27th Connecticut Group

What the Trees Witnessed

It was late in the day on July 2, 1863, and Brig. Gen. John Caldwell, commander of the 2nd Corps’ 1st Division, had thrown three of his four brigades (led by Cross, Kelly and Zook respectively) into the fight in the Wheatfield. With Cross’ men, who were defending the east edge of the Rose Woods, running low on ammunition, Caldwell sent his fourth and final brigade, led by Col. Edward Brooke, into the fray. Brooke’s troops dove into the Rose Woods, driving back the Georgians of “Tige” Anderson, their momentum carrying them all the way to the western edge of the woods, in the area where Brooke Avenue now sits.

Figure A: The three largest trees appearing in this photograph of the monument to the 27th Connecticut are witness pignut hickory trees. This is the original version of the modern photograph shown in Figure P-1 below. Witness Tree #3, named for brigade commander Col. John R. Brooke, is the large tree to the left of the monument.

Though it had moved so far beyond their comrades as to be without support on either flank, Brooke’s brigade at first found further success in shoving back the rebels of Brig. Gen. Paul Semmes, even inflicting a mortal wound on the commander. But the Confederates regrouped, and Brooke’s brigade soon found itself pressed on three sides, which forced the line of regiments to bend into a semi-circle.

Numbers eventually told, and, as the number its men who were shot down accumulated, the brigade broke and ran, suffering 46% casualties in only 15 minutes of fighting.

The Trees

Witness Trees #1 and #2 appeared in a very small (1″ x 1.5″) William Tipton photograph of the monument to the 27th Connecticut Infantry on Brooke Avenue which was published in a 1911 picture-book of Gettysburg (see Figure P-1). The two trees are pignut hickories, among the slowest growing trees on the battlefield, and are both well over 200 years old. A third pignut hickory (Witness Tree #3) stands close by, and since it is significantly larger than #1 and #2, we may safely deduce that it too is a Witness Tree (see Figure B below).

I have estimated the growth rate of these trees to be ridiculously slow – well over 10 years to grow each inch of diameter. The Forest Service website page on pignut hickories confirms that this species can typically take 10 years to grow an inch in diameter; and there is evidence of other pignuts growing this slowly on the battlefield as well:

(1) a pignut hickory tree with a diameter of 17 inches that was cut down on Little Round Top in February 2022 was determined by a lab to be 171 years old, giving it a growth rate of 10 years to grow each inch of diameter;
(2) the rings on the stump of a pignut hickory located in Reynold’s Grove demonstrate a growth rate of over 12 years to grow an inch of diameter over the past 120 years.

Witness Tree #1

Figure P-1: Two pignut hickory witness trees appear in these photos. The 1911 image is from a picture book of Gettysburg published by “Tipton and Blocher”. A third pignut hickory, much larger than these two, stands just out of camera range to the left (see Figure B below)

Capt. Henry V. Fuller (64th NY) Witness Tree

Tree Species: pignut hickory
Circumference 2023: 64.5”
Diameter: 20.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 14.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 250+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 9”
GPS: 39.795365 N, 77.246925 W

With a diameter of only 20.5 inches, the Fuller Witness Tree is the smallest of the three pignut hickory witness trees standing behind and to the left of the 27th CT monument on Brooke Avenue. The ratio of the diameter of this tree 1911:2022 is approximately 0.62, leading to a calculated growth rate of a leisurely 14 years to grow an inch in diameter. This tree is thus easily not only a witness tree, but is also well over 250 years old, possibly even nearing 300 years of age.

This first witness tree is named for Capt. Henry V. Fuller (middle name Van Aernam) of the 64th New York Volunteer Infantry regiment. Fuller was born in 1841 in the town of Little Valley in Cattaraugus County in western New York. At the age of 17, we are told, young Henry was employed by a lumber manufacturing firm to “run rafts down the Allegheny and Ohio rivers to Pittsburg, Cincinatti and Louisville,” where he worked until September 1861, when he enlisted as a private in Company F of the 64th New York. Fuller participated in all of the major battles that followed in the east, receiving rapid promotions for his conspicuous bravery, finally reaching the rank of captain in December 1862. (1)

At Gettysburg, Fuller was shot first in the leg, then in the back, during the retreat of Brooke’s brigade through the Rose Woods, where he died. (2) His body recovered on July 4th, Fuller’s remains were returned to New York where he was buried with full military honors in his hometown of Little Valley, NY. (3) A small and little-visited monument to Capt. Fuller was placed in Rose Woods in 1894. (4)

A detailed story of the life and death of Capt. Fuller, as well as detailed instructions of how to find the hero’s monument, can be found here at the website www.Gettysburgdaily.com; information on the monument itself appears here at the essential website, www.stonesentinals.com; and finally, a great video from the American Battlefield Trust showcases the blood-stained tactical manual Fuller was carrying in the Rose Woods when he was killed.

(1) Adams, William. Historical Gazetteer and Biographical Memorial of Cattaraugus County, N.Y., 1893. Pp. 776-7.
(2) Gettysburg Daily website. Captain Henry V. Fuller, 64th New York Infantry Marker. 2009. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
(3) Adams.
(4) Gettysburg Daily.

Witness Tree #2

Lt. Col. Henry C. Merwin (27th CT) Witness Tree

Tree Species: pignut hickory
Circumference 2023: 79”
Diameter: 25.1”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 11.4 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 250+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 11”
GPS: 39.79547 N, 77.24700 W

Figure A: Portrait of Lt. Col. Merwin appearing on the frontispiece of the 27th’s regimental history.

The Henry Merwin Witness Tree is larger than the Fuller Tree, with a diameter of 25″, and the ratio of its diameter 1911:2022 is approximately 0.62. This suggests an average growth rate 11.4 years to grow each inch of diameter, a little faster than that of the younger Witness Tree #1. Again, we have a tree that is well over 250 years old, and possibly over 300 years in age.

Witness Tree #2 is named for the beloved commander of the 27th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Lt. Col. Henry C. Merwin (his middle name was, unusually, Czar). A businessman from New Haven, CT., the 21-year-old Merwin joined a three-month regiment at the outbreak of the war and fought at First Manassas. He later raised what became Company A of the newly-minted 27th, and was elected lieutenant colonel. He was present for all the regiment’s battles, getting captured at Chancellorsville. Held briefly as a prisoner in Richmond (presumably at Libby Prison), Merwin, upon his exchange, returned to his regiment as commander. (5)

Merwin was mortally wounded on the crest of the Wheatfield, a hundred yards south of the Wheatfield Road. The regimental history (published in 1866) records the anguished words he cried out as he lay dying, “My poor regiment is suffering fearfully.” A monument to Merwin rests on the Wheatfield Road. His remains were buried in his original hometown of Brookfield, CT.

A touching tribute to and biography of Merwin appeared in the regimental history of the 27th CT (published in 1866), and can be found here. Brief biographies and descriptions of his monument can be found at www.stonesentinals.com and www.civilwarintheeast.com.

(5)  Sheldon, Winthrop D. The “Twenty-Seventh”: A Regimental History. 1866. Pp. 89-92.

Witness Tree #3

Col. John R. Brooke Witness Tree

Tree Species: pignut hickory
Circumference 2023: 93.5”
Diameter: 29.8”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: N/A
Estimated age: N/A
Estimated diameter in 1863: N/A
GPS: 39.79496 N, 77.246010 W

With a diameter of almost 30″, the John Brooke Witness Tree is significantly larger than the two other pignut hickories in group. Although it does not appear in the Tipton photograph published in the 1911 (Figure P-1), we may safely assert (given the extreme age of its two pignut neighbors) that it too is a Witness Tree.

This massive hickory tree is named for Col. John R. Brooke. Brooke was born in 1839 in the town of Pottsgrove, in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County. Having received extensive education, young Brooke, aged 23, recruited a company for three months service after Lincoln’s call for short-term volunteers in April 1861. At the conclusion of the company’s service, Brooke raised a full regiment – the 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry – of which he was appointed colonel. On May 31, 1862, during the Peninsula campaign, we are told, Brooke’s command fought a desperate action of four hours duration, during which his regiment was “at one time surrounded by six times their number, but fought their way out.” Brooke was personally commended by Generals Richardson, Sumner and French for his heroics. (6)

By 1862’s Battle of Antietam, Col. Brooke was in command of his brigade. At Gettysburg on July 2, Brooke’s brigade was the fourth and final brigade sent into the Wheatfield by division commander Brig. Gen. John Caldwell. The brigade stopped briefly on the crest of the Wheatfield (where the main monument to the 27th Connecticut now stands), where it was exposed to a deadly fire from the enemy. Brooke ordered the brigade to charge, and the momentum of the men took them all the way to the part of the Rose Woods where Brooke Avenue was later carved out. Brooke famously had carried the flag of the 53rd Pennsylvania (his old unit) during this forward thrust. (7) His brigade completely isolated, Brooke has no choice but to retreat, suffering a badly bruised ankle during the scramble.

On more than one occasion, Moses Auge, in his biographical sketch of John Brooke, snidely alludes to the lack of promotion to brigadier which his subject so richly deserved, referring, for example, to “Colonel Brooke (or rather General Brooke, as it should been)”. (8) At Cold Harbor, Brooke was severely wounded, hit in the side by grape-shot; the injury put an end to the colonel’s Civil War service. (9)

Brooke remained in the army after the war, serving on the frontier fighting Indians into the 1890’s. Promoted to major general, Brooke led a corps in the Spanish-American War, and afterwards served as military governor, first of Puerto Rico, and then Cuba. Retiring in 1902, Brooke lived to the age of 88, dying in Philadelphia in 1926, one of the last surviving general officers of the Civil War. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A lengthy biographical sketch, written in 1879 (at which time Brooke was in command of a regiment at Fort Shaw in Montana Territory) testifies to the high regard in which his Civil War contemporaries viewed the colonel.

(6) Auge, Moses. Lives of the Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, PA. 1879. Pp. 418-426.
(7) Laino, Philip. Gettysburg Campaign Atlas. Gettysburg: Gettysburg Publishing, 2009. Page 246.
(9) Auge, p. 424.