4. Alabama Monument Group

What These Trees Saw

The five Alabama regiments of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law’s Brigade had been marching all day, and when they finally reached Gettysburg, they were deployed on Warfield Ridge, right where the modern South Confederate Avenue passes the Alabama State Monument (the 15th and 44th Alabama Infantry stood about where the monument is today). At 4 PM, July 2, 1863, the tired men were ordered to advance. These Alabama men and boys would go on to attack the Union forces at Devil’s Den, the Slaughter Pen, and Little Round Top, at tremendous cost: over a quarter of the men became casualties on this day.

Figure A: in order to get a good modern view of Witness Tree #2, I had to move a few feet to the right from where I took the then-and-now recreations of Figures P-1 and P-2, which were taken from directly in front of the Alabama Monument. A newer tree, unfortunately, blocks the view of Tree #2, when the monument is viewed head on.

The Trees

We have an astonishing trio of trees standing behind and to the left of the Alabama Monument on South Confederate Avenue. Firstly, what were three individual trees a century ago have grown together at their bases, so that the trees now appear to be growing out of a single trunk (see Figure B). But more remarkable is the mind-blowingly slow growth of the trees. The two trees that can be discerned in our pair of then-and-now photographs have, since the Alabama Monument was dedicated and first photographed in 1933, been growing at a rate of at least 10 years to grow each inch of diameter (in the case of Witness Tree #2) and over 14 years to do the same (in the case of Witness Tree #1) respectively. With a diameter of only 15.1 inches, Witness Tree #1 is, in fact, the smallest witness tree to be found on this website!

The slow growth of the trees is due to the fact that several trees are all growing in pretty much the exact same spot, so their roots are in heavy competition for whatever water and nutrients exist in the likely rocky soil below.

Witness Tree #1

Figure P-1: Witness Tree #1 can easily be picked out of the two photographs shown here. Interestingly, as the two branches of the fork of the tree have grown larger over the last century, they have begun to merge together at the fork. The present fork thus is a couple of feet higher off the ground than it was a century ago. The 1933 photograph is reproduced here courtesy of Licensed Battlefield Guide Tim Fulmer, on whose excellent website it appears.

Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law (CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 47.5”
Diameter: 15.1”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 14-16 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-240 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 4-5”
GPS: 39.786474N, 77.254349W

Witness Tree #1 has a distinctive curve to it, as it leans north from its perch behind and to the left of the Alabama Monument (see Figure P-1). It can be seen how little the tree has grown in the last century. The ratio of the tree’s diameter 1933 (the year the Alabama Monument was dedicated) to 2023 is 0.59-0.62, which suggest a growth rate of a ploddingly slow 14-16 years to grow each inch of diameter since 1933. Working backwards, assuming the same slow growth rate from its birth, the tree may be over 200 years old, and could have had a diameter of 4-5 inches during the battle. If the tree grew more quickly in its younger years, of course, these numbers would be smaller. We leave it to you to decide whether you agree that this is likely a witness tree or not.

Brig. Gen. Evander McIvor Law, CSA.

This tree is named for Confederate Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law, commander of the Alabama Brigade at Gettysburg. A South Carolina native, Law graduated from the South Carolina Military Academy in 1856, then went on to a brief career as an instructor at the Military High School in Tuskegee, AL. When civil war commenced, he recruited a company of state troops, which then entered Confederate service as Company B of the 4th Alabama Infantry, of which Law was elected lieutenant colonel. (1)

Law was severely wounded in the left arm at First Manassas, after which he was absent until the fall of 1861. Promoted to colonel of the regiment in November 1861, Law led the 4th in all the major battles of 1862. In October of that year, he was promoted to brigadier general. When General Hood was wounded at Chickamauga in September 1863, Law took over command of Hood’s division. At Second Cold Harbor (June 1, 1864), Law once again suffered a severe wound, this time to his head, fracturing an orbital bone and injuring his left eye. While recovering in a hospital in Richmond, Law, at his own request, was relieved of his service in the Army of Northern Virginia. War’s end found him serving in the cavalry of Gen. Joeph Johnson’s army. (2)

Law retired to Florida, where he worked as a newspaperman, and was also instrumental in creating that state’s public education system. He lived to be an old veteran, dying at the age of 84 in Bartow, where he was buried. (3)

(1) Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Grey. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. Pp. 174-5.
(2) Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Confederate Generals. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1995. P. 129.
(3) Warner.

Capt. William A. Dunklin (44th AL, CSA) Witness Tree

Figure P-2: Witness Tree #2 hides behind a newer, younger tree in the modern photo. There is actually a third tree (marked with two asterisks) growing in the space occupied by the two witness trees, all three trees now sharing a merged common trunk. However, because the third tree cannot be seen clearly in either of the older photos appearing on this page, we cannot make an accurate “then-and-now” comparison of the tree, and so its witness tree status remains undetermined. There is a fourth white oak, marked with a single asterisk in these pictures, standing behind and to the right of the Alabama Monument, but calculations show it is probably too young to be a witness tree. The older photograph is reproduced here courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 58”
Diameter: 18.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 10-12 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 185-220 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 2.4-5”
GPS: 39.786474N, 77.254349W

Witness Tree #2 is a little larger than is #1, but it is still a small tree, sporting a diameter of 18.5″. Calculations show this to be a faster growing tree, its diameter increasing by an inch every decade or so over the past century. It too is about two centuries old, and its diameter in 1863 was probably a little less than 5 inches.

This tree is named for Capt. William A. Dunklin, one of two captains of the 44th Alabama to die at Little Round Top. Dunklin, a native Alabaman, was a practicing lawyer when he enlisted in April 1862 in Selma, and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant of Company G. Dunklin missed the battles of Second Manassas and Fredericksburg due to illness, but was promoted to 1st lieutenant and then captain in 1862 anyway. The 44th fought at the Battle of Suffolk, then at Gettysburg, where Dunklin was killed in the fight for Little Round Top. (3)

Figure B: the trunks of the three trees standing behind and to the left of the Alabama Monument have merged over the past century. This is exactly what happened to the famous honey locust tree in the National Cemetery which had been thought for years to have been a witness tree, but turns out to have been three separate trees that merged together, and in fact was only about 157 years old in 2022, not quite a witness tree.

In the chapter on Gettysburg in the regimental history of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the following paragraph relates the northerners’ exploration of area below Little Round Top and the discovery of Dunklin’s body after the Confederates had retreated:

“About ten o’clock the brigade moved out to feel and develop the enemy. At the foot of the hill and in the gorge there were thrilling, horrifying scenes of blood and carnage. The dead lay in all shapes and in every direction, some upon their faces, others on their backs, while others were twisted and knotted in painful contortions. The progress of the advance was much impeded in the effort to tread without stepping upon the bodies. Some kneeling behind the rocks had met their death where they dropped for shelter. The men gave way at times instinctively from the muzzles of muskets resting upon rocks and stones, down the barrels of which the sightless glassy eyes still gazed and the guards of which were grasped by hands convulsed in death. Seeking shelter in kneeling, to aim, they had fallen in the act of firing. Numbers of the enemy lay in a shallow trench they had dug, evidently to avoid the unerring fire of some expert skirmishers. They had torn and twisted leaves and grass in their agonies and their mouths filled with soil — they had literally bitten the dust. One or two were in the act of biting tobacco, of which most of them had a lavish supply in their mouths.

“At one spot, a point either of desperate resistance or formation for an assault, thirty-seven dead bodies lay in line, side by side. In Confederate clothing, their uniforms were better than usual, and all had new black slouched hats, doubtless from the stock of some neighboring dealer. In front of these bodies lay that of an officer of fine proportions, manly physique and remarkably handsome features. His head rested upon a stone; his limbs were straightened, his hands folded; he had evidently been prepared for decent sepulture. A letter, through which the ball had passed that penetrated his heart, identified him as Captain William A. Dunklin, of the 44th Alabama. Many years after the war the incident of finding his body was brought to the knowledge of his relatives in Selma, who, up to that time, knew only of his death at Gettysburg, but nothing of its attendant surroundings.”

A gravestone in Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, AL, marks the location of Dunklin’s grave.

(3) Alabama Civil War Records Database; retrieved May 25, 2023: Soldier ID #: 54553.
(4) Smith, John L. History of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Corn Exchange Regiment, 1905. Pp. 260-1.