2nd Massachusetts Tree

What this Tree Witnessed

The decision to order the 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana regiments to attack the Confederate line across Spangler’s Meadow may have been the most disastrous decision made by a Union officer during the Battle of Gettysburg. Col. Silas Colgrove, temporarily in charge of the 3rd Brigade (1st Division, 12th Corps), received an order to either feel out or attack – the evidence is conflicting – the Confederates who were holding the lowest slopes of Culp’s Hill immediately north and east of Spangler’s Spring. Colgrove, whom Philip Laino described as “a feisty commander who wants to get his troops into the fight”, decided the order should be to attack the rebels with two regiments. (1)

When Lt. Col. Charles R. Mudge, commander of the 2nd Massachusetts, was told by a courier to frontally attack across the wide-open fields directly north of where his regiment’s monument stands today, he, with disbelief, asked the messenger, “Are you sure that is the order?” The courier responded, “Yes.” Mudge famously replied, “It is murder, but it’s the order.” (2)

The regimental history describes the next few moments: “With a cheer, with bayonets unfixed, without firing a shot, the line sprang forward as fast as the swampy ground would allow.” The regiment was, as Mudge predicted, slaughtered, losing 43% of its strength. Mudge was shot through the throat as he, on foot, was waving his sword, and was killed instantly. (3)

Identification

This tree was first photographically identified by Greg Gober using the 19th century picture of Figure P-1 below. Identification of the tree in the photographs of Figures P-2, P-3 and P-4 is by the author.

(1) Laino, Philip. Gettysburg Campaign Atlas. Gettysburg: Gettysburg Publishing, 2014. P. 326.
(2) Quint, Alonzo H. The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-65. Boston: James P. Walker, 1867. P. 180.
(3) Ibid, p. 180-1.

Lt. Col. Charles R. Mudge Witness Tree

Figure P-1: The Charles R. Mudge Witness Tree in Spangler’s Meadow. The older photograph, dated anywhere from 1880-1890, is reproduced here courtesy of the Boardman Photographic Collection.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 104”
Diameter: 33.1”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.5-7 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 210-230 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8.5-10.5”
GPS: 39.813209 N, 77.216053 W

The 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s monument was the first regimental monument erected at Gettysburg in 1879. As such, it was much photographed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a number of those images include a younger version of the large white oak that now stands about 65 feet to the south-southwest of the monument (see Figures P-1 to P-4).

Portrait of Lt. Col. Charles R. Mudge, as it appears in the 2nd MA’s regimental history published in 1867.

The ratio of the diameter of the tree in the period 1890-1900 to present is about 0.42. A conservative calculation suggests this white oak’s growth rate has been a very typical 6.5-7 years to grow each inch of diameter, and that it is highly likely well over 200 years old. Its diameter on July 3, 1863, was probably over 8 inches.

The tree is named for Lt. Col. Charles R. Mudge, commander of the 2nd Massachusetts. The New York native graduated Harvard in 1860, and, at the outbreak of the war a year later, raised a company in Essex County, MA, where his father owned a summer home. Mudge, who was wounded in the leg at Winchester, was regularly promoted, and had been in command of the regiment for two months when he was killed. Mudge’s body was returned to Lynn, MA for burial. The regimental history described him as “not twenty-four years of age, but manly, judicious, and of course brave.” (4).

A description of the 2nd Massachusetts’ attack at Spangler’s Meadow can be found in the regimental history and here at https://historicaldigression.com. Mudge was also honored with a biographical sketch in the two volume publication,Harvard Memorial Biographies“, of 1866.

(4) Quint, p. 488.

Figure P-2a: The presence in the 1898 William Tipton photograph of a second tree directly behind the witness tree makes discerning the witness tree a little tricky. Our tree is the one on the left. See Figure P-2b for a close-up of the tree.

Figure P-2b: A close-up and cropped version of Mudge Witness Tree as seen in the 1898 Tipton image of Figure P-2a.

Figure P-3: The older image, taken by J.I. Mumper, was published in a 1909 photo-album of Gettysburg.

Figure P-4: These photographs of the 2nd Massachusetts monument were taken from inside the wood line behind, or south of, the monument; the older image appeared in the same J.I. Mumper photo album of Gettysburg as did the image in Figure P-3. As is typical of the battlefield, there is much more undergrowth today than there was over a century ago. Note the corner of the large rock, which I used to line up the modern photo with the old one, on the extreme bottom left of each picture.