111th Pennsylvania Trees

What These Trees Witnessed

This sector of Culp’s Hill had been occupied by Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Kane’s 2nd Brigade (2nd Division, 12th Corps) on the morning of July 2, 1863, and it was these men – which included the almost 200 men of the 111th Pennsylvania – that constructed the earthworks still visible here on the east side of today’s Slocum Avenue. In the afternoon, Kane’s men were pulled off of Culp’s Hill to assist in the fighting taking place on the southern end of Union lines, leaving Brig. Gen. George S. Green’s 3rd Brigade alone to defend the entirety of Culp’s Hill. Greene stretched out his line as best as he could, and it was the 137th New York which next occupied the steep slope rising out of the earth immediately to the south of the saddle between the upper and lower summits of Culp’s Hill.

Late in the evening on the 2nd, the Confederates attacked Culp’s Hill. The 137th New York was pushed back, retreating down to the bottom of the saddle, and morning found the crest of Lower Culp’s Hill to be a no-man’s land between Union troops at the base of the saddle to the northwest, and the Confederate soldiers of the brigade of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuert in the woods to the east. Kane’s brigade meanwhile returned to Culp’s Hill and were deployed at the lower saddle.

The final Confederate assault on Culp’s Hill took place on the morning of July 3rd. While Steuert’s men attacked Pardee Field to the southwest, the North Carolinians of Brig. Gen. Junius Daniel’s Confederate brigade poured out of the woods to try to capture the saddle from Kane’s federals. Daniel’s men made it as far as these trees, before they were repulsed with great loss.

The Trees

Talk about a pair of arboreal twins: the two white oaks which stand near the distinctive monument to the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry have formed a readily identifiable V-shape for two centuries. The two trees are identical in circumference, and a comparison of the trees in the then-and-now photos shown in Figures P-1 and P-2 demonstrates that they have experienced identical growth rates over that time, so that it may be concluded that they likely sprouted at the same time early in the 19th century.


The trees were both first photographically identified by Greg Gober, using the images of Figure P-1 and P-2 below.

Witness Tree #1

Figure P-1: The pair of witness trees standing in V-formation along Slocum Avenue on Culp’s Hill, near the 111th Pennsylvania monument, are evident in both photographs here. The 1897 image is by William Tipton.

Priv. Orlando S. Campbell (111th PA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 89.5”
Diameter: 28.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-215 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7-7.3”
GPS: 39.816682N, 77.218659W

Pvt. Orlando Campbell, 111th PA, Gettysburg National Cemetery, Row D, Plot 49

As you make the sharp left turn on Slocum Avenue at the summit of Lower Culp’s Hill, you will see on your right (the north side of the road) a pair of white oaks forming a distinctive V-shape. The Priv. Campbell Witness Tree is the on the left, or southwest side. Both of these trees have a present diameter of 28.5 inches, and both have a diameter ratio (c.1900:2023) of 0.43; as a result, both trees can be calculated to have experienced an average growth rate over the past 125 years of 7.5 years to grow each inch of diameter. Each tree was very likely to have been at least a half-foot in diameter in 1863 as the fighting swirled around them, and both are probably at least 200 years old.

Witness Tree #1 is named for Private Orlando S. Campbell of the 111th Pennsylvania. Not much is known about him, except that he mustered into Company K on December 27, 1861, was killed here at Gettysburg, and was buried at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Witness Tree #2

Figure P-2: These photographs taken near the 109th PA monument show not only the 111th PA witness trees, but also the 29th PA witness tree, indicated by the red asterisk in each photo. The Col. George Cobham Witness Tree (W2) can be seen to be leaning much more strongly to the east in the modern picture than it was 125 years ago. The older image, taken by William Tipton, is reproduced here courtesy of the Boardman Photographic Collection.

Col. George A. Cobham, Jr. (111th PA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 90”
Diameter: 28.6”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-215 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7-7.4”
GPS: 39.816682N, 77.218659W

Witness Tree #2 is named for the Englishman Col. George A. Cobham, Jr. of the 111th Pennsylvania. Cobham was a direct lineal descendent, we are told by the regimental history of the 111th, of Sir John Oldcastle (Lord Cobham), “a Lollard martyr, who was burned at the stake in London for his opinions, on Christmas Day, 1417.” Col. Cobham was born in Liverpool in 1825. When Cobham’s father died, Cobham’s mother remarried – to her deceased husband’s brother. The family emigrated to America, and settled in Warren, PA, where they bought up a parcel of land which the family named Cobham Park. (1)

Portrait of Col. George Cobham, Jr., as it appears in the regimental history of the 111th PA, published in 1903.

The history describes the youthful George as being of “large and strong physique, industrious habits, and strong moral principles.” A skilled mechanic, it is reported that he built his own violin and pianoforte, which he and his sister would play for guests. After graduating from Allegheny College, Cobham worked as a contractor and bridge-builder. When war broke out in 1861, Cobham recruited 3 companies for what became the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry regiment, and was immediately commissioned lieutenant colonel. (2)

Cobham contracted typhoid fever in July of 1862, and was placed on sick leave for three months, causing him to miss the summer campaigns. (3) Nonetheless, he was promoted to colonel in late 1862 when Col. Matthew Shlaudecker resigned, and Cobham led the brigade at Chancellorsville, where he actually captured the flag of the 5th Alabama while engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a southern officer who had grabbed the 5th’s regimental flag when the color-bearer fell. (4)

Cobham was killed at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek in Georgia, on July 20, 1864, only 38 years old. As the colonel was raising his sword and calling for the regiment to charge, he was shot through the lungs, dying instantly. He was later brevetted to Brigadier General, to date from the day before his death. Col. Cobham’s remains were buried in Pleasant Township, Warren County, PA. General Geary mourned Cobham’s loss in his official report of the battle, lamenting the death of this “model gentleman and commander.” (5)

(1) Boyle, John Richards. Soldiers True. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1903. P. 13.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid., p. 39.
(4) Ibid., p. 69, 97.
(5) Ibid., p. 236-9.