Witness Tree #2 (central)

Color Bearer Sgt. Charles Clancy (1st LA, CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 88”
Diameter: 28”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-220 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7-7.7”
GPS: 39.818397N, 77.219563W

Figure P-2: the Sgt. Charles Clancey Witness Tree can be seen growing behind the monument to the combined 78th and 102nd New York regiments on Culp’s Hill. An identical curve to the tree’s stem can be seen in both then-and-now photos, allowing us to positively identify this witness white oak. There may be other witness trees appearing in the distant rear of the pictures, but we prefer to wait for the emergence of other photographs to identify these with more certainty, since there were many more trees in the grove at the turn of the 20th century than there are now, making positive confirmation difficult. The 1888 photograph was by William Tipton.

The smallest of the three witness trees on the west side of Slocum Avenue standing across the road from the monument to combined 78th / 102nd New York regiments is the middle tree, a white oak with a diameter of 28 inches. The tree can be seen in an 1888 William Tipton photograph (see Figure P-2), taken of the monument from its northeast corner, rising from behind the frozen granite soldier firing down Culp’s Hill. The ratio of the diameter of the tree 1888:2023 is about 0.39, from which we can calculate that the tree has been growing at a rate of about 7.9 years to grow each inch of diameter over the last 135 years. The tree is likely over 200 years old, and probably had a diameter of about 7 inches in 1863.

The tree is named for the color bearer of the 1st Louisiana (CSA) Infantry at Gettysburg, Sgt. Charles Clancey. Clancey’s heroic story is related in an 1875 publication, a rather hodgepodge collection of chapters entitled Military Record of Louisiana. It seems that during the night attack of the Louisiana brigade commanded by Col. Jesse M. Williams (1) up the slope of Culp’s Hill on July 2, many of the 1st Louisiana troops, including Clancey, were capture. To save the regimental flag from the humiliation of seizure by the enemy, Clancey tore the flag from its staff and hid it under his uniform, wrapping it “around his body under his shirt”, where it remained for the several months that Clancey was held prisoner. Harry Pfanz reports that Clancy was exchanged over the following winter, after which he returned with the unsullied flag first to Richmond, and then back to the 1st LA. (2)

(1) the brigade’s original commander, Brig. Gen. Francis Nicholls, was not at Gettysburg, having just lost his left leg at Chancellorsville. He had previously lost his left arm in May 1862. It was reported that at Chancellorsville, Nicholls was surprised to have survived what he expected was a fatal wound. See Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Confederate Generals. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1995. Pp. 160-1.
(2) Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993. P. 216.

The amusing footnote from the 1875 publication Military Record of Louisiana, a strange work that begins with a list of the burial locations in Virginia of Louisiana Civil War soldiers and ends with an account of the war written by Louisiana veteran Napier Bartlett. The second paragraph preserves the story of Sgt. “Clancey”, who saved the 1st Louisiana regimental flag from capture when he was taken prisoner on Culp’s Hill.