9th Massachusetts Tree

What This Tree Saw

There are a pair of impressive monuments to the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and 10th Pennsylvania Reserves (39th PA Volunteer Infantry) near this tree; however, these two regiments did not do anything during the battle to really deserve these memorials. Rather, the men of these two units were lucky enough to not be posted near Little Round Top until after the battle for the hill had concluded late on July 2. However, as is explained in an article on the “Irish American Civil War” website, by 1885, it was generally felt by Union veterans of the war that, if they wanted to be remembered for their martial accomplishments with a monument, Gettysburg was “the place” to erect one; hence, the creation and dedication of this monument near the saddle between the Round Tops. (1)

In fact, so concerned were the men from the 9th for their reputations, that the regimental history of the regiment, published in 1899, frankly exaggerates the contributions of the 9th to the battle, writing that “the Ninth that day held the ‘fort.’ The regiment would have lost heavily were it not for their breastworks of stone, and their freedom from artillery fire.” (2)

Not that the 9th had anything to be ashamed about. The war record of this Bay State regiment was as glorious as any other unit; but this little story highlights the importance that was placed on Gettysburg in the late 19th century as the focal point of Union memory for achievement in the Civil War.


This tree was first photographically identified by Greg Gober, using the 1898 image shown in Figure P-1 below.

(1) see the online article “Manipulating Memory: The Story of the 9th Massachusetts Monument at Gettysburg“. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
(2) McNamara, Daniel George. The History of the Ninth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, etc., 1899. See page 320.

Lt. Col. Isaac B. Feagin (15th AL, CSA) Witness Tree

Figure P-1: it is very difficult to get a perfect recreation of this 1898 William Tipton photograph of the 9th Massachusetts monument, thanks to the brush growing just west of the monument. However, the witness chestnut oak tree is clearly visible in both then-and-now images, though it has started to lean a little more to the north as it has grown heavier over time.

Tree Species: chestnut oak
Circumference 2023: 83”
Diameter: 26.4”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9.9 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 250-260 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 10-10.2”
GPS: 39.788461N, 77.237907W

The chestnut oak growing out of the stone wall behind the monument to the 9th Massachusetts is a very old tree. A William Tipton photograph from 1898 shows the tree to be fully formed, not much smaller than it is today, complete with the twists and turns associated with chestnut oaks growing in a competitive environment. The ratio of the tree’s diameter 1898:2023 is, estimated conservatively, 0.52, suggesting that the tree has been growing at a glacially slow pace of at least 9.8 years on average to grow each inch of diameter over the past century and a quarter. This witness tree is likely at least 250 years old, and its diameter at the time of the battle, during which it would have had a good view of the fight of the 20th Maine for Little Round Top taking place a hundred feet to the north, was about 10 inches.

Lt. Col. Isaac B. Feagin, 15th Alabama Infantry

The tree is named for Lt. Col. Isaac B. Feagin of the 15th Alabama Infantry. After leaving Warfield Ridge, the 15th and 47th Alabama chased skirmishers of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters to the top of Big Round Top, then descended the senior hill on its north side, perhaps a hundred yards to the north of our witness tree, to attack the 20th Maine on Little Round Top.

Lt. Col. Feagin (or Feagan) was a merchant residing in Alabama’s Barbour County when he joined the 15th Alabama at its formation in the summer of 1861, being elected captain of Company B. Feagin was with the regiment in all of its early battles in the war. (3)

A Stonewall Jackson Story

In the summer of 1862, seven miles west of Manassas Junction, the 15th took part in wrecking the railroad tracks, after which the men enjoyed seeing several trains go off the railings. When it was determined that they did not have the means to remove the wrecks so as to be able to save for the Confederacy the train which had stopped on the track, the officers consulted General Jackson, who instructed Feagin, “Well, Captain, just set fire to it and rejoin your brigade, which has gone to capture the Junction.” (4)

At either Antietam (Alabama Civil War Records Database) or Shepherdstown (Colonel Oates’ memoirs), Feagin was severely wounded by a shell, and was only able to rejoin the regiment in the spring of 1863, when he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the regiment. (5) Before his promotion, Feagin was charged in a court-martial proceeding for cowardice, but was acquitted. (6)

During the 15th’s advance on Big Round Top in pursuit of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, Feagin was shot through the knee. Unable to be retrieved by his comrades, Feagin was captured by Union troops. Held prisoner in a northern prisoner, Feagin was forced to undergo two amputations of the leg, but survived. Naturally, upon his exchange, Feagin retired from the army. The lieutenant colonel went on to serve as sheriff and judge in Alabama, before finally dying in 1900. (7) Feagin was buried in Union Springs, Alabama.

(3) Alabama Civil War Records Database; retrieved May 25, 2023. Soldier ID # = 60848.
(4) Oates, William C. The War Between the Union and the Confederacy, 1905. P. 135.
(5) Alabama Civil War Records Database.
(6) Oates, p.672.
(7) Ibid., p.239. Oates reports Feagin as dying in 1901.

Figure A: The Feagin Chestnut Oak Witness Tree has grown right through the stone wall behind the 9th Massachusetts monument.

Figure B: One wonders if the men of the 9th Massachusetts felt any guilt for placing such an ostentatious monument at Gettysburg, when in reality they had not been called upon to fight during those fateful July days of 1863.

Figure C: Our twisted chestnut oak witness tree winds tortuously behind the monument to the 9th Massachusetts.