2nd Maryland Advance Marker Tree

What This Tree Witnessed

Sometime during the night of July 1-2, 1863, Brig. Gen. John W. Geary’s 2nd Division (12th Corps) arrived on Culp’s Hill. As Brig. Gen. George S. Greene’s 3rd Brigade was already deployed in a line stretching from the summit of Upper Culp’s Hill to the lowest part of the saddle between Culp Hill’s two crests, Geary’s other two brigades filled in the positions to the south. On the morning of the July 2, Greene famously ordered his men to build breastworks in anticipation of a Confederate attack on Culp’s hill. Just as famously, many of the brigade’s officers balked at the order, thinking that the men would be tempted to cowardly shelter behind the fieldworks rather than stand and fight. Halfway through the war, the value of defensive works still had not been ascertained.

What is important here to note is that Greene had ordered that breastworks (comprised of dirt and felled trees) be constructed not just along the roughly north-south line of Culp’s Hill, but that a short section also be built perpendicular from the main line and to the west along the base of the saddle (see the Map). Our tree stands near where this “traverse” once stood.

When the 1st and 2nd Brigades were pulled off of Culp’s Hill to assist with the defense of the left flank of the Union line (Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, Emmitsburg Road) in the afternoon of July 2, Greene’s brigade was left to defend the entirety of Culp’s Hill alone. The men were spaced out, so that the 137th New York, on the brigade’s right flank, now occupied the hill rising from the base of the saddle to the crest of Lower Culp’s Hill (where the sharp left turn of Slocum Avenue now resides).

On the afternoon of July 2, three Confederate brigades attacked up Culp’s Hill from the east. The 137th New York, managed with great skill by Col. David Ireland, performed heroically, in meeting the assault of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuert’s mixed force of men from Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. As the pressure on his regiment increase, Ireland first refused his right flank, then, at the critical moment, recalled his men to the traverse at the base of the saddle. The traverse, though reluctantly built, became crucial to saving Culp’s Hill for the Union, as it permitted the 137th to repulse four separate assaults by Steuert, whose forces greatly outnumbered those of the 137th. (1)

(1) This article was adapted from information provided from Issue #15 of Gettysburg Magazine: Jorgensen, Jay. Holding the Right: the 137th New York Regiment at Gettysburg. Gettysburg Magazine, #15 (1996), pp. 60-67.

Col. David Ireland (137th New York) Witness Tree

Figure P-1: The Col. David Ireland Witness Tree, located a few feet to the west of the 2nd Maryland (CSA) advance marker near the northern intersection of Geary and Slocum Avenues on Culp’s Hill. Note the matching bruises which appear on the left side of the trunk of the tree in both images. The 1898 photograph by William Tipton is reproduced here courtesy of Adams County Historical Society.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 85”
Diameter: 27.1”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 220+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8-9”
GPS: 39.816554N, 77.219515W

This witness white oak is another slow grower, discovered in a William Tipton photograph residing at the Adams County Historical Society (See Figure P-1). The trunk has a large bruise or discoloration on its north side, thanks to a branch that fell from the tree in the 19th century, and since that discoloration appears in the exact same position on the tree in both the 1898 and 2023 photographs, it can easily be recognized as the identical tree.

It may also be seen how the tree – not a large one – was of already mature and large size in 1898. We can consequently calculate its growth rate over the last 125 years to be a glacial 9 years to grow each inch of diameter. If the tree has always grown at this rate, than it would be 250 years ago. However, we may conservatively state with absolute confidence that the tree is at least 200, and perhaps 220 years old (if not 250), and that its diameter in 1863 during the battle would have been over 8 inches.

Col. David Ireland.

The tree is named for Col. David Ireland, commander of the 137th New York Volunteer Infantry. The native Scotsman, born in 1832, was only 8 when his family emigrated to New York in 1840. At the age of 20, Ireland joined the New York State militia, and in 1860, the 79th New York State Militia Regiment, of which Ireland was a member, was absorbed into the Federal army in the spring of 1861.

Ireland was promoted to colonel in August 1862, when he took command of the 137th NY. The regiment fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, where the colonel successfully held the right flank of General Greene’s brigade against successive attacks from Steuert’s Confederates. The regiment was then sent west, where it fought at the Battle of Wauhatchie, after which Ireland took over command of his regiment’s brigade, but was never promoted to brigadier. After taking part in further battles in Tennessee and Georgia, Ireland (who had been wounded at Resaca) fell victim to a severe case of dysentery, and died September 8, 1864, in Atlanta.

The colonel’s body was shipped to Binghamton, NY, where he was buried in Spring Forest Cemetery. (2)

Further biographical information on Col. Ireland can be found here and here.

(2) This article was adapted from information provided by the website of the New York State Library. Retrieved May 12, 2023: https://www.nysl.nysed.gov/msscfa/x18023.htm.