Trees #15 and #16

Street view of Witness Trees #15 (far left) and #16 (center). Note the cannon to the right, the left-hand piece of the Fredericksburg Artillery.

Both trees #15 (a white oak) and #16 (a shagbark hickory) appear in a single photograph which was published by “Tipton and Blocher” in a 1911 soft-cover picture album entitled Gettysburg: The Pictures and the Story. An interesting feature of the 1911 image is that it is possible to match up many of the rocks appearing in the stone wall in that picture with those that can be seen in a modern recreation of that photo. Such a matching-up of rocks (which of course are the same size today as they were a century ago) allows us to make a particularly accurate estimation of the growth rate, and hence the age, of these two trees. 

An example of an especially distinctive such rock is identified in both of the then-and-now photographs reproduced in Figure P-4.

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Witness Tree # 15

Col. Waller T. Patton (7th VA, CSA) Witness Tree

Figure P-4: Many of the wall’s stones which appear in the 1911 image can be identified in the modern recreation. I have, in each image presented here, surrounded one of these rocks with a faint white line. It is interesting to note that the branches which remain today on Tree #16 (a shagbark hickory) can easily be identified, in younger form of course, in the 1911 photograph. The single large branch on the right side of Tree #15 (a white oak) can also be picked out in both images.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 117”
Diameter: 37.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.8 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 230-250 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 13-14”
GPS: 39.819773 N, 77.2467486 W

This immense white oak has a diameter of over a yard. The ratio of the diameter of this tree 1911:2023 is about 0.56, which means that the tree’s growth rate over the last 111 years has been just under 7 years to grow each inch of diameter. The tree is likely around 250 years old, and probably flaunted a diameter of at least a foot at the time of the battle.

The tree is named for Col. Waller T. Patton (middle name Tazewell), commander of the 7th Virginia Infantry at Gettysburg. Born in 1835 in Fredericksburg, VA, the VMI graduate taught at his alma mater for three years before moving to Culpeper in Virginia to practice law. Patton, a captain of militia when the Civil War erupted, mustered into the army as a captain of the 17th Virginia’s Company B. Earning rapid promotion through the ranks, Patton was appointed a colonel in June of 1862. (1)

On July 3, 1863, Patton was at the forefront of his troops during the charge on Cemetery Ridge. While leading his men beyond the Emmitsburg Road, a musket ball struck Patton in the face, carrying away his lower jaw. The desperately wounded colonel, who was further shot through a lung, was captured and sent to the Union hospital at Gettysburg College, where he lingered in what must have been excruciating agony for two weeks, before dying on July 21. (2)

Originally buried in Baltimore, Patton’s remains were repatriated to Virginia, where he was re-interred in Stonewall Confederate Cemetery in Winchester. (3)

An 1875 publication from VMI, memorializing its graduates who died during the Civil War, found it noteworthy to observe that Colonel Patton, in a letter he wrote from the field hospital before he died, referred to Pennsylvania as a “foreign land” in which he was “about to die.” (4)

Colonel Waller Patton had three brothers – George, Isaac and John – who also rose to become colonels in the Confederate army. George was the grandfather of World War II’s famous General George S. Patton. An exploration of the lives of George and Waller can be found in this article written by a descendent of the Patton brothers. The 1875 VMI publication article on Colonel Patton can be found here.

(1) Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008. P. 301.
(2) Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Pickett’s Charge. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016. P. 282.
(3) Allardice, p. 301.
(4) Walker, Charles D. Biographical Sketches of the Graduates and Élèves of the Virginia Military Institute Who Fell During the War Between the States. 1875. P. 427.

Witness Tree #16

Col. Robert C. Allen (28th VA, CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: shagbark hickory
Circumference 2023: 81.5”
Diameter: 26.0”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 6.8 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 175-180 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 2.5”
GPS: 39.819675 N, 77.246804 W

Shagbark hickories are slow-growing trees, but this very large specimen is an exception. The ratio of its diameter 1911:2023 is about 0.37, which suggests a growth rate of just under 7 years to grow each inch of diameter over the past century. Assuming a constant growth rate before that, we may estimate the age of the tree to be about 180 years old, which means it was likely, technically, a “sapling” (ie. possessing a diameter of less than 4½ inches) of 2-3 inch diameter in 1863, though there is a chance the tree was even smaller at the time.

This witness tree is named for Col. Robert C. Allen (middle name Clotworthy), commander of the 28th Virginia Infantry at Gettysburg. Born in 1834 in the Shenandoah Valley, Allen graduated from VMI in 1834, a year ahead of Col. Waller Patton, with whom he roomed at VMI. (5) (6) A practicing lawyer before the war, Allen entered the Confederate army as a major of the 28th Virginia in July 1861, and was promoted to colonel in April 1862. The next month, Allen was captured at Williamsburg, but escaped before being shipped north. Allen was also wounded at Gaines Mill. (7)

At Gettysburg, Allen led his troops as far as the stone wall near the Angle before he was shot down, killed on the battlefield. An 1875 work published by VMI wrote of Allen, “when within a few yards of the cemetery wall [sic], just as the works of the enemy were carried, he fell pierced through the brain by a musket ball.” (8)

Allen’s body is presumed to have been buried with the other rebels who fell on this day, and is perhaps amongst the dead now interred anonymously at Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. (9)

The VMI memorial book admits that Allen was not popular with his men, being considered “unnecessarily rigid and exacting.” (10) The full biography and encomium written of Col. Allen in the VMI publication may be found here.

(5) Allardice, p. 40.
(6) Tucker, p. 68.
(7) Allardice, p. 40.
(8) Walker, p. 29.
(9) Allardice, p. 40.
(10) Walker, p. 26.