Auto Tour Stop #13 Tree

A close-up view of the black walnut witness tree located behind the interpretive signs at the Spangler’s Spring parking area.

What This Tree Witnessed

On the morning of July 3, 1862, the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Guard (USA) crossed west to east through these woods to attack the Confederates behind the stone walls up the slope and to the east, but were easily repulsed. Soon thereafter, the Confederate Brigade of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuert, heading northwest, launched its attack through Pardee Field from these woods. Finally, around 10:30 AM, in the meadow to the southeast of this tree, the 2nd Massachusetts and 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiments charged futilely against the Confederate lines, only to be decimated by the Confederates behind the stone walls.

Capt. Thomas B. Fox (2nd MA) Witness Tree

Capt. Thomas B. Fox, mortally wounded in the ankle at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

Tree Species: black walnut
Circumference 2023: 70”
Diameter: 22.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9.4 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5-5.3”
GPS: 39.814519 N, 77.216888 W

Figure P-1: Original full photographs of the Capt. Thomas B. Fox Witness Tree near Spangler’s Spring, a small but distinctive black walnut growing from the rocks on this lowest slope of Lower Culp’s Hill. The location has served as a parking area since the late 19th century, only that in the pre-auto era, there stood at this location a hitching-rail to which visitors could tie their horses!

A remarkable black walnut tree, standing a few behind the roadside signs at Spangler’s Spring, grows with a distinct upwards sweeping curve, seemingly right out of one of the many boulders populating the lowest slope of Lower Culp’s Hill. What surprises the observer is the small size of the tree – only 70 inches in circumference, and 22 inches in diameter. The ratio of the diameter of the tree 1898:2023 is 0.6, which means that it has been growing at an astonishingly slow rate of 9.4 years to grow each inch of diameter. However, this sluggish pace is entirely consistent with so many of the witness trees on the battlefield which also grow amidst the numerous enormous boulders which litter the park.

This witness tree can easily be discerned in the William Tipton photograph which appeared in the 1898 annual report submitted by Emmor Cope, who had been serving as the battlefield’s Topographical Engineer since 1893 (see Figure P-1).

The tree is named for Capt. Thomas B. Fox of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The Newburyport, MA, native graduated Harvard in 1860, and, shortly after entering law school, enrolled in the 2nd MA as a second lieutenant in August 1862. After participating in the fight at Antietam, Fox was promoted first to first lieutenant, then to captain in June 1863, after the fight at Chancellorsville. Fox was wounded in the ankle during the assault of the 2nd Massachusetts in Spangler’s Meadow on July 3, and died on the 25th, in Dorchester, MA, where he was buried.

“Another hero has fallen”, spoke the chaplain at his funeral. And though the service of this officer lasted less than a year, this “genial and cheerful officer” demonstrated “a devotion to duty…to make a record brave and bright.” (1)

(1) Quint, Alonzo H. The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-65. P. 357.