U.S. Infantry Tree

What This Tree Witnessed

Around 7 PM on July 2, 1863, two brigades of U.S. Infantry (2nd Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres, 5th Corps) arrived on Houck’s Ridge to support the troops of Brig. Gen. John Caldwell’s division (2nd Corps), which was still slugging it out with the Confederates on Stony Hill and in the Rose Woods. But Ayres’ timing proved to be of not much help, as the assault of Brig. Gen. William Wofford’s rebel brigade down the Wheatfield Road tilted this sector of the battlefield in favor of Robert E. Lee’s army once and for all. Ayres’ 2nd Brigade, led by Col. Sidney Burbank, had entered the Rose Woods and Wheatfield, only to find itself surrounded on three sides by southern forces, and was quickly shredded by enemy fire. Burbank lost 47% of his men this evening, and his retreat was so sudden that the 1st Brigade (also made up of U.S. Regular Infantry), which was lined up on Houck’s Ridge, never entered the fight, yet still lost a quarter of its soldiers in the retreat east across Plum Valley.

Maj. Arthur T. Lee (2nd U.S. Inf.) Witness Tree

Figure P-1: The Maj. Arthur T. Lee Witness Tree, which can be found on the short path which connects the monuments to the 7th and 2nd U.S. Infantry regiments.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 82”
Diameter: 26.1”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.6 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 190-200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5”
GPS: 39.79535 N, 77.24132 W

Though not a large tree, this white oak can easily be discerned in the then-and-now photographs of Figure P-1. The tree is on the far-left edge of the 1908 William Tipton picture, and the same gentle curve as the tree rises is evident in both the older photo and the modern recreation. A slow growing witness tree, with an average growth rate over the last century of over 7 years to grow each inch of diameter (based on a ratio of diameters 1908:2023 of 0.42), the tree is close to 200 years old, and likely had a diameter of about 5 inches on July 2, 1863.

The tree is named for the commander of the 2nd U.S. infantry, Major Arthur Tracy Lee. Born in 1814, Lee studied art as a youth in his native Pennsylvania. Joining the army in 1838, Lee fought in both the Seminole War and Mexican War, the latter at which he commanded a company of the 8th Infantry. Lee was stationed in Texas from 1848-1861, where he primarily directed the building of forts (and, according to the Texas State Historical Association, became a slave-owner).

Lee remained with the U.S. Army at the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, and was appointed major of the 2nd U.S. Infantry. Lee accounted himself with honor at Gettysburg, where his regiment lost a third of its men on the Wheatfield, and Lee himself was wounded on the right ankle and hip. Lee received a promotion to brevet lieutenant colonel “for gallant and meritorious conduct” at Gettysburg. (1)

Lee officially retired from the army at war’s end, moving to Washington, D.C., where he served as governor of the Soldiers’ Home until 1872, after which he moved with his wife to Rochester, NY, where he died at the end of 1879 where he was buried.

Major Lee was, unusually, an active artist of all kinds throughout his lifetime. Many of his watercolors are extant, and he even published a book of dreary Civil War poetry in 1871. A brief biography of the major can be found at the at the Texas State Historical Association website, from which much of the information for this article was derived. The Official Report of the 2nd U.S. Infantry’s action at Gettysburg can be found here.

(1) Biographical information on Maj. Lee for this article was adopted from the website of Texas State Historical Association.