Geary Avenue Tree

What This Tree Witnessed

On the morning of July 3, 1863 – the third day of the battle – the Federal 1st Maryland Potomac Home Battalion was on the Baltimore Pike when brigade commander Brig. Gen. Henry Lockwood sent the unit east to take on the rebels on Lower Culp’s Hill. While the left wing of the 1st Maryland crossed Pardee Field to the north, the right wing passed by this tree and ran into elements of the so-called Confederate “Stonewall Brigade” of Brig. Gen. James Walker. After a brief fight, the 1st Maryland retreated. (1)

(1) Laino, Philip. Gettysburg Campaign Atlas. Gettysburg: Gettysburg Publishing, 2014. P. 114.

Color-Sgt. Leavitt C. Durgin (2nd MA) Witness Tree

Figure P-1: though when you stand on Geary Avenue near Spangler’s Spring facing towards the comfort station, you think you are facing west, you are actually facing south-west. The Leavitt Durgin Witness Tree, a large black walnut, is about two-thirds of the way down the straight part of Geary Ave. The tree can be observed to be leaning a little further to the south-east now than it did in 1900, when its picture was taken by William Tipton.

Tree Species: black walnut
Circumference 2023: 96”
Diameter: 30.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6-7 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7”
GPS: 39.814212N, 77.217932W

This tree is the western-most of four black walnut witness trees in the area immediately surrounding Spangler’s Spring. The tree appears in a turn-of-the-20th-century south-west-facing photograph of Geary Avenue taken by William H. Tipton (see Figure P-1), and can be identified by its distinctive various curves, which, though having smoothed out some as the tree has gotten larger and older, can still be discerned on the tree in its present condition. As is common, the tree has taken on a slightly stronger lean to the south as it has gained weight.

Color-Sergeant Leavitt C. Durgin, 2nd MA, Gettysburg National Cemetery, Row B, Plot 15.

The ratio of the tree’s diameter 1900:2023 is conservatively estimated to be at least 0.40, which means its diameter in the 1900 photo was over a foot. This corresponds with a growth rate of over 6 years to grow each inch of diameter over the last century-and-a-quarter, making it a slow-grower. The tree is at least two centuries old, and its diameter at the time of the battle in 1863 was at least half-a-foot.

The tree is named for Color Sgt. Leavitt C. Durgin, another color bearer of the 2nd Massachusetts who was killed in the ill-advised attack of the morning of July 3. Durgin, a weaver by trade, was residing in Lowell, MA, when he enlisted at the outbreak of the war in May 1861. Promoted rapidly for his “soldierly conduct and qualities”, Durgin was raised to color sergeant in February 1863. Durgin, bearing the colors, was killed during the 2nd Massachusetts’ foolish assault on the Confederate lines on the morning of July 3, 1863, at Gettysburg. His remains were buried at Gettysburg National Cemetery. The loss “of our brave young color bearer” was lamented by the 2nd’s Lt. Col. William Cogswell (who missed the battle of Gettysburg due to a wound he had suffered at Chancellorsville) in a General Order.