Trees #2 and #3

The Trees

Witness Trees #2 and #3 (foreground, left to right) stand near West Confederate Avenue amongst the cannon of the Purcell Artillery.

These two witness trees appear in the distance of a 1902 photograph taken by William Tipton (See Figures P-1 and P-1a). The trees are a pair of white oaks, the only two witness trees to be found in the Purcell Artillery sector. We note that Witness Tree #2 is dying, and will not be around many years longer.

We dedicate these witness trees to the men of the Mississippi brigade of Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Davis. Many of Davis’ men retreated before ever reaching the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, or went no further than the Emmitsburg Road; but a handful carried on, and, together with some of the North Carolinians who also comprised the left wing of Pickett’s Charge, made it further onto Cemetery Ridge than anyone else this day, to the stone wall on the crest of the ridge near the Brien Farm.

<– Return to Tree #1                               Go to Tree #4 –>

Witness Tree #2

Col. Hugh R. Miller (42nd MS, CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 89”
Diameter: 28.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 6”
GPS: 39.820995 N, 77.245953 W

Figure P-1: Witness Trees #2 and #3 appear in the distance of this 1902 William Tipton photograph of the Letcher Artillery. The two trees actually stand behind the cannons of the Purcell Artillery, just south of the Letcher group.

This ratio of the diameter of this tree 1902:2023 is conservatively about 0.42, which suggests the tree has been taking about 7 years to grow each inch of diameter since 1902. The tree is thus likely around 200 years old, and probably had a diameter of about half a foot in 1863.

This witness tree is named for Col. Hugh R. Miller of the 42nd Mississippi Volunteers. Miller, a South Carolina native, was born in 1812, making him 51 years old at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, Miller relocated to Mississippi, where he practiced law and served in the state legislature until war’s eve. In December 1860, upon Lincoln’s election to the presidency, Miller was elected to attend the Mississippi Secession Convention, where he was one of 15 men who drafted the state’s Ordinance of Secession.

Figure P-1a: A cropped and magnified view of the Pegram Battalion’s Witness Trees #2 and #3.

Before the war, Miller had organized a militia unit, the Pontotoc Minute Men, which at war’s commencement mustered into the 2nd Mississippi Infantry as Company G. In early 1862, after losing an election for colonel, Miller resigned from the regiment and promptly rejoined the army as colonel of the newly-formed 42nd Mississippi. (1)

At Gettysburg, on July 1, the 42nd Mississippi, part of Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Davis’ Brigade, was deployed on the northern side of the Cashtown (today’s Chambersburg) Pike, and helped to route the first elements of the Union First Corps to arrive on the field on McPherson’s Ridge. The 42nd subsequently entered the railroad cut, where the Confederates found themselves sitting ducks to attacking Federals. Unlike many of his men, Miller managed to escape capture this morning.

On July 3, Miller led what remained of his decimated regiment in Pickett’s Charge. Miller seems to have made it close enough to the crest of Cemetery Ridge where he was actually in the midst of Union troops when he was shot in the chest. The wounded colonel was cared for in a house in Gettysburg for two weeks before dying on July 19. His son Edwin, also in the 42nd, had allowed himself to get captured so that he could find his father at the close of the battle. Edwin was allowed to bring his father’s remains south to Richmond, where he was originally buried, before being re-interred in Aberdeen, MS.

(1) All of the information regarding Col. Miller was adapted from an article published on the website of historian Michael R. Brasher, Hugh Reid Miller, Colonel 42nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Retrieved July 9, 2023.

Witness Tree #3

Lt. Daniel A. Featherston (11th MS, CSA) Witness Tree 

Witness Tree #2 is dying. The National Park Service will certainly cut this down within the next couple of years as it increasingly fails.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 114”
Diameter: 36.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.1 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 220-240 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 13”
GPS: 39.82092 N, 77.24603 W

In the 1902 William Tipton photograph, the two witness trees described on this page can be discerned easily, their relative diameters measured distinctly. However, in my modern recreation of this picture, Tree #3 is partially obscured behind Tree #2, since the two trees have grown wider over the last century and a quarter. However, by taking a few steps to the right, I was able to take an equivalent photograph (see Figure 1b) by which I can compare the relative modern diameters of the two trees, and thus make my estimates of the growth rates and ages of Tree #3.

Figure P-1b: Another modern view of Witness Trees #2 and #3, taken just a few feet to the right of where I took the photograph in Figure P-1, so that we can see both trees clearly.

Witness Tree #3 is a large tree, with a diameter of just about a full yard. A conservative estimate of the ratio of the diameter of the tree 1902:2023 is about 0.58, which suggests the tree has an average growth rate over the past 123 years of about 7 years to grow each inch of diameter. The tree is probably well over two centuries old, and likely had a diameter of about a foot at the time of the battle. 

This third witness tree in the Pegram Artillery section of West Confderate Avenue is named for Lt. Daniel A. Featherston of the 11th Mississippi Volunteers. Featherston seems to have enlisted at the war’s beginning, mustering into Company F in May of 1861. (2) At Gettysburg, the regiment was hunkered down in McMillan’s Woods on Seminary Ridge during the artillery duel with Union that preceded Pickett’s Charge. In his book Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, John Michael Priest relates, as the men and boys of the deep south hugged the ground, “a shell stuck in front of Company F on the right of the line…the projectile, in ricocheting, penetrated…Featherton’s chest and exploded. The blast sent the 200-pound officer ten feet into the air while hurling him another twenty feet to the rear as if he were a twig.” A comrade recalled seeing the second lieutenant’s skull being “split wide open.” (3)

Featherston’s remains are buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA.

(2) Civil War Data Website. Retrieved July 9, 2023: Record #: C&591576
(3) Priest, John Michael. Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 1998. P. 71.