Today, historical sites are hiring, not only, professional landscapers and lawn maintenance personnel to maintain the outdoor park areas for millions of tourists annually, but parks are also hiring landscape historians to implement a “Witness Tree Protection Program.” This is especially true of national Civil War battlefields.
July1-3 (1863) are dates in American history connected to the bloodiest battle of the Civil War-Gettysburg. For many years after the park was established….veterans would still turn up, then ancestors of the relatives arrived to share their family stories, but today, 155 years after this battle, it is left up to the trees to remember the story…they are the only witnesses left who were there to validate the carnage up close and personal.
In Gettysburg today…there are 12 “witness trees” that were alive during the battle…making them “living links that help tell the story of the battle. “
One is known as the Sickles tree- named for General Daniel Sickles, a union commander, who met under the tree to decide the fate of his men while considering which action (to move his men forward) they would take.*He actually made his headquarters under this beautiful old white, swamp oak tree. The tree remains remarkably unscathed for being right next to the battle site.
Inside the Gettysburg Museum (located inside the park) one can see tree trunks riddled with bullets and small cannon balls. Seven million bullets/artillery were shot during the three-day battle. (“Witness Trees” are discovered and validated from photos, soldiers’ sketches, and cemetery burial maps.)
One tourist commented: “If it did this to a tree, what the heck did they do to each other?”
One famous “witness tree’ observed the most pivotal action of the battle at Gettysburg….Pickett’s Charge. The black walnut was located right in the middle of the skirmish..miraculously surviving to retain the story of what it witnessed inside its leaves, branches, trunks, and roots. This tree is definitely”rooted in history.”
At Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War occurred- 23,000 casualties were recorded. Much of the carnage took place around a bridge, called the Burnside Bridge.
At the time…a small sycamore sapling stood beside the bridge to witness the tragic, incredible loss of life and limb. Somehow this sapling survived and today a beautiful (amazingly tall and strong) sycamore smiles at the beauty and peace that dwells around it. Nowadays there are tourists with cameras and iPhones on the bridge, not soldiers with guns and death. It was a long time coming.
The “Witness Trees” are adding a new perception to history….it is not just some story from the past….history is still alive today.“Trees that once lent shade and comfort to soldiers with just hours to live, that uniquely bring America’s bloody past into the present are still here to tell the stories.”
“Life is still springing from something so tragic…”
(Source: Producer – CBS Sunday Morning News- Chris St. Peter)
So until tomorrow…”Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little…tree?”
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
Speaking of little trees…Eva Cate’s Japanese Maple is off and running these days…it is hard for me to remember when it was just a little sapling. Its branches are now strong enough to hold a light so I added a solar light lantern to it. *I caught it last evening just as the light came on….and before darkness descended. I don’t need a clock any more when I work in the garden….I just watch all the Japanese maples….my five grandchildren grow and grow. And what stories all five trees will have to tell one day.