Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bullets discovered in Gettysburg tree

For years, visitors and staff at the Gettysburg battlefield would occasionally come across bullets and pieces of artillery shells lodged in trees.

But as time passed, and the number of "Witness Trees" declined, such discoveries plummeted.

Last Thursday, maintenance workers at Gettysburg National Military Park came across at least two bullets when their saw cut through a fallen tree on Culp's Hill, Superintendent Bob Kirby announced Tuesday.

"It's part of the story," park historian John Heiser told the Picket. "There are still relics of this battle surviving on the field."

Two sections of the trunk where the bullets were discovered have been moved to the park’s museum collections storage facility. The sections will be treated to remove insects and mold and then added to the museum collections.

One of the bullets is believed to be a minie ball, said park spokesperson Katie Lawhon.

The bullets were in an oak tree that fell several years ago and was lying on a boulder, said Lawhon. Due to the steepness of the rocky slope, the remainder of the tree will remain in place, officials said.

Lawhon said the bullets struck about 13 feet up the oak, which was likely 100 years old at the time of the July 1-3, 1863, battle in southern Pennsylvania. Culp's Hill was a critical part of the Union defensive line, the right flank of what is described as the "fish-hook" line.

"The tree may have twisted and rolled when it fell so we may never know which side of the tree the bullets hit: the downhill or the uphill side," the park says in its blog. "That clue might have helped us know whether they came from Union guns or Confederate."

The tree almost touches a small monument to Maj. Joshua G. Palmer. Palmer, a dentist from Urbana, Ohio, was leading elements of the 66th Ohio Infantry Regiment when he was mortally wounded July 3, 1863, on the eastern slope of Culp's Hill.

Early that morning, the 66th Ohio was sent in to clear Confederates below the main summit and earthworks, Heiser said. "It was an effort to sweep the front of the hill."

Heiser estimates the bullets struck the tree the evening of July 2 or the morning of July 3. That part of the Culp's Hill was held by the Union 12th Corps and New Yorkers under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene.

Although there has never been a inventory conducted of witness trees (those in existence in 1863), "there are a lot more ... than anybody knew about," Lawhon told the Picket.

Some, like ones near Hancock Avenue and Gen. Daniel Sickles' headquarters, are near public routes. Others are less accessible.

In the late 1980s, wind pushed down several trees on Culp's Hill, yielding bullets, Heiser said.

Fewer than 100 witness trees remain at Gettysburg, with several dying in the past couple decades, Heiser said.

"Time marches on," he said.

Tree and bullet photos by the National Park Service. Photo of Palmer monument by Craig Swain, HMdb.org

1 comment:

  1. Just to let the public know, I am currently performing a survey of the woodlots on the battlefield and hope to have the first current inventory so to speak of trees that were alive and growing during the battle and still survive today. As far as the numbers I can currently prove that there are a minimum 1200 either through photos, cables, markings, or arbortist charts, and depending upon the growth conditions of the sites that figure may be more towards 2000. Remember that a 65 inch circumference shagbark or pignut hickory of which there are hundreds on the battlefied grounds are 150-200 yrs old. Anyone wanting some pictures or information regarding my findings drop me a line at goberg4@aol.com thank you.