For almost a century and a half it stood against the elements, the last silent observer of the biggest and most devastating battle of the American civil war.
But now a tree that provided shelter for Unionist soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, and metres from where Abraham Lincoln gave his monumental address four months later, has been destroyed in a thunderstorm.
The giant honey locust tree was toppled by a gust of wind as rain and hail swept the Pennsylvania battlefield where 50,000 Confederate and Unionist soldiers died. Historians say that it was one of only four recognised “witness trees” remaining.
“It was a silent witness not only to the battle but to the burials, the dedication of the cemetery, the reunions and everything that has happened since,” said John Heiser, a historian at the Gettysburg national military park.
“When you lose a witness tree that you know was here at the time of the civil war you are losing a living part of the battlefield. It’s sad, but nothing lasts forever.”
The tree stood on Cemetery Hill, where more than 90,000 Unionist troops under the direction of Major General George Meade mustered to repel the northerly advance of Confederate forces led by General Robert E Lee. The Unionists’ victory after three days of bloody fighting proved the turning point of the war.
Jo Sanders, a spokeswoman for the Gettysburg national military park, said the storm destroyed 80 per cent of the tree. But its legacy will live on: American Forests, a company specializing in the preservation of historic trees, is selling seedlings propagated from the Gettysburg honey locust.
6 months ago