The God Tree (Fell March 2023)
In the decades immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, the most popular place to visit for returning veterans was Culp’s Hill. One of the many fascinating features of Culp’s Hill was the presence of a large number of trees that wore for many years the effects of the untold thousands of minie balls that shredded some trees and embedded themselves in the bark of others. The trees on the east slope even found an admirer in Matthew Brady, who photographed the trees when he visited Gettysburg in mid-July 1863 (See Figure A below).
In time, one particular tree came to stand out amongst the many arboreal veterans of Culp’s Hill – a white oak which in the 20th century came to be known as the God Tree. In the late 19th century, the central core of the trunk began to rot, resulting over time a visually arresting appearance of a tree that seemingly had split in two (see Figure B below).
William Storrick’s Concrete Rescue Project
In 1916, the park’s official forester, William Storrick, implemented a project to save the many “historic trees” (as they were called at the time) which had suffered similar rotting away of the core, during which large cavities were carved out of the inner trunks: arborists injected concrete into the trees’ cavities as a measure to keep the trees standing for decades to come.
Storrick’s report on the project was reprinted in full in the 1917 report park superintendent Emmor Cope filed with the Gettysburg Commission (the entity which managed the park on-site for the War Department). Storrick explained that “this work was carefully done and the best known and approved methods were used to approve them.” Specifically, “The cavities were thoroughly cleaned and treated with concrete and then filled with cement. The edges of the cavities along the line of the cambium were covered with shellac and asphaltum. Weak and split trees were bolted to strengthen them” (see Figure C above).
Some 32 trees were given the Storrick concrete treatment during 1916-1917, including this page’s featured tree, which Storrick specifically reported was “one of the most noted trees on Culp’s Hill” (see Figure D below).
In recent years, the tree has finally succumbed to time and age, and has been falling apart like a Laurel and Hardy-constructed house. The trail of collapse was detailed by an 2017 extensive article written for the Gettysburg Daily website, and can be accessed here.
More recently, one half of the split trunk had fallen down, revealing in spectacular fashion the concrete column that had held the tree up for over a century, and even the bolts described by Storrick to hold the tree together (see Figures below).
The end came for the tree in the late winter of 2022-2023. First, the concrete column, now without support on its south side, collapsed in February 2023
February, 2023: Final Collapse, Phase One: Concrete Column Falls.
The National Park Service moved quickly to remove the shattered concrete which lay on the ground.
February 2023: NPS Removes Concrete
Now lacking any means of support, the weak remaining section of trunk fell during a March 2023 windstorm.
March 2023: Final Collapse, Phase 2: Trunk Falls.
The God Tree was no more. Visitors can now see only the fallen remains of the most famous veteran of the futile Confederate charges up Culp’s Hill on July 2 and 3, 1863.
But there still remains one tree on the battlefield containing concrete in its cavity, one last surviving patient of the treatment prescribed by William Storrick in 1916 – the John Gibbon Witness Tree in Hancock Avenue.