Reynolds witness stumps

Time has not been kind to the grove of trees fronting the Reynolds Monument on the east edge of the Herbst Woods. In fact, the area looks like an arborist’s killing field, there are so many stumps to avoid tripping over. Over the past decade, about a half-dozen witness trees have died, leaving the NPS no choice but to remove them. As a consolation, they have left behind three stumps, on each of which the visitor may casually count the rings if he or she wishes.

Stumps number 1 and 2 both died in 2022. They were marked with orange paint by the Park Service in October 2022, identifying them as trees destined to be cut down. The park lumberjacks arrived in February 2023, taking down these two trees that had witnessed the arrival of the Iron Brigade to the first day’s fighting, as well as the death of General John Reynolds, shot through the throat as he was encouraging his troops forward to meet the charging Confederates.

Figure P-1: photos taken in 2022 and 1904 of the acreage fronting the Reynolds Monument. The left-hand tree is without question the same in both images. Whether the tree marked #1 in the Tipton photograph is the same as the modern tree #1 in the left-hand image is not completely certain.

In Figure P-1, we see a then-and-now comparison of a photograph originally taken by William Tipton c. 1904. On the left side, we see the definite image of the sloping pignut hickory tree which was delivered to the great grove in the sky this past year. A little less certain is whether the right-hand image is the same white oak which was taken down in February 2023.

What is certain is that the rings on the stumps of both trees number well over 160, indicating that both were mature trees at the time of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Stump #1

The white oak tree which stood where now we only find Stump #1 was of medium size, having a circumference of 90.5″ and a diameter of 28.8″. The diameter of the tree in 1863 was about 9-10 inches, making this a fully-grown tree at the time of the battle.

Over the outermost 10 inches of radius, I counted 200 rings, making this tree a very slow grower, averaging exactly 10 years to grow each inch of diameter. The tree was heavily scarred from the previous presence of a lightning suppression system, or lightning cable which once stretched down the sides of the trunk.

Stump #2

The pignut hickory was also a very slow grower: its circumference at the time it passed was only 71″, its diameter but 22.7″.

I could only make out 120 rings over the outermost 4½ inches of radius, giving it a growth rate of over 12 years to grow a single inch of diameter. The saws of the tree-cutters have effaced the inner rings of the surface of the stump.

We may estimate the diameter of the tree to have been 6-7 inches as the fighting of Day 1 swirled around it.


Stump #3

The third stump in our catalogue is a massive 153″ in circumference, averaging across is asymmetrical cross-section a diameter of 49″. The center is long rotted out, so that the exact age of the tree that once stood here can never be known. However, we can count 180 rings over its outermost 15 inches of radius, which tells us (1) that the tree had an average growth rate of 6 years per inch of diameter growth, and (2) the tree had a diameter in the vicinity of 12″ on July 1, 1863.


A lovely photo taken in October 2022, when the two dead witness trees – our now Stumps #1 (pignut hickory, left) and #2 (white oak, right) in front of the Reynolds Death Monument were marked for removal with orange paint. Image courtesy of Brooke Rush.