19th Indiana Tree #1

What This Tree Witnessed

The Iron Brigade – Union troops from Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – had successfully driven the men of Brig. Gen. James J. Archer’s Confederate brigade out of Herbst Woods, but they could expect the foe to attack again. To prepare for a new assault, the four western regiments deployed in an arc from south to north that roughly parallels Stone Avenue in the woods. The 19th Indiana held the left flank, an uncomfortable position, since the men here were unsupported.

Surely enough, when the enormous North Carolina brigade of Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew – 2600 men – attacked from the west, the rebel line extended well south of the 19th Indiana, flanking it. The 19th was thus forced to retire, though the men did so fightingly, and at tremendous cost, suffering 40% casualties.

The 19th Indiana Monument

The monument to the 19th Indiana regiment was dedicated in 1885 (see Figure P-2). However, the veterans must have expressed concerns that the granite structure, situated as it was in a depression by the side of Meredith Avenue, might be too easily missed or overlooked by visitors. As a result, in 1905 the Gettysburg Commission authorized the addition of a supplemental base underneath the monument, “to bring it into view from Meredith Avenue.” (2) 


This tree was originally photographically identified by Gerg Gober, using an 1898 image not reproduced here. The tree was further identified using the photographs in Figures P-1 and P-2 below by the author.

(1) Gottfried, Bradley M. The Maps of Gettysburg. California: Savas Beatie, 2007. P. 96.
(2) Gettysburg Commission Report, dated June 30, 1905.

Musician James Fergason Witness Tree

Figure P-1: The 19th Indiana monument was provided with an extra base in 1905 in order for the monument to be more visible from Meredith Avenue. This photograph of the monument with its new base was included in the 1905 Report of the Gettysburg Commission, which managed the park before turning it over to the National Park Service in 1933.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2022: 117”
Diameter: 37.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.7-5.9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 210-220 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 9-10.2”
GPS: 39.83406 N, 77.25427 W

This witness white oak stands about 60 feet to the south-east of the 19th Indiana monument on Meredith Avenue. We have two 19th century photographs by which to estimate the age of the tree, an earlier one taken at the dedication (1885, see Figure P-1b) and a slightly later one taken after a new base was added onto the original monument (1905, see Figure P-2).

Figure P-2: a photograph of the 19th Indiana monument, and the Musician James Fergason Witness Tree behind it, taken during the dedication of the monument in 1885.

This is a massive tree, owning a diameter of over a yard. By carefully comparing the older images with modern recreations, we can conservatively estimate the ratio of the diameter of the tree 1885:2023 to be 0.37, and for 1905:2023 to be 0.45, a little larger as would be expected, as the tree was 20 years older by that time. Working backwards, we can estimate the age of the tree to be over 200 years, and its diameter at the time of the battle was likely about 9-10 inches.

The tree is named for Musician James Fergason of the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. “Musician” was a real rank, one that was one step above private. Fergason enlisted in 1861 as part of the 19th Indiana’s Company H, whose members hailed entirely from Johnson County. A massive, 8-volume compendium of Indiana’s war records, published 1865-1869, tells us that there were two men of the rank of musician in Company H during the war. One of them, Musician Fergason, was killed at Gettysburg during the first day of the battle. It is unknown if Fergason traded in his instrument for a rifle on this day, or if he was just simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

No further information is known about Musician James Fergason.