Reynolds Monument Group

What These Trees Witnessed

Witness Tree #2 rises above the dense underbrush about 100 feet to the northwest of the Reynolds Death Monument (1886).

These trees witnessed the death of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds.

The 1st Corps commander had arrived on the field, and here on the eastern edge of Herbst Woods he was rushing the arriving troops of the Iron Brigade into the trees to push back the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen. James J. Archer. Reynolds famously called out to the 2nd Wisconsin, “Forward men! Forward, for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of those woods!” At this moment, a bullet went through his neck, killing him. A good account of the death of the popular and highly regarded general can be found here.

The Reynolds Grove

The area in front of the Reynolds Death Monument might rightfully be named The Reynolds Witness Tree Death Zone, considering how many of the witness trees in the grove have died over the last several years. However, unbeknownst to pretty much everybody – excepting those, including you, who have read this page – at least two witness trees have been confirmed to be still standing just about 80 feet behind and on either side of the Reynolds Monument.

If you wish to touch or hug these trees, though, you were best to visit them in the winter months. The dense undergrowth of the Gettysburg woodlots makes accessing these trees difficult once spring gets underway in April.

Witness Tree #1

Figure P-1: The two chest-bumping trees to the rear and left of the Reynolds Death Monument are both witness trees; the one on the left is now dead. The white oak on the right probably stood around 30-40 feet tall on July 1, 1863, and had a diameter of about 4″. The 1897 image was by William Tipton.

Colonel Henry A. Morrow (24th MI) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2022: 63”
Diameter: 20”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9.9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 195-200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 4”
GPS: 39.83430 N, 77.25120 W

If you look at the composite photograph which comprises Figure P-1, you can clearly see, to the left and far rear of the Reynolds Death Monument, two tall trees which appear to be bumping chests 40 feet above the ground. Both of these trees were standing during the battle, although the one to the left is now dead; hence, we only count the living white oak tree, the right-hand tree, as a current witness tree. This is Witness Tree #1

The older photograph is by William Tipton, and dates from c. 1897.

Witness Tree #1 is very difficult to pick out in the dead of summer, when all the trees are dressed in their finest greenery. The top of the Morrow tree can be seen in the upper background, directly above and just slightly to the left of the Reynolds Death Monument.

Our white oak is a very slow growing tree, its diameter only 20″ across. The ratio of the diameters from 1897 to 2022 is about 0.37. This corresponds to a very slow growth rate of almost 10 years to grow an inch of diameter. Our calculations suggest the tree first sprouted in the 1820’s, providing enough cushion to state with 99% confidence that it is a witness tree. Its diameter during the battle was probably around 4″.

Col. Henry A. Morrow, 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry.

This tree is named after Colonel Henry A. Morrow, commander of the 24th Michigan on the first day of the battle. Born in Virginia in 1829, Morrow was educated in Washington, DC, and volunteered for the army at the outbreak of war with Mexico, where he received his first combat experience; he was only 17 years old. After the war, Morrow moved to Michigan, became a lawyer, married, and had a son. In June 1862, after President Lincoln issued a call for additional volunteers, Morrow helped raise what would become the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, whose men elected Morrow to be their commander.

The 24th, which was assigned to the Iron Brigade of the Army of the Potomac, saw limited action until the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, after which the troops finally received the brigade’s symbol, the black hats. During the battle in Herbst Woods, so many color bearers were shot down that Morrow himself at point carried the regiment’s banner. During the regiment’s retreat to Seminary Ridge, Morrow was wounded in the head, and, his injury bleeding freely, was sent to the rear. (1)

Morrow was unfortunately captured by Confederate troops during his ride back into town. Interestingly, Wills was treated by a Confederate surgeon in the Wills House. When Lee’s army evacuated, they left Morrow behind. (2)

After recuperating from his wound, Morrow led the 24th for the remainder of the war, getting wounded again at the Wilderness and at Petersburg. The career soldier remained in the army after war’s end, ultimately receiving command of the 21st U.S. Infantry, a position which he still held when he died in Hot Springs, AK, in 1891. Morrow’s remains were buried in Niles, MI.

Further details of Henry Morrow’s life and experience at Gettysburg can be found here and here;

(1) The first two paragraphs of Morrow’s biography were adapted from the website of the Gettysburg Experience: Loski, Diana. Colonel Henry Morrow: Courage & Compassion at Gettysburg. Retrieved June 2, 2023.
(2) The last paragraph of Morrow’s biography was adapted from the website of the National Park Service: Wills House Virtual Identity: Colonel Henry Morrow. Retrieved June 2, 2023.

Here is another photograph taken of the Reynolds Monument, showing the same two chest-bumping trees in the rear and just to the left of the monument. This image appeared in an 1897 picture book of Gettysburg. accessed from the Library of Congress catalogue.

The original photograph used to create the then-and-now image of Figure P-1. The entirety of Witness Tree #1 can be seen here in all its glory.

Witness Tree #2

Lt. Col. George H. Stevens (2nd WI) Witness Tree

Figure P-2: the knob-covered white oak which stands about 80 feet to the northwest of the Reynolds Monument can also be found in an album of photographs of Gettysburg published by J.I. Mumper in 1909.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2022: 81”
Diameter: 25.8”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9.0 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-220 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7-8”
GPS: 39.83457 N, 77.25115 W

There are several candidates for witness tree status amongst the white oaks that stand tall in the woods behind the Reynolds Monument, to the right of the footpath as you enter Herbst Woods heading west. The one identified in Figure P-2 was discovered in a very small photograph of the monument – about an inch and a half tall – published in a 1909 Gettysburg picture album featuring the photographs of J.I. Mumper.

The tree in the 1909 picture is a sure match with the tree in the modern image, thanks to the subtle but distinct S-curve of the tree which can be discerned in both the 1909 and 2022 photographs.

Lt. Col. George H. Stevens, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, mortally wounded at Gettysburg.

The ratio of the diameters of the tree from 1909 to 2022 is conservatively about 0.50. The average growth rate of this tree over the last 113 years works out to be about 9 years to grow one inch of diameter. Assuming a similar growth rate in its early years, we calculate the tree’s age to be easily over 200 years old, perhaps as old as 220-230 years in age. Its diameter in 1863 would have been in the neighborhood of 7-8″.

Why is the 1909 image so blurry? Because it originally appeared in a collage of monument photographs, each measuring but 1-square-inch! This is the original page as it appeared in 1909’s Historic Views of Gettysburg

This Witness Tree is named for Lt. Col. George H. Stevens of the 2nd Wisconsin, the highest-ranked Wisconsin officer to die as a result of wounds sustained in the fight at Herbst Woods. Born in New York City in 1831, Stevens joined the National Guard as a teenager; in 1852, he went to Australia for three years. On his return, he moved to Wisconsin, where he engaged in business, and in the winter of 1858-9, organized a militia unit known as the “Citizens’ Guard”, which, when war broke out with the south, became Company A on the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, of which he was elected captain.

Stevens served admirably throughout the first two years of the war. He was promoted to major in August 1862, then to lieutenant colonel in early 1863. Stevens was severely wounded during the initial charge on July 1, 1863, of the Iron Brigade in their efforts to expel Archer’s Brigade from Herbst Woods. Dying on the 5th, Stevens was initially buried in Evergreen Cemetery. His obituary states that it was intended to remove his body at some point to his home state, but he was instead reinterred in Gettysburg National Cemetery, his final resting place. (3)

Further details of Stevens’ life and military career can be found in this tribute from the pen of Tom Elmore.

(3) Details of this article (except for the last note on his being buried in Gettysburg) were adapted from what appears to be an obituary written of Stevens in a Wisconsin newspaper. which is reproduced in the Second Wisconsin website. Retrieved June 2, 2023.