Slocum – Colgrove Trees
What These Trees Witnessed
As the sun rose the morning of July 3, 1863, over Gettysburg, daylight revealed the Confederates to be in possession of the stone wall on the eastern slope of Lower Culp’s Hill, with no Federals to be seen immediately to the west. Around 10 am, Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson sent orders to Brig. Gen. George H. Steuert to attack the enemy to the north, across the meadow today known as Pardee’s Field. Steuert recognized the foolhardiness of such an attack, and, according to Bradley Gottfried, “filed a complaint” with Johnson, but it was to no avail: he would have to attack. Steuert’s mix of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland soldiers – 900 men total – deployed in the woods south of the field (where these two witness trees are located) and marched north in good order. On Pardee Field, when they reached a position about 100 yards from the Union line, the enemy opened a fire so destructive that the southern lads were stopped dead in their tracks. Quickly enough, once over a third of the Confederate brigade had been wounded or killed, the survivors retreated. Gen. Steuert was seen weeping, lamenting, over and over again, “My poor boys…my poor boys.” (1)
The two trees are dedicated to two men of the 1st Maryland Battalion (CSA), which would have walked right past or near these very trees on their way to meet their deaths that morning of July 3.
(1) Gottfried, Bradley M. Brigades of Gettysburg. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012. Pp. 555-6.
In 1938, the National Park Service seems to have implemented a project to remove the gutters from the sides of many of the paved roads throughout the park. Luckily for us, a number of photographs were taken of the men performing their work on these roads. The two witness trees honored on this page are visible in a pair of those images (see Figures P-1 and P-2)
WITNESS TREE #1
Capt. William H. Murray (1st Maryland Battalion, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: black walnut
Circumference 2023: 77”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 13 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 6-12”
GPS: 39.814727N, 77.217115W
This isolated black walnut tree, sitting on the eastern side of the intersections of Slocum and Colgrove Avenues near Spangler’s Spring, seems to be another exceptionally slow-growing tree. A comparison of the 1938 National Park Service photographs in which the tree appears to those taken of the tree in 2023 shows that the tree was not significantly smaller 85 years ago then it is today. The ratio of its diameter 1938:2023 is about 0.75, so that over the last 85 years, its growth rate is a glacial 13 years to grow an inch of diameter.
If we were to assume that the tree has always grown at this rate, calculations would suggest the tree to be over 300 years old, and its diameter in 1863 to be over a dozen inches. However, if we allow for the fact that this black walnut likely grew faster in its younger days – let us assume that it grew twice as fast for its entire lifespan prior to 1938 – we would still find the tree to have been 120 years old in 1938, and at least 6 inches in diameter in 1863.
We need not haggle over the details. The tree is likely at least 200 years old, and certainly a witness tree.
Witness Tree #1 is named for Capt. William H. Murray of the Confederate 1st Maryland Battalion at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. At Gettysburg, Murray was commander of Company A, and in charge of the right of the 1st MD Battalion’s line during the charge over Pardee’s Field. (2) At one point during the assault, Murray, while waving his sword, was fatally shot through the neck. (3) The loss of Murray, described as “the darling of his comrades” and “the mirror of gentle chivalry”, was buried in West River, MD. A cenotaph to Murray was also erected in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery. (4)
A full account of the charge of the 1st MD Battalion and the death of Capt. Murray can be found here at www.GettysburgRemembered.com, a wonderful website produced by Licensed Battlefield Guide Tim Fulmer.
(2) Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Pp. 293-4.
(3) Ibid, p. 318.
(4) Fulmer, Tim. Gettysburg Remembered Website. Page: The Battle of Gettysburg: Stories of Fatal Encounters: Captain William H. Murray. Accessed May 3, 2023.
WITNESS TREE #2
Major William W. Goldsborough (1st Maryland Battalion, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 82”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 10.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5-10”
GPS: 39.814743N, 77.216979W
Witness Tree #2 is a white oak, a naturally very slow growing tree. This particular specimen, growing as it is amongst the heavily-bouldered southernmost slope of Lower Culp’s Hill, is exceptionally slow: with a ratio of its diameter 1938:2023 of about 0.70, its growth rate over the last 85 years has been about 10.3 years to grow an inch of diameter. If this tree has had this same growth rate for its entire life, it would be 270 years old. If we assume it to have grown at the twice aforementioned calculated rate in the years preceding 1938, it would still have been a century old in that year. Consequently, we can conservatively estimate the tree to be at least two centuries in age, and likely had a diameter of 5-10 inches at the time of the battle in 1863.
This tree is named for Major William H. Goldsborough of the 1st Maryland Battalion. He had originally joined the 1st Maryland Infantry at the time it was formed in 1861, having been elected captain of Company A. After recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of Second Manassas, Goldsborough raised a company (Company G), of which he was elected captain, of the brand-new 2nd Maryland Infantry (which is identified today as the 1st Maryland Battalion). (5) Goldsborough was wounded at Gettysburg during the fatal assault of Steuert’s brigade at Pardee’s Field.
In 1900, Goldsborough, apparently residing in the state of Washington at the time, published a delightfully-illustrated history of each of the Maryland military units that served in the Confederate army during the war. The old major died soon thereafter, at the age of 70, in 1901. His remains were interred at Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore.