General Greene Tree
What This Tree Witnessed
Brig. Gen. James S. Wadsworth’s 1st Division (1st Corps) had been roughly handled in the battle’s first day’s fighting northwest of town, and elements of the division were posted in the afternoon of July 1 onto Culp’s Hill, occupying a line from the hill’s crest (where the observation tower has been standing since 1895) west to Steven’s Knoll. On the morning of July 2, Brig. Gen. George S. Greene arrived with his 3rd Brigade (2nd Division, 12th Corps), which he deployed in a line that stretched from Wadsworth’s right flank south to the base of the saddle between Upper and Lower Culp’s Hill, at which point he famously ordered his men to build breastworks in anticipation of Confederate attacks from the east (those breastworks, partially recreated, can be traced today).
The 60th New York regiment held the left flank of the brigade, standing just below the summit of the hill, where they repulsed an attack by the brigade of Virginians commanded by Brig. Gen. John M. Jones in the evening of July 2. With the assistance of the 66th Ohio, the New Yorkers also stopped the futile attack up the same slope by Brig. Gen. James Walker’s Stonewall Brigade on the 3rd.
This witness tree was first photographically identified by Greg Gober, using the 1907 image shown below in Figure P-1.
Brig. Gen. George S. Greene Witness Tree
Tree Species: black oak
Circumference 2023: 116”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-230 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 11-11.5”
GPS: 39.820013N, 77.220405W
One of two black oak witness trees currently recognized on the battlefield, this tree with a distinctive slant appears in a number of old photographs taken around the turn of the 20th century by William Tipton (see Figures P-1, P-2 and P-3). The tree was already substantial in size in 1900, and, with a diameter ratio 1907:2023 of 0.5, we can calculate the average growth rate of the tree to be a little over 6 years to grow each inch of diameter for well over a century. Its diameter in 1863 was likely around a foot, or perhaps or a little less, and it is probably over 200 centuries old.
This witness tree is named for Brig. Gen. George S. Greene, commander of the 3rd Brigade (2nd Division, 12th Corps) during the Battle of Gettysburg. Born in 1801 in Rhode Island, Greene was the oldest general officer on the battlefield at Gettysburg. After graduating 2nd in his class at West Point, Greene served both on garrison duty around New England and as an instructor at his alma mater. He resigned from the army in 1836, and worked as an engineer for the next two and a half decades, before re-entering the army in early 1862, when, at the age of 61, he was assigned command of the 60th New York Infantry with the rank of colonel, before being promoted to brigadier in April of that year.
Greene led his regiment, and then brigade, with distinction at numerous battles in the east. When his brigade was posted on Upper Culp’s Hill on the morning of July 2, 1863, he ordered his men to build breastworks to protect them should the Confederates attack. Many of the brigade’s officers demurred, since it was still felt, two years into the war, that a soldier would be more likely to act a coward, and fail in his duty, should he have something to hide behind during a fight. Greene, however, insisted, and events proved his foresight to be wise, as the fears of the officers were not realized, and many 12th Corps lives were saved because of the fieldworks. (1)
The general accompanied his brigade when it was transferred west from the Army of the Potomac to the Army of the Cumberland shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. At the Battle of Wauhatchie (October 29, 1863), Greene was shot through the face. As Dr. Jack Welsh describes in Medical Histories of the Union Soldiers, a “ball had entered the left side of his upper jaw just under his nose and made its exit on the right side of his face. It carried away all the teeth of the upper jaw, crushed the bone, and cut the right salivary gland.” (2)
Incredibly, Greene was able to return to active field duty in 1865, when he participated in the war’s closing scenes in the Carolinas.
For the rest of his long life, Greene could not chew food properly, and his injury required frequent medical attention and caused great him great pain, to the extent that he suffered from chronic malnutrition, until 1899, when he finally died, at the advanced age of 97 or 98, in Morristown, NJ. Greene’s remains were returned to Rhode Island, where he was buried in the family cemetery in Warwick. (3) Greene was honored with a statue on the summit of Culp’s Hill, the monument being dedicated in 1906.
Additional biographical material on General Greene can be found here on the www.Battlefield.org website.
(1) Information for the first two paragraphs of General Greene’s life were adapted from: Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Pp. 186-7.
(2) Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Union Generals. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1996. P. 140.