North Carolina – Tennessee Monuments Group
What These Trees Witnessed
The Charlotte, N.C., Artillery was one of four artillery units which the battalion of Maj. William T. Poague. These four units were arrayed here on Seminary Ridge immediately to the south of the artillery units of Pegram’s Battalion. The Charlotte Artillery, commanded by Capt. Joseph Graham, was the northern-most of the units.
According to the marker for this unit, the Charlotte Artillery arrived at this position on the evening of July 2, and participated in the artillery barrage in the early afternoon that preceded Pickett’s Charge (the tablet calls the attack “Longstreet’s assault”).
Then, it was through these trees that the right wing of Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Davis’ mostly Mississippi brigade and left wing of Col. James K. Marshall’s North Carolina Brigade passed at the commencement of Pickett’s Charge.
Five witness trees appear in a single remarkable photograph taken by J.I. Mumper in the early 20th century (see Figure P-1). The image was published in a 1909 picture album, and also was featured on a postcard which dates back to 1907. Four of the trees are large white oaks; but the fifth, a pignut hickory, is astounding for its small diameter, only 14 inches. But photographs demonstrate that this tree was definitely present in the second half of the 19th century, and calculations suggest it is a witness – the smallest and slowest growing witness tree identified on this website. Click below to see the analysis of Witness Tree #5, named after George Pickett:
Witness Trees #1-#4: Recognizing Special Confederates
We employ the four white oak witness trees located on West Confederate Avenue here between the North Carolina and Tennessee monuments to give due recognition to an unusual group of Confederate soldiers: Jewish Confederates (#1), black Confederates (#2), a pair of brothers (#3), and a father-son pair (#4), the latter three sets of which recognize individual men who fought at Gettysburg.
Witness Tree #5: a Small Man for a Small Tree
July 3, 1863, was the worst day of the war for Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, the commander of the left wing of the Confederate attack which is most commonly referred to Pickett’s Charge. Pickett led from behind, hiding in the woods and behind the Codori Barn, as he watched his division of brave Virginians get decimated as they tried to capture Cemetery Ridge. Hence, we dedicate the smallest witness tree on this website to the smallest man on the battlefield of July 3, 1863.
Witness trees #1 and #2 were identified by the author and Greg Gober together using a photograph not reproduced here. The remaining three witness trees were identified, using the photograph appearing in Figure P-1 below, by the author.
Witness Tree #1
Maj. Raphael Moses Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 87”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 8.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200+ years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8-8.5”
GPS: 39.818226N, 77.24782W
This witness tree stands closer to the road (which was laid and paved in 1895) than its twin behind it, and seems to have grown at a slower rate – my estimate is about 8 years to grow each inch of diameter, based on a diameter ratio 1907:2023 of 0.5 – than the other as well. The tree is easily over two centuries old, and possessed a diameter of about 8 inches at the time of the battle.
Witness Tree #1 is named for Maj. Raphael Moses, who is best remembered for serving as General Longstreet’s chief commissary officer during the war. Moses was also Jewish. It may seem strange to think that southern Jews would enthusiastically serve the Confederacy, but in fact many Jews willingly fought for the south. At Gettysburg, many Jews – mostly merchant’s sons from Richmond – were to be found in the 1st Virginia Volunteers. (1)
Raphael Moses was an elder member of a large southern family of which more that three dozen members served the south. Moses had been born in 1812, so he was 50 years old when he accepted the position of chief supply officer for General Longstreet in November 1862. (2)
Moses, we are told, was a trusted and liked staff officer in the Army of Northern Virginia specifically and the Confederate government generally. He was close to Robert E. Lee, sticking close to commanding general during the battle – even sleeping next to Lee on the night of July 3 – and, during the closing days of the war, it was Moses who received the Jefferson Davis’ final order: to take $40,000 worth of precious metals from the Confederate Treasury, and use it to feed and supply southern soldiers who were returning home without a penny to their names, and barely any clothes on their backs.
Moses lived for almost three decades more, dying in 1893 in Belgium. He was a participant in Georgia politics after the war, an active opponent of Reconstruction. His body was repatriated to the United States, and buried in the family cemetery in Muscogee County, Georgia.
Some trivia: it is largely because of Raphael Moses that Georgia is known as the Peach State; in the early 1850’s, Moses helped revolutionize the peach industry in Georgia, becoming the first, for example, to “ship and sell peaches outside of the south.”
It will repay your time to spend a few minutes reading a more detailed biography of this unusual servant of the south at the New Georgia Encyclopedia website. An entire book has also been written on Jews serving the Confederacy, entitled, unsurprisingly, The Jewish Confederates, written by Robert Rosen.
(1) Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Pickett’s Charge. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016. P. 122.
(2) information in this and the remaining paragraphs in this article on Moses was adapted from the New Georgia Encyclopedia website: Raphael Moses, 1812-1893. Retrieved July 6, 2023: https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/ articles/business-economy/raphael-moses-1812-1893/.
Witness Tree #2
Powell-Smith (14th TN, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 106”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.2 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8.1”
GPS: 39.81813N, 77.247844W
This tree is somewhat larger than Witness Tree #1, which stands just 15 feet away from it. The estimated ratio of the diameter of Tree #2 1907:2023 is about 0.45, which suggests a growth rate of a little over 6 years to grow each inch of diameter over the last century. The tree is also over 200 years old, and had a likely diameter of around 8 inches in 1863. Though it is not obvious at first glance, if you look closely, you will see how Tree #2 is leaning at a slightly steeper angle today than it was in the early 20th century.
There is hardly a more contentious Civil War topic than that of whether or not any black men voluntarily fought in the Confederate army. Without attempting to respond in general way to this question, we will simply observe that in his book, Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, author John Michael Priest records that two black men marched as soldiers in the 14th Tennessee Volunteers at Gettysburg.
George B. Powell, who enlisted in the army at war’s commencement in June 1861 (3), was a Color Corporal of Company C for the 14th Tennessee. On July 3, 1863, as the 14th Tennessee marched from Seminary Ridge towards Cemetery Ridge, two men (first Sgt. Maj. Thomas Davidson, then Sgt. Robert Mokbee) who were carrying the regimental flag were shot in succession somewhere west of the Emmitsburg Road. Priest tells us that Powell took the colors “from Mockbee and carried them forward.” (4) Powell himself was then shot down as the regiment crossed the Emmitsburg Road. (5)
The colors were then picked up and carried by freedman “Boney” Smith, who made it to within 50 feet of the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge before he too fell wounded. Priest writes of Smith, “Jabbing the flagstaff in the ground, he…urged the regiment forward.” (6)
No other information is known about these two unusual troopers of the Army of Northern Virginia.
(3) Civil War Data website. Retrieved May 18, 2023: http://civilwardata.com. Record #: C&1020107.
(4) Priest, John Michael. Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 1998. P. 106.
(6) Ibid, pp. 131-2.
Witness Tree #3
Arthur Brothers (3rd VA, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 109”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: appx. 6 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200-210 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 8”
GPS: 39.818292N, 77.247918W
In the 1907 photograph, Witness Tree #3 is hiding behind Tree #4, so we cannot make an estimate directly of the change in the tree’s diameter since J.I. Mumper took this picture sometime in the 1900s. However, we can make a conservative guess: the ratios of the diameter of the other three white oaks here 1907:2023 range from 0.45-0.5, so let’s assume a ratio on the low end of the range of 0.45. Using this ratio, we can estimate the growth rate of the tree to be about 6 years to grow each inch of diameter over the last 116 years, suggesting an age of over 200 years, and a diameter of about 8 inches during the time of the battle.
It can easily discerned, however, how much more drastically this tree is leaning towards the ground today compared to how much it was leaning a century ago.
Siblings regularly fought together in the same regiment during the Civil War. As an example of this, let us consider the Arthur brothers, 2nd. Lt. Patrick H. Arthur and John C. Arthur, of the 3rd Virginia Volunteers, which was part of Brig. Gen. James L. Kemper’s brigade at Gettysburg. Both farmers, John (aged 22 or 23) enlisted in April 1861, followed by his older brother Patrick, (aged 21), who enlisted a sergeant in May. Patrick was promoted to second lieutenant in April 1862. (7)
We focus on the Arthur brothers to highlight a little-discussed feature of the original Confederate artillery bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge – the great toll the Union artillery’s response on the men of Pickett’s Brigade, especially those of the regiment of Brig. Gen. Kemper. Placed at the right end of the Pickett’s Division, Kemper’s Brigade was terribly exposed to the shot and shell arriving from the Union batteries on the south end of Cemetery Ridge. It is estimated that Kemper lost 20% of his brigade during the fight. (8) The terror his men must felt, as they sat passively, unable to respond or move away, and with no place to hide, as shells exploded around them for the entire one or two hours that comprised the artillery duel, is unimaginable.
John Priest wrote that a single solid shot (ie. a cannon ball) “plowed through Co. F in the middle of the 3rd Virginia,” killing two men, including Patrick H. and a private, mortally wounded two others (including John C.), and wounded four others, “before bounding away.” (9) (10)
(7) Civil War Data website. Retrieved July 6, 2023. Record #: C&212940 and C&212939.
(8) Tucker, p. 66.
(9) Priest, pp. 69-70.
(10) we should note that the Civil War Data website tells us that Patrick was wounded and taken prisoner at Petersburg in 1864, surviving the war and living until perhaps 1900, contradicting the assertions of Priest and Tucker that he was killed at Gettysburg. This is a good example of the inconsistencies, and concomitant frustrations that accompany the research of individuals who participated in the Civil War.
Witness Tree #4
Spessard Family (28th VA, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 83”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 8.2 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 210-220 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 7.0”
GPS: 39.818019N, 77.247924W
The last and southernmost witness tree of this group here is almost identical in its growth rate and size to Witness Tree #1. The ratio of its diameter 1907:2023 is about 0.47, which suggests a growth rate of about 8 years to grow each inch of diameter since 1907. the tree is well over 200 years old, and probably had a diameter of about 7 inches in 1863.
Many Civil War regiments had listed on their rosters not just siblings, but fathers and sons. At Gettysburg, for example, both Capt. Michael P. Spessard and his son Pvt. Hezekiah C. Spessard served in Company C of the 28th Virginia Infantry. It is for this pair that Witness Tree #4 is named.
Michael Spessard was 39 years old when he enlisted at the war’s commencement in May 1861. (11) His son Hezekiah – birth date unknown – enlisted in February 1863, so he had only been with the army for 4½ months when the Army of Northern Virginia marched into Pennsylvania. (12) Shortly after the 28th Virginia stepped off of Seminary Ridge on July 3 to assault Cemetery Ridge, Hezekiah was struck by two bullets, in the groin and thigh. Michael ran to his fallen son, and broke down at the sight of the young man’s clearly dangerous wounds. When the 28th’s mounted commander, Col. Eppa Hunton, rode up to Spessard, the captain cried out to him, “Look at my poor boy, Colonel.” (13)
But there was a battle to fight, and Michael, after kissing his son’s forehead, resumed his march to Cemetery Ridge.
Michael Spessard fought like a demon for the next hour, and survived the maelstrom unscathed. Hezekiah was captured and brought to the 3rd Corps hospital, where he died on July 19. (14). Michael, meanwhile, was promoted to major in September 1863, survived the war, and lived to the age of 67, dying in 1889. (15) He was buried in the family cemetery in New Castle, VA.