Saturday, August 9, 2008

One Less Witness

witness tree
The Witness Tree from Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg 'witness tree' falls during storm
Saturday, August 09, 2008
The Associated Press

One of the few remaining "witness trees" to the Battle of Gettysburg cracked in a storm and fell, National Park Service officials said.

Standing on Cemetery Hill, 150 feet from the platform on which President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, the massive honey locust tree fell Thursday evening.

The tree, which stood on the right side of the Union lines, "was there as a silent witness -- to the battle, to the aftermath, to the burials, to the dedication of the cemetery," park historian John Heiser said.

"I have no doubt that Union soldiers sat under it for all three days of the battle," he said.

On the second day of the bloody Civil War battle, "if it was high enough at the time, it would have been able to see the battle of Culp's Hill," Mr. Heiser said.

On July 3, 1863, as Gen. George E. Pickett sent his Virginia division across an open field toward the Union line, the tree "would have been able to see the Union guns there on the crest of Cemetery Hill firing at Pickett's men," Mr. Heiser said.

"And, looking to the south, it could have seen the entire Union line, stretching from Cemetery Hill to the Round Tops."

Park maintenance officials will assess what to do with what remains of the tree.

"When it's something this bad, it's highly doubtful that a tree like that can survive," Mr. Heiser said.

Mr. Heiser said he knows of only three other witness trees that still stand in the heart of the battlefield.

"It's a shame when you lose the last living entities on this battlefield," he said. "Nothing lives forever, unfortunately."

There are only four certain witnesses to the haunts and history of Gettysburg of July 1-3, 1863. And now there may be one less.

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