."

As the present-day photo suggests, the tree's canopy has greatly diminished with advanced age. The walnut appears prominently in the distance of an 1880s Cyclorama painting--a portion is shown here--that is on display at Gettysburg National Military Park.

WILDERNESS COIFFEE TREE

This Kentucky coffeetree--which at 13 feet in circumference is among the largest in Virginia--still grows on the lawn of the 1780 home "Ellwood" at the Wilderness battlefield.

The amputated arm of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was buried at Ellwood May 3, 1863. Jackson's men mistakenly shot him near there the previous evening as he reconnoitered after his stunning victory at Chancellorsville. Jackson died May 10, depriving Robert E. Lee of his "right arm" and the Confederacy of one its greatest commanders.

Two Union generals headquartered at Ellwood during the May 1864 battle of the Wilderness. Jackson's arm is the only marked grave in its cemetery, part of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

THE BROMPTON OAK

In this photo taken at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in May 1864, wounded Union soldiers rest under a tree known today as the giant Brompton Oak. The Washington Artillery of New Orleans fired down on advancing Union troops from near this tree, located on Marye's Heights, helping to win a major Confederate victory in a battle that resulted in nearly 18,000 casualties.

The tree grows on the lawn at Brompton, the wartime home of John Marye. The house is still standing and today is part of Mary Washington College.

Deborah Fitts is director of communications for The Civil War Trust in Washington, DC.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Historic Trees; protection of historically significant trees in the US
Author:Fitts, Deborah
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:1042
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