Spangler’s Spring Tree

What This Tree Witnessed

The spring that is now called Spangler’s Spring is thought to have been discovered, according to local legend, in 1847. Accounts of several Union soldiers after the war mention having used the spring to collect water for their comrades. (1) On September 12, 1889, in a speech given during the dedication ceremony of the monument to the 46th Pennsylvania, Captain Joseph Matchett recalled,

“It seems Captain [Alexander] Selfridge of Company H, had taken some of his men’s canteens and gone on ahead to Spangler’s spring to fill them, when he discovered “Johnnies” also there filling their canteens. He backed out with the best grace he could command, and reported it to the colonel. But Colonel McDougall, the brigade commander, did not believe it and got very angry, but the colonel insisted on deploying his men, and sent in a skirmish line, who found the enemy as stated and saved many lives.” (2)

Although soldiers of both armies used the spring as a source of water, and though men in search of the spring’s water may have stumbled into men of the opposing army doing the same, there are no accounts of the antagonists “fraternizing” at the spring, as is frequently believed. (3)

A brief post-battle history of the spring can be found here at A fun article on this and other classic so-called “myths” regarding the Battle of Gettysburg can be found here at the “ehistory” section of the website of the Ohio State University.


This oft-photographed tree was first identified by Greg Gober, using several old images not reproduced here (except for that shown in Figure A). Identification of the trees in the photographs of Figures P-1, P-2 and P-3 are by the author.

(1) Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Pp. 377-8 give a more detailed history of Spangler’s Spring.
(2) Nicholson, John P. Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, Vol. I, 1893. P. 285.
(3) Pfanz, p. 378.

Priv. Stephen Cody (2nd MA) Witness Tree

Figure P-1: this 1898 photograph appeared in the Gettysburg Commission Report of the same year. If you take a close look at the witness tree, you can make out the crazy twists and turns the trunk has taken in its first few decades of growth.

Tree Species: black walnut
Circumference 2023: 93.5”
Diameter: 29.8”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 180-190 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 3-4.5”
GPS: 39.814557N, 77.217537W

Figure P-2: this William Tipton photograph was dated 1905-1910 by the National Park Service, but this may be in error: the tree’s thickness is significantly greater than it appears in Figure P-1, suggesting this may be a later image. Note the guardhouse, one of several around the battlefield, in the rear of the image; the park once kept round-the-clock guards on duty to try – usually without success – to prevent the frequent vandalism which plagued the park in the early 20th century.

This black walnut witness tree is one of several surrounding Spangler’s Spring. The tree is not an old one, and appears in a number of photographs taken in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries (see Figures P-1, P-2, and P-3). A photograph of the tree, taken by William Tipton, appeared in the Gettysburg Commission’s Report for 1898, and is the image which allows us perhaps to make the most accurate estimate of the tree’s age. By carefully comparing a modern recreation of the 1898 image (see Figure P-1), we can estimate the ratio of the tree’s diameter 1898:2023 to be about 0.33, which suggest that the growth rate of the tree (present diameter 29.8 inches) to be an average of 6.3 years to grow each inch of diameter. The tree is probably a little less than 190 years old, and its diameter at the time of the battle was likely around 3-4.5 inches, making it a sapling in 1863.

An interesting feature of this tree is that in its youth, it contained a number of spectacularly tortuous crooks, or bends, which are clearly visible in the earliest photographs of the tree (see Figures A and P-1). The tree straightened out as it aged, but remnants of the curves can be, with close scrutiny, discerned in the modern tree. For those of you who doubt that the tree in the early images is the same one standing there today, please see Figure B, a postcard photograph of Spangler’s Spring taken perhaps in the 1950s, in which the tree can be seen with a girth halfway between the that which it possessed in the late 19th century and early 21st century, the crooks clearly visible, though less dramatic than they once were.

Pvt. Cody, Gettysburg National Cemetery, Massachusetts Sector, Row B, Plot 5.

The tree is named for Private Stephen Cody of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  A native of Ireland, Cody, a Boston resident at the commencement of the war, was a practicing glazier when he enlisted on May 14, 1861. As part of Company I, Cody was taken prisoner at the Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862, returning to his unit on October 23. At Gettysburg, writes the regiment’s history, Cody “took the colors…and was killed in action.” Cody was buried at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Figure P-3: the older photograph appeared in a 1922 publication, The Blue and the Grey, by Professor J. Warren Gilbert. As the tree aged, the sharp crooks began to straighten themselves out.

Figure A: This very early Tipton photograph once again shows the extreme crooks of the black walnut witness tree standing 45 feet behind Spangler’s Spring. The spring actually consisted of two separate springs, before the springs were consolidated into the single spring extant today.

Figure B: The strange bends in the trunk of our black walnut were mostly straightened out by the time this photograph was taken in mid-century, but they are still easily discernible. As can be seen in the various photographs presented on this page, the Spangler’s Spring area was covered not that long ago by quite a number of large witness trees.