2nd Maryland CSA Tree

What This Tree Witnessed

At about 6 pm on July 2, 1863, three Confederate brigades crossed over Rock Creek (from its east bank to its west) to initiate the first attempt by Lee’s army to take Culp’s Hill. The 2nd Maryland Infantry (CSA), part of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuert’s Brigade, passed over this ground to take on the 137th New York, which was spread thinly up the steep hill extending from the base of the saddle between the two crests of Culp’s Hill southward to the crest where the monument to the 29th Pennsylvania now stands. The 137th NY was forced to retreat to the breastworks located at the saddle’s base, and the Confederates captured the crest of lesser Culp’s Hill, which they controlled through the night of July 2-3.

This sector of Culp’s Hill saw additional attacks made by both armies on July 3, culminating in the disastrous assaults made by the brigades of Steuert and Brig. Gen. Junius Daniels in an attempt to roll up the Union flank. Soldiers from the North Carolina regiments of both Daniel and Steuert would have crossed over this ground that morning, before being repulsed by arriving troops from various Union units.

Lt. Col. James R. Herbert (2nd MD, CSA) Witness Tree

Figure P-1: The Lt. Col. James Herbert Witness Tree can be easily seen leaning in the distance, well behind the monument to the 2nd Maryland Infantry at the crest of Lower Culp’s Hill on Slocum Avenue. There stands at present another large white oak tree behind the monument (marked with a white asterisk), but calculations suggest this tree was likely born right around or after 1863. Old photo by William Tipton.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 119.5”
Diameter: 38.1”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5-5.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 190-200+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 6-8”
GPS: 39.816604N, 77.217764W

Figure A: Portrait of Lt. Col. James Herbert of the Confederate 2nd Maryland Infantry, which was published in a1900 history of the Confederate Maryland regiments, written by Herbert’s second in command, Major William Goldsborough.

It is tricky to attempt to estimate the growth rate and age of this massive white oak witness tree, because it is so far behind the 2nd Maryland (CSA) monument, and there are no other landmarks which can be seen in our then-and-now photographs near the tree which can be used to make an accurate comparison. However, by using our best efforts to create a near-perfect recreation of the 1898 photograph by William Tipton, we can make an extremely conservative estimate of the ratio of the diameter of the tree 1898:2023 to be 0.35-0.39. If correct, this ratio would suggest a very fast average growth rate for the tree of 5-5.3 years to grow each inch of diameter over the past 125 years, and an ultimate age of only 200 years. The diameter of the tree during the battle for Culp’s Hill would have been at least half-a-foot. Regardless of whether the tree is actually much older than two centuries, it is certainly a witness tree.

The tree is named for Lt. Col. James R. Herbert of the 2nd Maryland Infantry (CSA). Herbert, a Baltimore merchant (1), enlisted at the war’s onset as captain of Company D, 1st Maryland Infantry. When the regiment was dissolved in 1862, Herbert was mustered in as captain of Company C in the newly formed 2nd Maryland. Herbert fought in most of the two brigades’ battles in the east, and by the summer of 1863, he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and was commanding the brigade. During the attack on Pardee’s Field on July 3, Herbert was “severely” wounded in three places, and was forced to turn command of the brigade over to Major William H. Goldsborough. (2) After the war, Herbert returned to live in Balitmore. The colonel died in 1884 in Woodstock, MD, where he had been born in 1833; his body was interred at Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore. (3).

(1) Civil War Data website. Retrieved May 21, 2023: http://civilwardata.com. Record #: C&645658.
(2) Goldsborough, W.W. The Maryland line in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. Baltimore: Guggenheimer, Weil & Co., 1900. 
(3) Civil War Data website. See footnote #1.