Warren Avenue Stone Wall Tree
What This Tree Saw
We are now less than 100 yards from where the nearest fighting on Little Round Top took place. Where Sykes Avenue rises from the intersection with Warren Avenue, there once extended from the summit a spur, a sort of protracted ledge, which was excavated out of existence to some degree when Sykes Avenue was constructed in 1897. But it was on this spur that the 20th Maine and 83rd Pennsylvania regiments were deployed to resist potential Confederate attacks on July 2, 1863.
Surely enough, in the late afternoon, the attack came. Soldiers of the 4th Alabama and 5th Texas Infantry would have passed directly by this tree in the final run-up to meet the foe. Many of the rebels would have likely taken shelter behind the massive boulders sitting today along Warren Avenue, just 100 feet north of the tree.
Thanks to the protection offered by the many boulders on the western and southern slopes of Little Round Top, the 4th Alabama suffered only about 25% casualties on this day, but the fierce 5th Texans lost more than half their men.
Col. Robert M. Powell (5th TX, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 90”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.8-7.6 years / inch diameter
Estimated age:195-215 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5.7.5”
GPS: 39.789269N, 77.237371W
On the far-right edge of a 1935 NPS photograph (see Figure P-1), two still-extant white oaks can be seen. The one farthest to the right is a witness tree. The ratio of the diameter of the tree 1935:2023 is about 0.53-0.6, from which we can calculate the rate of growth of this tree to be an average of about 7-7.5 years to grow each inch of diameter over the past century. Working backwards, we can further conservatively estimate the tree to be about 200-210 years old, and its diameter during the fight for Little Round Top was probably a little less than half a foot.
The tree immediately to the left of the witness tree (the second tree in from the right) may be a witness tree, but our calculations show that it more likely first sprouted around 1863, or within a few years afterwards, preventing us from being able enter the tree onto the list of witnesses to the battle.
The tree is named for Col. Robert M. Powell, commander of the 5th Texas Infantry at Gettysburg. Born in 1826 in Alabama, Powell moved in 1849 to Texas, where he practiced law and eventually entered politics, serving as a state legislator for the years 1857-8. At the outbreak of the war, Powell enlisted and was elected captain of Company D of the 5th Texas. Powell was rapidly promoted, first to major, then lieutenant colonel, and finally colonel in November 1862, when he took charge of the 5th Texas. (1)
Col. Powell was severely wounded at Gettysburg when, as Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson wrote in his official report of the battle, he “fell while gallantly leading his regiment in one of the impetuous charges of the Fourth and Fifth Texas on the strongly fortified mountain.” (2) The 5th’s Lt. Col. King Bryan, himself wounded in the arm, came across the fallen colonel on the field, and reported seeing a hole in Powell’s coat through which a ball had passed. (3)
The colonel was left behind and captured by Union forces, who, after treating his wound, sent him north to prison. Powell was held at Johnson’s Island Federal Prison in Sandusky, OH, for 18 months, before finally being transferred to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Paroled in early February 1865, Powell returned to his regiment, which he led until the Army of Virginia’s surrender at Appomattox on April 12, 1865. (4)
After the war, Powell lived first in Baltimore, then St. Louis, where he died in 1916 at the age of 89. Powell was buried in St. Louis’ Cavalry Cemetery. (5) An obituary published at the time states that Powell was forced to undergo amputation of a leg at some point in his life.
(1) Texas State Historical Association website. Powell, Robert Micajah (1826–1916). Retrieved May 26, 2023.
(2) Perseus website. Report of Brigadier-General Robertson. Retrieved May 26, 2023: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2001.05.0039%3Achapter%3D19.
(3) Polley, J.B. Hood’s Texas Brigade. Dayton, OH: Morningside Bookshop, 1976. P. 184.
(4) Texas State Historical Association website.