Florida Brigade Trees

What These Trees Witnessed

Figure P-1: William Tipon captured the two still-living trees on the far right of this 1901 photograph of West Confederate Avenue, taken just a few yards north of where the modern monument to the Florida brigade now stands. Notice how much further Witness Tree #1 is leaning over today as it has gotten larger and heavier over the past century.

The Florida Brigade (called Perry’s Brigade, but led by Col. David Lang), comprised of only three regiments totaling but 742 men, was the smallest brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia, but its men fought with tremendous courage, not only in the attacks on July 2, but also during Pickett’s Charge on July 3.

It was by these trees on Seminary Ridge (today’s West Confederate Avenue), just to the west of Spangler’s Farm, that the 2nd, 5th and 8th Florida Infantry deployed in the afternoon of July 2. Late in the afternoon on the same day, the Floridians, in combination with the large brigade of Alabamans under Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox, were ordered to join the assault on the Emmitsburg Road being led, successfully so far, by Brig. Gen. William Barksdale’s brigade of Mississippians. The Floridians and Alabamans routed several Union regiments near the Rogers House on the Emmitsburg Road, and were within reach of capturing the section of Cemetery Ridge east of the road, but Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, like a magician, kept pulling regiments, including the famed 1st Minnesota, out of his kepi to send against the tiring southerners. Unsupported, and having lost 40% of its strength – and the 8th Florida’s flag to boot – the survivors of Wilcox’s and Lang’s brigades returned to their original camps on Seminary Ridge behind the Spangler Farm to lick their wounds.

The next day, the brigades of Lang and Wilcox incredibly set out a second time against the foe for another assault on Cemetery Ridge. On July 3, these two brigades comprised the right flank of the army’s attack, and they approached the enemy a little further south today, between the Rogers and Klingle Houses on Emmitsburg Road. Kemper’s Brigade on Lang’s left veered north away from Lang’s men, and were decimated by the Vermont brigade of Brig. Gen. George J. Stannard. When Lang’s men thereafter crossed the Emmitsburg Road and approached the swale between the road and Cemetery Ridge, they too were attacked by the Vermonters from the front and left flank, and, by now completely spent, returned once again to their camp on Seminary Ridge. 

The Battle of Gettysburg had cost the Florida Brigade 60% of its men in dead and wounded. (1)

The Trees

This pair of witness trees appears in only a single early photograph known so far, a 1901 William Tipton image (see Figure P-1). These extant trees were first identified as the same trees that appear in the Tipton photograph by Greg Gober.

(1) See Gottfried, Bradley M. Brigades of Gettysburg. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012. P. 584-8.

Witness Tree #1

Capt. John S. Cochran (5th FL, CSA) Witness Tree

The dramatically curving Capt. John Cochran Witness Tree, as seen from south of the run, is on the left. This photo presents a good example of how white oaks stand out easily in a forest of mixed trees.

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 86”
Diameter: 27.4”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 7.4 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 200 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 5.5-6”
GPS: 39.810777N, 77.253112W

This standard white oak witness tree is of medium size, sporting a 27-inch diameter. A close comparison of the early 20th century William Tipton photograph with a modern recreation suggests that the ratio of this tree’s diameter 1901:2023 is about 0.40, which allows us to calculate an average growth rate over the past century and a quarter of about 7.4 years to grow each inch of diameter. The tree is likely around 200 years old, and its diameter during the time of the battle was probably about 5-6 inches.

This tree is named for Capt. John S. Cochran of the 5th Florida Volunteers, the highest-ranking officer of the Florida Brigade to die from wounds suffered at the Battle of Gettysburg. (2) Cochran, 25 years old when the Civil War began, enlisted and was commissioned 3rd lieutenant in April 1862 in the newly formed 5th Florida Volunteers. He was wounded and taken prisoner at Antietam in September 1862, before being exchanged and returned to his regiment in November of that year. At Gettysburg, he had taken command of the 5th Florida upon the wounding of Captain Richmond Gardner during the fighting of July 2, before he himself was wounded in the thigh. He was taken prisoner by the Union army, and sent to Baltimore, where he died from his wounds on November 29. The remains of Capt. Cochran were interred in Baltimore in Loudon Park Cemetery. (3)

(2) Laino, Philip. Gettysburg Campaign Atlas. Gettysburg: Gettysburg Publishing, 2014. P. 482.
(3) Civil War Data website. Retrieved May 18, 2023: http://civilwardata.com. Record #: C&260851.

Witness Tree #2

Maj. Walter S. Moore (2nd FL, CSA) Witness Tree

Tree Species: white oak
Circumference 2023: 137”
Diameter: 43.6”
Calculated Average Growth Rate: 5.6 years / inch diameter
Estimated age: 240-250 years
Estimated diameter in 1863: 15”
GPS: 39.810753N, 77.253123W

The enormous Major Walter Moore Witness Tree is the white oak on the right.

This monster of a tree, with a diameter of over 43 inches, is the largest witness tree on Confederate Avenue included on this website. The ratio of its diameter 1909:2023 appears to be about 0.50, which means its average growth rate over the past 122 years has been about 5.6 years to grow each inch of diameter, a rate that is faster than its witness tree neighbor just a few feet away. This tree could very easily be over 240 years old, and its diameter in 1863 was very likely about 15 inches.

This tree is named for Major Walter R. Moore, the last of several officers to lead the 2nd Florida at Gettysburg. A North Carolina native, Moore was a merchant in Lake City, FL, at the outbreak of the war. He enlisted in May 1861, and was elected captain of Company C in the 2nd Florida. Moore was wounded in the throat at the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862, and thereafter promoted to major. At Chancellorsville he was wounded in the thigh, but remained with the regiment, which he commanded at Gettysburg. On July 2, Moore was wounded yet again soon after the Florida brigade crossed the Emmitsburg Road. Moore, along with the two captains who succeeded him and were also wounded this day, was captured and taken prisoner. Not exchanged until October 1864, Moore had been in the meantime promoted first to lieutenant colonel, then colonel.

After the war, Moore took up a career as a farmer in Columbia County, FL, where he lived for three more decades, before dying in 1898 at the age of 66. Moore was buried in Lake City. (4)

(4) Details for this biographical sketch of Col. Moore were adapted from Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008. P. 279.