52nd New York Group

What the Trees Witnessed

Figure P-1: the 1897 photograph was by William Tipton. The distinctive large rock directly in front of Witness Tree #1 cannot be seen in the modern photo because of a fallen tree that lies between the camera and the tree. However, a personal inspection will satisfy the investigator that the rock and the tree are indeed the same.

The 52nd New York Infantry Regiment, a component of Brig. Gen. Samuel Zook’s 3rd Brigade (2nd Corps), took part in the storming of the Wheatfield and Stony Hill, alongside the Irish Brigade of Col. Patrick Kelly, in a successful effort to drive the Confederates of Brig. Gen. Kershaw’s brigade out of the sector. The 52nd, led by Lt. Col. C.G. Freudenberg (who was promoted to command the regiment on the death of Zook during the battle), lost 28% of its men in the fight; its casualties included Freudenberg himself, who was severely wounded this bloody afternoon.

As you approach the slaughterhouse that was the area of Stony Hill now known as the “Loop”, you pass on your right the monument to the 52nd New York regiment, which was dedicated in 1893. Early photographs show two trees that are still standing, as shown in Figure P-1. Both of these trees were mature in 1863, making them stellar witnesses to the brutality of the confused fighting in the woods of Stony Hill on July 2, 1863.


Tree #1 was first photographically identified by Greg Gober, using the 1897 image reproduced in Figure P-1 below. Tree #2 was first similarly identified photographically by the author, who also first identified Tree #1 in the 1893 picture of Figure P-2.

Figure A: by moving a little closer to Witness Tree #1, the rock which can clearly be seen in the Tipton photograph of Figure P-1 becomes easily discernible, confirming the identity of this tree.

Witness Tree #1

Col. Harrison Jeffords (4th MI) Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 89”
Diameter: 28.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 8.9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 220-250 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 10”
GPS: 39.797655 N, 77.245366 W

The Jeffords tree presents two interesting features that appear on so many witness trees on the Gettysburg battlefield: (1) its degree of leaning has become more pronounced as it has gotten older, and (2) it exhibits of rate of growth significantly slower than average because it is growing practically out of a large rock.

The ratio of the tree’s diameter 1897:2023 is just about 0.5. With a medium-sized diameter of only 28.3″, this correlates to a slow growth rate of just under 9 years to grow each inch since the turn of the 20th century, which is not uncommon for the white oaks in the rocky soil of the land just south of Gettysburg.

Figure B: The Jeffords Tree (Witness Tree #1) is growing seemingly out of a rock, at least partially. This contributes to its slow growth and survival over the years. The 140th Pennsylvania monument is visible in the background.

The tree is easily identifiable in person from the wide rock that sits directly in front of the tree, as seen in Figure 1. Unfortunately, today a large log lies in the area between the log and the 52nd New York’s monument, obscuring the rock in the modern photo. However, the rock can be seen in a photograph taken closer to the tree (Figure A).

The tree is named for Col. Harrison Jeffords, commander of the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg. Born in 1836, the New York native later emigrated with his family to Dexter, Michigan, where he practiced law. At the outbreak of war, Jeffords enlisted as lieutenant of the 4th’s Company K, and in 1862 was promoted to captain of Company C, and by November 1862 was the regiment’s colonel. (1)

At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, the 4th Michigan was part of Col. Jacob Sweitzer’s 2nd Brigade (1st Division, 5th Corps), which, having first entered Stony Hill earlier in the battle before being pulled back out by Sweitzer, re-entered the Wheatfield to fight off the subsequent assault of the South Carolinians of Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw. Surrounded on three sides, the 4th fought desperately. When he saw the 4th’s colors fall to ground, Jeffords attempted to retrieve them. (2) As the monument to the 4th Michigan at the Wheatfield explains, “Colonel Harrison H. Jeffords fell mortally wounded…thrust through with a bayonet in recapturing the colors of his regiment.” Jeffords died the next day, July 3. His remains were returned to Michigan for burial.

The dramatic story of Jeffords’ fatal struggle, along with that of his brother, to take back the captured flag of the 4th Michigan is told here at EmergingCivilWar.com. A transcript of a letter written by Jeffords on Jult3, 1861 – exactly two years before he died – can be found here at the 4th Michigan website.

(1) Wilkinson, George. 4th Michigan website. Harrison Herbert Jeffords. Retrieved August 19, 2023.
(2) Vermilya, Dan. Our Country’s Fiery Ordeal website. Hillsdale College and the 4th Michigan Infantry at Gettysburg. Retrieved August 19, 2023.

Witness Tree #2

Figure P-2: The Jeffords Witness Tree can just be discerned at the far right of the 1893 photograph. The latter image is reproduced courtesy of the Boardman Photographic Collection.

Dr. Z. Boylston Adams (32nd MA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 117”
Diameter: 37.2”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.6 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8-9”
GPS: 39.797558 N, 77.245310 W

As can be seen in Figure P-1, Witness Tree #2 is quite broad in the lower trunk, but rapidly tapers as you climb the tree. Comparing the diameters at a few different heights provides a range of ratios of the diameter 1897:2023, but a ratio of 0.4 seems to be a good average. The math tells us that the tree’s growth rate was a very average 5.6 years to grow an inch of diameter, and suggests the tree is just about two centuries old. The tree can also be seen on the right edge of the photographs found in Figure P-2.

Dr. Z. Boylston Adams (1829-1902). Source: Countway Library Collections.

This tree is named for Dr. Z. Boylston Adams (first name Zabdiel), chief surgeon of the 32nd Massachusetts regiment, which participated in the battle for the Wheatfield at this location earlier in the afternoon, in the original fighting around the Rose Run and Stony Hill. Adams set up a field hospital for the 32nd just down the hill from this location, behind the massive boulders which today surround the monument to the 5th Michigan regiment, just one hundred feet down the hill to the east along the present-day Sickles Avenue. 

Adams was the very embodiment of the citizen-soldier. After performing medical procedures for, we are told, two days and three nights, he lost his eyesight, and was forced to resign from the army. Once recovered from his affliction, Adams re-entered the army, joining the 56th Massachusetts as a captain in January 1864. At the Battle of the Wilderness, he was not only shot twice, suffering a broken leg, but he was also captured by the enemy, and spent several months in prisons in Lynchburg and Richmond, before being paroled. Discharged in December 1864 because of his injury, Adams yet again rejoined the Army of the Potomac, now promoted to major, and took part in the fighting at Petersburg. (3) (4)

“Zab” Adams had been born in Boston in 1829. After briefly attending Harvard, he graduated from Bowdoin (Adams had been “demoted” to Maine for pranksterish activities), but then returned to Harvard to attend its medical school. Upon graduation, Adams had worked first at Taunton’s Insane Hospital, then in his own private practice. At the onset of civil war, Adams joined the 7th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as assistant surgeon, before being promoted to full surgeon of the 32nd Massachusetts in 1862. (5)

Adams returned to Boston after the war to continue his successful medical career, before dying in a freak accident in 1902 at the age of 72, “due to a fall over the Metropolitan Water Works dam at Southboro, Mass.” (6). The great doctor and enthusiastic soldier was buried in the famed Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.

A detailed biography of Dr. Adams can be found here at www.framinghamhistory.org; there is also an entry for Adams in the encyclopedic American Medical Biographies, published in 1920.

(3) Kelly, Howard A., et al. American Medical Biographies. Baltimore: The Norman, Remington Company, 1920. P. 4.
(4) Framingham History website. Zabdiel Boylston Adams. Retrieved August 18, 2023.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Kelly.