Trees #9 and #10
Practically standing on West Confederate Avenue, just south of where the tablet to Pegram’s Battalion was erected, are a pair of white oaks. In fact, as can be seen in the 1903 image reproduced in Figure P-2 below, the avenue’s pavement actually appears to have surrounded these trees, before either the Gettysburg Commission or the National Park Service (which took over management of the park in 1933) returned the trees to a grass setting connected to the grass east of the avenue.
In each of our 1903 and 1932 photographs of these trees, only one of the two trees can be seen completely. In the 1903 image, taken from the north in a southerly direction, Tree #9 can be seen, with Tree #10 partially screened behind it; in the 1932 picture, the situation was reversed: the entirety of Tree #10 is visible, while Tree #9 hides behind it.
<– Return to Tree #8 Go to Tree #11 –>
Witness Tree #9
Col. John A. Fite (7th TN, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 100.5”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 9.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 250+? years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 12-15”
GPS: 39.820250 N, 77.246466 W
As can be seen by looking at Figures P-2 and P-2a, Witness Tree #9 was already quite a substantial tree in 1903. With an estimated diameter ratio 1903:2023 of about 0.6, we estimate the growth rate of this tree since the turn of the 20th century to be a slow 9.5 years to add each inch of diameter. This suggests the tree may be 250 years old, and probably sported a diameter of over a foot in 1863.
Witness Tree #9 is named for one of the most interesting men in the Army of Northern Virginia, Col. John A. Fite (middle name Amenas), commander of the 7th Tennessee Infantry at Gettysburg. John Fite appeared in 1832 as the 9th of 11 children born to a successful farming family in Alexandria, TN. Fite’s father was able to provide an education to John, who went on to practice law in the 1850s. When war broke out, he joined the 7th Tennessee, and was elected captain. Fite rose steadily in rank, finally being promoted to the colonelcy of the 7th in April 1863. In the meantime, Fite had been wounded in multiple battles in the first two years of the war. (1) (2)
In his essential book, Gettysburg, the First Day, Harry Pfanz relates the following wonderful story: during the march to Gettysburg, in a saloon in Hagerstown, Fite was invited to drink with some members of A.P. Hill’s staff. Upon leaving this party, Fite and his brigade commander, Brig. Gen. James J. Archer, were invited to drink with one Dr. Gwynne. Fite became so inebriated that he was forced to ride back to camp in the back of a wagon. Later in the day, Archer found cause to dress Fite down on a separate matter, and chose to further threaten to arrest Fite for being drunk. Fite responded that he in fact had sobered up, and accused Archer of being the drunk one. A disagreement such as this might have led the two southerners to settle their differences in the traditional manner, but fortunately, Archer instead chose to patch things up – by inviting Fite to another drink. (3)
During Pickett’s Charge, Fite’s 7th Tennessee took a great deal of punishment as the men approached the shelter of the Emmitsburg Road; in fact, John M. Priest, in his book, Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, reports that only 50 men followed Colonel Fite beyond the fences which ran parallel on either side of the road and up Cemetery Ridge. (4) Fite made it almost to the stone wall near the Brian Farm when he was captured by a soldier of the 14th Connecticut. Fite surrendered his sword to Captain Samuel Moore, who demanded his prisoner’s scabbard. Fite assented, growling that he “had no use for the damn thing.” (5)
Fite was held at the notorious Johnson’s Island prison camp for almost two years, before being released at war’s end. He had lost 100 pounds in that time. Fite returned to Tennessee, and regained his health and resumed his legal career. Living almost six more decades, Fite acted as a banker, was elected to the state legislature, and was also elected to a judgeship, before finally dying in 1925 at the age of 93. Fite was buried in Carthage, TN. (6) (7)
Fite was a colorful man with an apparently irrepressible droll sense of humor. In a letter to his siblings written from Johnson’s Island, Fite wrote, “On the 3rd July 1863 at Gettysburg P.A. It was my misfortune with others of my regt. to be taken prisoners…” (8) Fite later found time to write a memoir, which he subtitled “Short and Uninteresting History of a Small and Unimportant Man.” (9)
In the early 20th century, Fite brought his family on a trip to Europe. The family legend states that everyone in the party wanted to return to the United States on the Titanic, but the old colonel “vetoed the idea because it would cost more.” (10)
An interesting article on John Fite’s letters written from his captivity on Johnson’s Island can be found here. There is a website dedicated to John Fite maintained by a descendant of his, and a display dedicated to Fite can be found in the Smith County Heritage Museum in Carthage, TN.
(1) Rebrovick, John Fite. John Amenas Fite website. Retrieved July 22, 2023: http://johnamenasfite.com/john-amenas-fite-1832-1925/2015/03/08/.
(2) Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008. P. 146.
(3) Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg, the first Day. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001. P. 17.
(4) Priest, John Michael. Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 1998. P. 112.
(5) Ibid., p. 160.
(8) White, Raymond D. “Colonel John A. Fite’s Letters From Prison.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 2, 1973, pp. 140–47. JSTOR website. Accessed 22 July 2023. P. 140.
(10) White, p. 146
Witness Tree #10
Maj. Charles S. Peyton (19th VA, CSA) Witness Tree
Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 89”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 8.5 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 220-240 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 9-9.5”
GPS: 39.820233 N, 77.246488 W
Witness Tree #10 appears in an old photograph which appeared in William Storrick’s 1932 book on Gettysburg. It stands a few feet to the south of Witness Tree #9, and, though, with a diameter of 28 inches, it is a little smaller than its mate, it too does not appear to have grown much in the last century (see Figure P-3). We estimate the tree’s diameter ratio 1932:2023 to be about 0.62, which corresponds with a growth rate for the tree of approximately 8.5 years to grow each inch of diameter over the past 91 years. The tree is likely to be over 220 years old, and probably possessed a diameter of around 9 inches on the day of Pickett’s Charge.
This tree is named after Maj. Charles S. Peyton of the 19th Viriginia Infantry. In a battle which featured inconceivable courage on the part of thousands of otherwise ordinary men, Peyton’s grit and daring stand out.
A 20-year-old farmer in Albemarle County, VA, in the spring of 1861, Peyton enlisted immediately in the Confederate army when war commenced, as a lieutenant in the 19th Virginia. (11) Peyton was a captain at the Battle of Second Manassas (August 30, 1862), where he received a wound in the left arm which required amputation. Promoted to major, Peyton incredibly remained in the army. (12)
During Pickett’s Charge, Peyton -mounted, of course – took over the command of the 19th Virginia when the regiment’s colonel and lieutenant colonel fell wounded (the latter mortally); despite taking a wound to his left leg, the one-armed major led what was left of the regiment (part of Garnett’s Brigade) to the stone wall at the Angle, taking part in the final melee before falling back with the survivors, after the assault finally sputtered out. Miraculously, Peyton remained “the only…field officer of Garnett’s brigade left standing at day’s end;” it was Peyton who brought back what was left of the brigade to Seminary Ridge. (13) (14)
This was to be the last combat Major Peyton would see in the war. Receiving a promotion to lieutenant-colonel in the fall, Peyton was subsequently assigned to post duty, remaining with the army until the end of the war. (15)
Peyton lived a long life, not dying until 1923 when in his 80s. The old veteran of Pickett’s Charge was buried in Greenbrier County, WV.