13th Pennsylvania Group
The fight for the Wheatfield and Rose Woods was drawing to a close, and not to the advantage of the Army of the Potomac. The U.S. Regular forces, which had been sent to support the collapsing Federal line on Houck’s Ridge, had itself collapsed, with high casualties, and was retreating east. Col. William McCandless deployed his brigade (3rd Division, 5th Corps) of Pennsylvania Reserve units east of the woods, on the other side of Plum Run, and, after wading across the swampy valley bottom, his men charged west up the ridge and into the advancing Confederates. Luckily for the Pennsylvanians, the rebels themselves were completely spent, and the Union brigade successfully halted the grey advance, taking a relatively small number of casualties (12%) on this otherwise bloody day.
There are two white oak witness trees that stand at the edge of the tree line to the north-east of the monument to the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry), right where Ayres Avenue curves sharply, facing Little Round Top. The trees are but 10 feet apart, with the one the north a monstrous 123 inches in circumference, the largest tree along Ayres Avenue.
These two trees were first photographically identified by Greg Gober, using the older images shown below in Figures P-1 and P-3. The identification of the trees in the photographs of Figures P-2 and P-4 are by the author.
Witness Tree #1
Col. Charles F. Taylor Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 123”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.7-5.8 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 220-228 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 11-11.6”
GPS: 39.79515 N, 77.241016 W
The Charles F. Taylor Witness Tree has a grand diameter of 39.2 inches, well over a yard. Although the tree appears in four old photographs, in two of them, only a bit of the crown can be seen. The trunk is visible only in Figures P-1 and P-2. A close and careful examination of the two Figures shows, as we would expect, the tree to have a slightly larger diameter in Figure P-2 (published in 1909), compared to that of 1897 (taken in 1897). The growth rate calculation for the separate photographs was remarkably consistent, coming to out to 5.7 years to grow each inch of diameter in each case. This means that the tree is likely over 220 years old, and had a diameter of at least 11 inches in 1863 at the time of the battle.
Witness Tree #1 is named for the beloved commander of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, Col. Charles F. Taylor. The West Chester, PA, native received some education at the University of Michigan before leaving school in 1858 to run the family farm in the town of Kennett Square, PA. Taylor answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers in April 1861, at which time the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves were formed, and incorporated into the Army of the Potomac as the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Elected captain of Company K, Taylor received his first taste of combat in 1862, when he took part in a brief firefight against a superior force of Confederates under Turner Ashby. Taylor was captured, paroled, and then exchanged four months later. (1)
In November 1862, Taylor was appointed colonel of the Bucktails, which next took part in the slaughter at Fredericksburg, suffering a horrendous 63% in casualties. The 13th did not see any action again until Gettysburg, where late in the afternoon of July 2, Taylor, on foot, led a charge across Plum Valley and into the Rose Woods, chasing retreating Confederates. At this point, Taylor took a bullet in the heart, and he died on the field moments later. Brig. Gen. Samuel Crawford, the 13th’s division commander, later referred to Taylor as “the gallant and brave leader of the Bucktail Regiment.”
Taylor’s remains were returned to and buried in his hometown of Kennett Square, PA. In 1905, the Regimental Association of Bucktails placed a monument at the location where he died in the Rose Woods.
In 1973, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography published an excellent article on Taylor’s life, and includes a number of letters he wrote during the war. (The article can be read for free at the peerless website www.jstor.org, but you do need to sign up for a free account to access their articles).
A history of Taylor and the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves can be found here at the website www.pa-roots.com.
(1) All biographical material in this article on Col. Taylor was adapted from Hobson, Charles F., et al. “Colonel of the Bucktails: Civil War Letters of Charles Frederick Taylor.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 97, no. 3, 1973, pp. 333–61. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20090764. Accessed 17 Aug. 2023.
Witness Tree #2
Capt. George B. Winslow Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 96”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.8 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7.2”
GPS: 39.79515 N, 77.241016 W
The Capt. George B. Winslow Witness Tree, which, with a diameter of 30.6 inches, is somewhat smaller than WT #1, can be seen clearly in three old photographs (Figures P-1, P-3 and P-4). The distinctive slight bend to the right about 15 feet above the ground can be readily identified in all the pictures. As with Witness Tree #1, our calculations for the growth of the tree are unusually consistent, suggesting a growth rate of 6.8 years to grow an inch of diameter, a little slower than the growth rate of its larger fellow-tree 10 feet to its north. The tree likely first sprouted in the first or second decade of the 19th century, and its diameter during the struggle for the Wheatfield was probably in the range of 6.5-7 inches.
Witness Tree #2 is named for Capt. George Winslow of the 1st New York Light Artillery, Battery D. In August 1861, Watertown lawyer Thomas W. Osborn, with hardware merchant George Winslow’s assistance, raised 100 northern New York state men to form what would become Battery D of the 1st New York Light Artillery, of which Winslow was commissioned first lieutenant. The battery saw action on the Peninsula campaign, by the end of which, as Osborn stated at the dedication ceremony of the battery’s monument on the Wheatfield, Winslow’s “health had been seriously broken by the hardships of the campaign”. Winslow was relieved of his duties, and sent to Washington to recruit men for the battery. (2)
Winslow rejoined his men in time for the Battle of Chancellorsville, after which Winslow was promoted to captain. At 2 PM in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, Battery D was sent into the Wheatfield, on whose crest Winslow’s battery remained stationed, both firing at and receiving fire from waves of Confederates as the latter attempted to take the Wheatfield. It was only when, as Osborn described, “the enemy’s infantry was in speaking distance of the men of the battery when it retired” in good order, at the command of 1st division commander (3rd Corps) Maj. Gen. David Birney.
Winslow fought with the battery at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, during which he “received the wound which permanently disabled him, and which in the end was the cause of his death” (Osborn again). Winslow left the army, living another two decades before dying in Vienna, VA.; he was buried in his hometown of Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County, NY.
A transcript of Thomas Osborn’s dedication speech for Battery D’s monument, which he gave on July 2, 1888, can be found in the New York Monuments Commission’s Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (Vol. 3). Osborn recounts the history of the battery, and George Winslow’s important role in its story up to the Battle of the Wilderness.
(2) All biographical material in this article on Capt. Winslow was adapted from the New York Monuments Commission’s Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Vol. III, pages 1194-1217 (1902).
In the late afternoon of July 2, 2022 – on the exact anniversary of the 2nd day’s battle at Gettysburg – an intense storm passed through the town and battlefield, with a particularly destructive cell carving a path of destruction across Ayre’s Avenue, up to and across Little Round Top, and down Wright Avenue, before it exhausted itself. The winds not only brought down a major branch off of Witness Tree #1 (shown in the pictures below), but also felled a 240-year-old witness tree on the south slope of Sykes Avenue on Little Round Top.