64th New York Monument Group
What These Trees Witnessed
If you are standing on Brooke Avenue, then the woods which now surround you had served as a thoroughfare for successive waves of Confederate brigades who were on their way to fight Union forces in the Wheatfield.
Brig. Gen. George “Tige” Anderson’s Georgian led the dance as the first organized Rebel force to pass through here, as they went to meet Col. Regis de Trobriand’s federal Third Brigade in the Rose Run valley just to the north of here. The 3rd and 7th South Carolina Infantry regiments of Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw followed shortly later, eventually to meet the enemy in the tangles of the Stony Hill.
A furious Federal counterattack hit Anderson and Kershaw hard, pushing them back from whence they came. Of particular interest is the activity of Col. John R. Brooke’s Union 4th Brigade, whose momentum propelled it well beyond its fellow brigades in the Wheatfield, and into the nook of Rose Woods through which Brooke Avenue peacefully meanders today, where they came face-to-face with the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen. Paul J. Semmes. Semmes was shot in the thigh in the succeeding firefight, and died from his wounds a week later. A renewed attack by all of the Confederate forces in the area finally cleared these woods of Brooke’s brigade.
All four of the Witness Trees behind the 64th New York monument can be seen in the single photograph taken by William H. Tipton in c. 1897 (see Figure P-1). Due to the growth of the trees in the succeeding century, Witness Tree #4, a white oak, is now partially hidden behind WT #3 (the chestnut oak standing next to the monument), but WT #4 can be seen in Figure A, a photograph which I took after taking a pair of strides to the right from where I took the image in Figure P-1.
Trees #1, #2, and #3 were first photographically identified by Greg Gober together with the author, using the 1897 William Tipton image of Figure P-1 below. Tree #4 was identified first by the author in the same photograph. The author also identified Witness Tree #1 in the early image of Figure P-2.
Witness Tree #1
Lt. Col. John C. Mounger (9th GA, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 93”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.0 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 205 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 6-7”
GPS: 39.79496 N, 77.246010 W
The distinctive curves shown in the upper part of Witness Tree #1 shown in Figure P-1, in addition to the singular angle at which it leans, makes this an easy tree to identify. The ratio of its diameter from 1897:2022 is 0.40, which allows us to calculate the rate of growth of this white oak to be about 7 years to grow each inch of diameter, very typical of a battlefield white oak. The tree is likely at least a century old, and was probably a mature tree with a diameter measuring half a foot at the time of the battle.
The importance of taking pains to make an accurate then-and-now photo recreation is demonstrated by Figure 2. From the angle at which these photographs were taken, Witness Tree #1 now appears to the right and rear of the monument. The distinctive angle by which the tree leans once again makes this tree easy to pick out.
Witness Tree #1 is named for Lt. Col. John C. Mounger, commander of the 9th Georgia Infantry. Born in 1809, Mounger was a practicing attorney in Quitman, GA, before the war. He was appointed major of the 9th Georgia at war’s commencement, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in April of 1862. (1)
As a component of Gen. “Tige” Anderson’s brigade, Mounger’s 9th Georgia was forced to make repeated attacks against Federal troops in the Wheatfield, and would suffer terribly, losing over 55% of its men on this single evening. Lt. Col. Mounger was among the casualties, killed in the regiment’s initial assault near the Rose Run. His son Thomas was with at the time of his death a few minutes after he was brought down. (2) In a surviving letter written by Mounger’s sons – son John was also in the 9th Georgia – the boys explain to their mother that their father “was shot with a minie ball through the right breast and a grape shot from cannon through the bowels.”
Mounger’s body was returned to Savannah, Georgia, for burial.
(1) Antietam on the Web website. Confederate (CSV) Lieutenant Colonel John Clarke L. Mounger. Retrieved August 23, 2023.
Witness Tree #2
Brig. Gen. George T. (“Tige”) Anderson (CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: chestnut oak
Circumference 2023: 93.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 8-8.4 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 230-250 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 10-10.5”
GPS: 39.794899 N, 77.246906 W
The Anderson Tree, or Witness Tree #2, can also be recognized by the unmistakable curve on its lower trunk, which grows out of the ground in a northerly direction before the tree straightens out 10 feet above the ground or so. The diameter of this chestnut oak in 1897 is just about a half of what it is today, making this a slow-growing tree, with a calculated growth rate of 8.4 years to grow each inch of diameter. Its diameter in 1863 was likely a solid 10 inches.
This chestnut oak witness tree is named for the hard-fighting Brig. Gen. George T. Anderson, commonly called “Tige”. Born in 1824, the native Georgian attended Emory College, which he left before graduating to fight in the Mexican War, serving in General Stephen Kearny’s Georgia Cavalry. When the war between the states broke out, “Tige” was elected colonel of the 11th Georgia Infantry. Having participated in all the major battles of the first years of the war, Anderson was promoted to brigadier general in November 1862. After the Battle of Fredericksburg, Anderson’s brigade, as part of General James Longstreet’s Corps, participated in the latter’s operations in Suffolk, VA, before returning to the Army of Northern Virginia in time to take part in Lee’s 1863 invasion of Pennsylvania. (3)
Anderson’s Brigade engaged in several attacks on July 2 in the Rose Woods and Wheatfield, fighting to gain and then regain the same real estate repeatedly. Anderson was wounded in the thigh in the fighting, and was thus forced to abandon the field, not returning to command until September. (4) The general remained with Longstreet’s Corps throughout the remainder of the war, fighting at Chickamauga and Knoxville, and then with Lee’s army through Appomattox. (5)
Anderson lived in Georgia after the war, working for the Georgia Railroad and then later becoming the city of Atlanta’s chief of police. “Tige” survived to barely see the 20th century, dying in 1901 at the age of 77, and was buried in his last home, Anniston, GA. (6) A detailed narration of the actions of Anderson’s Brigade at Gettysburg, presented by the legendary NPS Ranger Matt Atkinson’s, can be found in this video of a 2018 Battle Walk.
(3) Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Grey. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. Pp. 6-7.
(4) Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Confederate Generals. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1995. Pp. 6.
Witness Tree #3
Col. William DeSaussure (15th SC, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: chestnut oak
Circumference 2023: 88”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.7 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 210-215 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7”
GPS: 39.794938 N, 77.246971 W
Witness Tree #3 is distinguishable in the photographs by the distinctive deep-fissured bark which is characteristic of a chestnut oak. The DeSaussure Tree, standing next to the south side of the 64th New York monument, is a very slow growing tree, with a present diameter of 88 inches, and an average growth rate of 7.7 years to add each inch of diameter over the last century-and-a-quarter (based on the observed ratio of 0.42 of its 1897:2023 diameter).
This solid witness tree is named for the popular Col. William DeSaussure of the 15th South Carolina Infantry. DeSaussure was born in 1819 in Columbia, SC, where he attended the University of South Carolina. A lawyer and state legislator, DeSaussure fought in the Mexican War, after which he remained with the army with the rank of captain, primarily engaged in the fighting Indians on the frontier, until 1861, when he joined the Confederate army. (7) (8) The now-former U.S. army cavalry was appointed colonel of the 15th South Carolina Infantry in late 1861. The regiment protected the South Carolina Coast until it was called to join Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in time for the Antietam campaign. (9)
DeSaussure was shot through the heart as he led his regiment through the woods in the area just to the west at the north end of Brooke Avenue. His death was a terrible blow to the regiment, his orderly writing afterward, “We lost our Colonel, one of the finest men that ever lived. The regiment loved him and many of them shed tears when they heard he was dead. He has been kind to me as a father could have been ever since I have been his orderly.” (10).
DeSaussure’s remains were initially buried at McClelland Cemetery west of town on Black Horse Tavern Road, before being later removed to Columbia, SC. (11) A fine investigation of DeSaussure’s tragic end can be found here on Licensed Battlefield Guide Tim Fulmer’s wonderful website www.GettysburgRemembered.com. A map on the page identifies the approximate location in the Rose Pasture where DeSaussure likely received his mortal wound.
(7) Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008. P. 127.
(8) Thorsby, Gordon. Gordon Thorsby’s Civil War Notes website. When Colonel William DeSaussure Fell in Roses’s Woods July 2, 1863. Retrieved August 23, 2023.
(10) Fulmer, Tim. Gettysburg Remembered website. The Battle of Gettysburg: Stories of Fatal Encounters: William Davie DeSaussure. Retrieved August 23, 2023.
Witness Tree #4
Brig. Gen. Paul J. Semmes (CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 119”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8-9”
GPS: 39.79487 N, 77.246847 W
The large white oak denoted as Witness Tree #4 is a little trickier to pick out: this is due to the fact that in a modern recreation of William Tipton’s 1897 photograph of the 64th New York Monument, this oak is hidden behind Witness Tree #3, which stands in the foreground. However, by taking a pair of steps to the right from the position at which I took the modern recreation of Figure P-1, we can observe that this tree is certainly the same one as that in the Tipton image, based on its location and species, and a pair of barely-discernible matching curvatures in what appears to be a perfectly straight trunk.
Any white oak with a diameter of 37.9″ such as this one, growing in a competitive wooded area on the south side of the battlefield, is almost guaranteed to be a witness tree, and the math here bears that out. I conservatively measured a ratio of the diameter of the tree 1897:2023 to be 0.40, which suggests a growth rate of 5.5 years to grow an inch of diameter, which is surely low. But even using that rate, the tree calculates to be at least 200 years old.
This tree is named for Confederate Brig. Gen. Paul J. Semmes, who was shot in the thigh as he led his brigade of Georgians towards the Rose Woods, in the area just west of Brooke Avenue. A tourniquet was applied to the leg, and Semmes left the battlefield. He returned with the Army of Northern Virginia to Martinsburg, VA, where he convalesced, expecting to recover, but died, unexpectedly, on July 10, during the retreat of the Army of Northern Virigina from Pennsylvania. (12) Semmes was buried in originally in Martinsburg, VA (now West Virginia), but his remains were ultimately transferred to Columbus, Georgia, for burial.
General Semmes had been born in 1815 at Montford’s Plantation, GA. After attending the University of Virginia, Semmes returned to his home state where he became a banker and planter, and also was involved in the state militia. At the onset of war in 1861, Semmes was elected colonel of the 2nd Georgia Infantry, and was promoted to brigadier general in early 1862. General Semmes fought in all the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia before he was killed in the Rose Pasture at Gettysburg. (13).
A brief biography of Semmes can be found here at www.civilwarintheeast.com.