Frank Bodani York Daily Record
June 11, 2019
GETTYSBURG — This ordinary tree, old and battered, is an astonishing survivor from another age.
Maybe no other has "seen" grander strokes of American history and then lived so long to memorialize them.
It also became a marker to arguably the nation's most famous speech.
And, even now, it defies logic to rally on.
It is arguably the most iconic tree from the turning point of the Civil War.
Its humble existence defies its place in history: It held a key vantage point during the second day of fighting on July 2, 1863; four months later, it stood close to Abraham Lincoln during his Gettysburg Address.
It is one of a dozen or so documented Civil War "witness trees" still alive in the national military park. But it is the lone survivor to Lincoln's s two-minute speech to dedicate the cemetery.
Though water-loving honey locusts usually do not live much more than 100 years, this one is approaching 170 on high ground in the cemetery.
Even more, it seemed doomed a decade ago after a wind storm sheared off much of its top. Park officials worried that what remained would prove unstable and pose a safety hazard to the thousands of tourists who walk nearby each year.
But they gave it a chance. The tree proved more resilient than expected and has been re-growing its canopy, a little at a time, ever since.
"It's real surprising. It defies everything," said Bruce Kile, a retired forester with the state department of conservation and natural resources.
No matter that it looks misplaced among the dozens of towering, in-tact specimens guarding these manicured grounds.
There is no plaque or marker denoting its place in history — a nod to protecting the solemnity of these trees.
"I think our national cemetery is the last piece of sacred ground in America," said John Heiser, an historian with the Gettysburg National Military Park.
"Battlefields, historic sites, we constantly change them, update them, sometimes manipulate them. (But) places where we bury our soldier dead make that ground something special.
"Maybe that's one reason this old boy decided to survive this long," he said, motioning to the tree.
In the early 1860s, what is now the national cemetery was but a cornfield bordered by pasture, scraggly brush and a small grove of unremarkable trees.
During the battle, a New Hampshire volunteer battery held the ground near the honey locust on the second day of fighting, Heiser said. Later that evening, Union Col. Samuel Carroll's brigade raced by the tree to drive back the Confederates from East Cemetery Hill.
Four months later, Lincoln took his place on a wood platform near the tree, which was maybe 10 to 15 years old at the time. Its leafless branches are captured in the background of the only photo of Lincoln from the day.
The cemetery grounds had just been roughly landscaped, which included clearing the corn field and grove of trees.
Only the honey locust remained, for reasons unknown.
"I like to say the witness trees are kind of like the monuments … When you touch that, you're touching something the veterans touched," Heiser said. "The tree is a real veteran of the battle."
John Heiser, an historian with the Gettysburg National Park Service, talks about the honey locust tree behind him that was a witness to the Gettysburg Address in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
York Daily Record
Courtesy of the Gettysburg National Park
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.
Lincoln felt he had failed the people with his short address, and yet, those
269 words were spoken and all speeches that came thereafter
were measured against it.
STEADYFRIEND.US is working with Historic Gettysburg-Adams County Inc. to distribute offspring from the living tree. Saplings propagated from an original sapling - planted/currently-scheduled in:
DC, ME, NC, NJ, NY, PA, VA.
Program limited. Contact us for more details.
All of our Lincoln Witness Tree Dedications are most special events and each and every one is very unique. We will eventually display many of them but this recent one was a standout - arranged by Carol Manicone of Buckingham Township, Pennsylvania for friend and local resident Alfred "Fred" Hagen - the Philadelphia Businessman responsible for salvaging the B17 Bomber known as "The Swamp Ghost" - lost during a WW II mission - such a remarkable story of a remarkable man and team who together, epitomize patriotism at it's finest.
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