Trees #5 and #6

Photograph P-2

Witness Trees #5 and #6 stand on the opposite side of the stone wall from the first two cannons of the Pee Dee Artillery (c1 and c2). Tree #5 is a smaller-diameter white oak, while #6, also a white oak, is fairly large. Both trees appear distinctly in the c.1903 photograph used for a Rotograph Company postcard, as shown in Figure P-2 below. However, because the trees have grown, in my modern recreation of the Rotograph image, #6 stands behind #5 to some degree. In order to gauge the growth of Tree #6, I employ a second photograph (Figure P-2a) taken just a few feet to the right of that which appears in Figure P-2. The 1903 photograph shows the two trees to be of similar size; however, my recent photograph reveals that Tree #6 has grown much faster since the turn of the 20th century than has Tree #5.

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Witness Tree #5

Pvt. John Caldwell (33rd NC, CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 81”
Diameter: 25.8”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.3 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 190 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 3.5-4”
GPS: 39.820511 N, 77.246267 W

This smaller white oak tree – diameter 25.8 inches – stands directly to the west of cannon c1 of the Pee Dee Artillery, across the stone wall from the guns. The estimated ratio of its diameter 1903:2023 is about 0.35, which suggests it has grown at a rate of just over 7 years to gain each inch of diameter over the past century and a quarter. Tree #5 is probably just shy of 200 years old, but it was probably a sapling at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, its diameter perhaps in the 3.5 to 4 inch range.

While it was true, to a large extent, that the southern War for Independence was a rich man’s war fought by poor men, there were exceptions. Witness Tree #5 is named for a soldier – a mere private, in fact – whose father was politically connected enough to become lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 1868, and governor of the state in 1871. The lad’s name is Pvt. John Caldwell of the 33rd North Carolina Infantry. 

In May 1863, at the age of 18, the Burke County resident enlisted in Company E of the 33rd North Carolina. Just two months later – on July 3, 1863 – the 33rd NC was positioned on the far left of the line of two brigades commanded by Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble, whose demibrigade would follow Pettigrew’s division in the attack on Cemetery Ridge. (1)

Though most of the men of the brigade of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane – which included the 33rd North Carolina – did not venture any further east than the Emmitsburg Road, it was reported that Pvt. Caldwell was killed near the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge. (2) Caldwell’s family was important enough for the 33rd’s commander, Colonel Clark M. Avery, to personally write to Caldwell’s father, the future chief executive of North Carolina, Todd Robinson Caldwell, of his son’s demise. (3)

(1) Civil War Data website. Retrieved July 20, 2023: Record #: C&43671.
(2) Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Pickett’s Charge. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016. P. 101.
(3) Ibid., p. 357.

Witness Tree #6

Pvt. Daniel Boone Thomas (26th NC, CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 111”
Diameter: 35.3”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 190-200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 6”
GPS: 39.820428 N, 77.246255 W

Witness Tree #6 is a large white oak, with a diameter of almost a yard, as are so many other of West Confederate Avenue’s witness trees. We estimate the ratio of its diameter 1903:2023 to be about 0.37, which suggests that the tree’s growth rate over the past 122 years has been a relatively rapid 5.5 years to grow each inch of diameter. The tree is probably about two centuries old, and likely had a diameter of about half a foot on the day of Pickett’s Charge.

There was no greater manner by which a Johhny Reb could be guaranteed of getting shot on July 3 than by carrying his regiment’s colors. Witness Tree #6, however, is named for the one color bearer who was not shot during Pickett’s Charge – Pvt. Daniel Boone Thomas of the 26th North Carolina Infantry. The Chatham County, NC, resident had entered the army at the outbreak of war in May of 1861 as a private in the 26th’s Company E. (4)

The 26th North Carolina had suffered grievously during the battle’s first day of fighting, losing three-quarters of its 839 men in Herbst Woods, where the regiment had fought seemingly to the death against the 24th Michigan. Fourteen color bearers had been shot, and the 26th’s commander, Col. Henry K. Burgwyn, had been mortally wounded. (2)

Incredibly, the remaining 200 Tarheels somehow managed to find the fortitude to repeat on July 3 their courageous work of July 1. A new set of men, including Private Thomas, were selected to carry the colors before the assault against Cemetery Ridge was to begin. (6)

By the time the 26th North Carolina had crossed the Emmitsburg Road and were climbing the last rise approaching Cemetery Ridge, the regiment’s “ranks resembled a thin skirmish line.” (7) Pvt. Thomas was now carrying the regimental colors, the other pre-selected men all having been taken down. (8) Within 40 yards of the stone wall, numerous Tarheels, having been pushed to the limit of man’s endurance, began to wave handkerchiefs to signal their surrender. (9)

Incredibly, Thomas, accompanied by Sgt. James M. Brooks, kept marching forward. Such a show of valor was too much for the men of the 12th New Jersey on the other side of the wall, who held their fire rather than shoot down these two men who must have been crazy to continue towards the stone wall alone. A Yankee called to Thomas and Brooks, “Come over to this side of the Lord” – and the two boys did, crossing the wall, and accepting their capture. (10)

Daniel Boone Thomas was sent to Fort Delaware Prison, where his good luck continued, somehow surviving a year and a half in this notorious prison, before he was freed in a prisoner exchange in February 1865. The young man, still only 24 years old, returned to North Carolina and disappeared from history. (11)

(4) Civil War Data website. Retrieved July 21, 2023: Record #: C&153892.
(5) Mast, Greg. “‘Tha Kill So Meny of Us.’: 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops at Gettysburg.” Military Images, vol. 10, no. 1, 1988, pp. 5–11. JSTOR, Accessed 21 July 2023. P. 9.
(6) Gragg, Rod. Covered with Glory: the 26th North Carolina Infantry at Gettysburg. New York: Harper Collins, 2000. P. 159.
(7) Ibid., p. 197.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Ibid., p. 200.
(10) Ibid.
(11) Ibid., p. 324.