27th Indiana Tree
What This Tree Witnessed
The 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana regiments had been ordered to attack the Confederate forces in possession of the southern slopes of lower Culp’s Hill very early in the morning on July 3rd. Starting from the edge of the woods just south of Spangler’s Spring, the 2nd Massachusetts moved out and was slaughtered. The 27th Indiana, starting from deeper in the woods, immediately followed. As it charged across Spangler’s Meadow (the flat area where the various Indiana monuments stand, just south of where the parking area is for Spangler’s Spring), heading north towards the stone wall held by the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen. William “Extra Billy” Smith, the 27th was pinned down in the open field, and was decimated, losing a full third of its men in the brief fight.
Lt. Col. John R. Fesler (27th Indiana) Witness Tree
Tree Species: shagbark hickory
Circumference 2023: 81”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.6 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 220-230 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7-7.5”
GPS: 39.813800 N, 77.215635 W
This elegant shagbark hickory tree stands quite alone in Spangler’s Meadow, rising seemingly out of a rock about 40 yards north-east of the main monument to the 27th Indiana. The only old photo of it known to exist appeared in a 1909 picture album of Gettysburg published by J.I. Mumper (see Figure P-1). The Fesler Witness Tree’s diameter is only 25.8″, but as a hickory species, it is a natural slow-grower. The ratio of its diameter 1909:2023 is about 0.5, suggesting the tree is probably at least 220 years old, and stood as a mature tree as it “witnessed” the slaughter of the 27th Indiana early on July 3, with a diameter at the time of over 7″.
The tree is named for its commander on July 3, Lt. Col. John R. Fesler. Fesler had been in charge of the regiment for only a day, rising to command after Col. Silas Colgrove, the regiment’s previous head, had been promoted to lead the 3rd Brigade on July 2. Thus it was Fesler who was forced to lead the futile charge against rebel troops in Spangler’s Meadow early on July 3.
Of Fesler, the regimental history of the 27th Indiana wrote, “Colonel Fesler was almost a model volunteer officer. His unfailing competency and his sterling, manly character commanded deference and respect in all quarters; while his modest, unassuming demeanor and genial disposition gave him an influence over men that they could not get away from.”
Fesler, an Ohio native, had moved to Indiana in 1859, joined the army at the outbreak of the war, and spent his entire wartime service with the regiment, serving mainly as a company commander, but leading the regiment also at the Battle of Peachtree Creek in 1864. The only time Fesler was wounded was at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Fesler returned to Indiana after the war, dying at the age of 84 in 1920, and was buried in Indianapolis’ famous Crown Hill Cemetery.