Smith’s Demibrigade Trees

What These Trees Saw

Figure P-1: Our two shagbark hickory witness trees can be seen to the rear and just to the right of the large boulder which sits on the shoulder of East Confederate Avenue. The 1900 photograph is by William Tipton.

Early in the morning of July 3, Confederate Brig. Gen. William Smith brought two of his regiments – the 49th and 52nd Virginia, a demibrigade – to hold the stone wall just to the northeast of these trees, on the east side of East Confederate Avenue. Shortly thereafter – the exact time is unclear – the Virginians participated in the mauling of the 27th Indiana as the latter attacked across the meadow from the south.

Unwilling to leave well enough alone, Smith foolishly ordered his men to cross the wall and counterattack, despite the presence of an entire Federal brigade – that of Col. Silas Colgrove – on the meadow’s opposing side. The Virginians were massacred, losing about 150 men out of total of around 500, before the survivors finally retreated.

Two Witness Trees

There are two shagbark hickory trees that stand alone, and just a few feet apart, on the northwest edge of Spangler’s Meadow, about 100 feet from the stone wall behind which Gen. Smith’s Virginia regiments were deployed. The tree that stands closer to the road is smaller than the other, but seems to have grown more slowly, suggesting the pair may have first sprouted together about 200 years ago.

There are four old photographs of the trees, from four different compass points, and all from a distance (see Figures P-1, P-2, P-3 and P-4).


These trees were first photographically identified by Greg Gober using the 19th century image shown in Figure P-2 below. Identification of the trees in the images of Figures P-1, P-3 and P-4 are by the author.

Witness Tree #1

Figure P-1a: A zoomed in and cropped version of Figure P-1a, allowing the viewer to see the pair of witness trees in relation to the large boulder, which appears to be next to the trees in the images, but actually is about 100 feet to the southwest of them.

Corp. Christopher C. Showalter (27th IN) Witness Tree

Tree Species: shagbark hickory
Circumference 2023: 80”
Diameter: 25.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 4.7”
GPS: 39.81486N, 77.215977W

Corp. Christopher Showalter, 27th Indiana, Gettysburg National Cemetery: Row C, Plot 11.

Witness Tree #1 is the larger of the two shagbark hickories standing only 20 feet apart from each other on the east side of East Confederate Avenue in Spangler Meadow. Using the two photographs in Figure P-1 as a guide, we can estimate the ratio of the tree’s diameter 1900:2023 to be about 0.39, giving the tree a growth rate of about 8 years to grow an inch of diameter over the past century and a quarter. The tree, then, is likely at least 200 years old, and probably had a diameter of about 5 inches during the fighting here on July 3, 1863.

This witness tree is named for Corp. Christopher C. Showalter of Company A of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Showalter was wounded in the leg at Antietam, and killed during the charge of the 27th across Spangler’s Meadow on July 3, 1863. Showalter’s body was interred at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Lt. Col. James H. Skinner (52nd VA, CSA) Witness Tree

Figure P-2: Another William Tipton photograph, but this one taken in the late 19th century, and from the northeast, behind the reconstructed stone wall nearby. Gen. Smith’s two Virginia regiments were deployed here to take part in the destruction of the 27th Indiana as it tried to cross Spangler’s Meadow, before Smith foolishly order his two regiments to counterattack, losing a third of their strength in the attempt.

Tree Species: shagbark hickory
Circumference 2023: 68”
Diameter: 21.7”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9.4 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5-5.2”
GPS: 39.814923N, 77.215967W

Page 394 of the regimental history of the 27th Indiana (published 1899) reproduced this photograph of Confederate dead at Antietam, but accidentally mislabeled it as showing the dead at Gettysburg.

Witness Tree #2, the smaller of the pair of shagbark hickory witness trees here, seems to be the slower grower of the two, with a growth rate of 9.4 years to grow an inch of diameter over the past 123 years (the ratio of its diameter 1900:2023 is the same as that of its larger sibling nearby). This tree is also about 200 years old, and had a probable diameter of near 4.7 inches in 1863.

This tree is named for Lt. Col. James H. Skinner, commander of the 52nd Virginia (CSA) at Gettysburg. Born in 1826 in Norfolk, Skinner attended the University of Virginia and practiced law in Staunton in the years before the war. Initially elected colonel of the 160th Virginia Militia, Skinner was subsequently appointed captain of the 52nd Virginia Infantry regiment upon its formation in the summer of 1861, then promoted to lieutenant colonel in May 1862. Skinner was wounded at 2nd Manassas, Gettysburg and Spotsylvania, before retiring to the Invalid Corps in March 1865, as the war was winding down. The lieutenant colonel returned to Staunton to practice law after cessation of hostilities, and died there in 1898. His remains were returned to Norfolk to be buried. (2) A published obituary of Skinner asserts that he was “totally disabled” by the injuries suffered during the war. (3)

(2) Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008. P. 343.
(3) see a copy of the obituary at Lt. Col. Skinner’s page at The page gives further details of Showalter’s convalescence from his wound at Antietam, and return to the army in 1863, but I have not yet confirmed this information.

Figure P-3: The older photograph here, taken in the woodlot (McAllister’s Woods) behind the 2nd Massachusetts monument on Colgrove Avenue, fortuitously captured the two shagbark hickories at the northeast end of Spangler’s Meadow. Because of the intervening brush, a modern recreation of the older photograph will not show the hickories, so the modern photo I took a little further to the north. The 1909 image, taken by J.I. Mumper, appeared in a photo album of Gettysburg, and reveals the witness tree standing behind the monument to the 2nd Massachusetts.

Figure P-3a: A cropped version of Figure P-3, zoomed in to reveal more clearly the two witness tree hickories on the far end of Spangler’s Meadow.

Figure P-4: Another photobomb of the two witness tree hickories on East Confederate Avenue, this time lurking in the background of this early twentieth century image taken of the 107th New York Vol. Inf. monument on the rise above Spangler’s Meadow. The upper branch patterns of the trees can be matched up, an exercise we leave to the viewer. The older photo is reproduced courtesy of the Boardman Photographic Collection.