Monday, August 18, 2008
Witness trees provide last living link to battle
Trees that have witnessed history in the making
They are the last living link to the America's bloodiest battle.
Union and Confederate soldiers who fought at Gettysburg have long since passed. So, too, have the residents who sought shelter in basement cellars while musket and cannon fire engulfed their town.
But a handful of trees that were there then still stand tall today on the Gettysburg Battlefield.
They are the silent survivors of the July 1 through 3, 1863, battle that historians say was the turning point of the Civil War.
Officials at the Gettysburg National Military Park call them the "witness trees."
There is no official number on how many remain because no one knows for sure. Only parts of the battlefield have been surveyed by experts who can identify
145-year-old trees. And photographic evidence solidifies the history of only a few.
Yet the public's interest in the trees' unique brand of living history has not waned.
The storm that damaged a famous honey locust tree in the National Cemetery last week garnered national attention and inquiries as to what would happen to wood from the branches knocked to the ground by wind.
"It's always amazing how passionate people are about witness trees at Gettysburg," said Park Service spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.
In an Associated Press article about the storm damage, park historian John Heiser was quoted as saying only four witness trees - including the honey locust on Cemetery Hill - remain in the heart of the battlefield.