5th New Hampshire Tree

What This Tree Witnessed

As the first wave of Federal troops were being driven out of the Rose Woods on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, Brig. Gen. John Caldwell, who had just arrived on the scene, sent three of his four brigades into the Wheatfield to reverse the disaster. The 1st Brigade, led by Col. Edward Cross, climbed to the ridge of the Wheatfield, from where they began a deadly firefight with Confederate Brig. Gen. “Tige” Anderson’s Georgians.

The 5th New Hampshire, on the far left of the brigade’s line, was in the wooded area where the monument to the regiment sits today. After battling for about a half an hour, most of three of Cross’ regiments began to pull back, but the 5th New Hampshire (along with a portion of the 148th PA), being in a less exposed position, remained on the field, successfully pushing the rebel Georgians back.

Around 6 pm, Col. Edward Cross, commander of the 1st Brigade, and former commander of the 5th New Hampshire, was mortally wounded near the spot where the regiment’s monument was later erected in 1886.

When several brigades of U.S. regular forces arrived on Houck’s Ridge to offer their support, the remaining soldiers from Caldwell’s 1st Brigade retired.

Col. Edward E. Cross Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 100”
Diameter: 31.8”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6-6.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-220 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 6-7”
GPS: 39.795081 N, 77.241754 W

We have a pair of old photos by which to identify this white oak tree standing 60′ to the east-northeast of the 5th New Hampshire monument, right along Ayres Avenue. In both pairs of “then and now” images, the gentle curving of the tree towards Ayres Avenue as it rises is easily apparent.

The older image in Figure P-1 most likely taken during the reunion of the regiment, or dedication of the monument, which took place in 1886. The photograph appears in the 1893 regimental history, so we may conservatively use this latter date by which to estimate the age of the tree. The second old photo (see Figure P-2) appears in an 1899 publication entitled “Gettysburg, Then and Now, the Field of American Valor“, written by former 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry veteran John M. Vanderslice. All of the pictures in the book are credited to William Tipton. The photo is definitively identified as Tipton photograph #918, which is listed in Tipton’s Catalogue of photographs published in 1894, but did not appear in his first catalogue of 1886. Thus, we may conservatively use 1894 as the photograph’s date, by which we may estimate the age of this tree.

The ratio of the diameter of this witness tree as it appears in the two 19th century images and as it appears today is about 0.30-0.36; calculations allow us to estimate the growth rate of this tree over the last century and three decades to be about 6-6.5 years to grow each inch of diameter. This suggests the tree is easily two centuries old, and probably had a diameter of at least half a foot at the time the events of July 2, 1863, were swirling about it.

Portrait of Col. Edward E. Cross which appears in the frontispiece of the regimental history of the 5th New Hampshire (1893).

This witness tree is named for Col. Edward C. Cross, who in the years before the Civil War had been a newspaperman. In the three years immediately before the outbreak of hostilities, Cross had lived on the wild frontier, primarily in Arizona, where he mined and started a newspaper. We are told by the regimental history that Cross frequently presided over the numerous “courts and executions” which were the only law and order extant in a land where “lynch law” prevailed. A survivor of two duels in Arizona and Mexico, Cross returned home to raise what became the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry regiment at the commencement of hostilities. He commanded this Granite State regiment through the Battle of Chancellorsville, after which he was promoted to brigade command. (1)

Col. Edward Cross was described as a severe, but fair, disciplinarian, who nevertheless knew how to take care of his soldiers. A terribly brave man, Cross always led his troops from the front. At 6 pm on July 2, 1863, while directing the placement of the 5th New Hampshire in the woods on Houck’s Ridge, Cross was “struck in the abdomen by a minie ball”. Carried to the rear, Cross died at 12:30 am early on the 3rd of July, murmuring, “My brave men”. Cross’ remains were buried in his hometown of Lancaster, NH. (2)

Both an extensive account of Cross’ death and leadership and an admiring biography can be found in the regimental history. A briefer account of Cross’ style can be read on the website of the New England Historical Society. A short biography also can be found halfway down page 455 of the 1899 tome, “History of Lancaster. New Hampshire.”

(1) Child, William. A History of the Fifth regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, in the American Civil War, 1861-1865, 1893. P. 311.
(2) Ibid., p. 212.