Updated: Apr 6
Think back to your childhood (hopefully you won’t have to think too far back). What kinds of things did you do outdoors? Chances are “climbing trees” is somewhere on your list.
Do you have a favorite tree or tree climbing memory? Mine was playing in the woods next to my house. Almost every day after school, I’d say hello to my mom, inhale a snack, and rush outside to meet with the other neighborhood kids. While we had plenty of adventures, the one that pops up most vividly was our plan to work on our “fort”. The fort - a pie in the sky dream for a bunch of seven and eight-year-olds - was to be constructed at the top of one of the largest trees in the area.
After scaling the tree multiple times, we made our plan - or as much of a plan as young kids can come up with - and proceeded to borrow hammers and nails from a friend’s father’s tool set. Unsurprisingly, my mother immediately came outside when she heard the sound of nails being driven into the tree. Needless to say, our hopes of building “the best fort ever” were quickly put to an end.
However, as I sit back and shake my head with a smile at our childhood shenanigans, I think a little more about the age of the trees we were climbing. It never would have occurred to me or my friends to consider that these trees started as saplings long before we were born. Imagine the stories they could tell about how much their surroundings have changed over the last several decades! Now try and picture the stories a tree that lives in an area of great historical significance could tell. These types of trees are called “battlefield trees”.
Let’s take a deep dive into the differences of regular and battlefield trees, and how both play important roles in our lives.
The definition of Battlefield Trees
At Gettysburg Sentinels, we often talk about witness trees and how they were alive and witness to a particular historical events. However, today we’re setting our sights on the other type of tree that we use when creating our wooden pieces: Battlefield trees.
While battlefield trees may not have stood witness during a particular historical event, they have grown in the area where the historical event took place. In fact, battlefield trees are typically descendants of witness trees. To give an analogy, think of a witness tree as a wizened grandfather or grandmother passing on stories to their grandchildren; just like the grandparents might pass on stories of the past to their grandchildren, so too do the witness pass on their legacy to battlefield trees. And just as family stories are carried on in the grandchildren, the battlefield trees carry the stories of the trees that did witness events that shaped our history.
What sets Battlefield Trees apart?
Battlefield trees are different from regular trees mainly because they have a specific importance when it comes to history. The trees grow in an area where a historical event took place. Because of this, they act as monuments to these events. Regular trees, of course, are still important for aesthetics and their preservation of the environment, but they don’t have the same kind of historical and cultural significance that a battlefield tree has.
For example, some of our pieces are created from oak, cherry, maple, and walnut trees that grew in the location of Pickett’s Charge, the disastrous Confederate frontal assault the took place on the third day of the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Another battlefield tree we use is the Codori Thicket Walnut, which grew in the area where the Union’s 1st Minnesota suffered heavy casualties as they held off a Confederate attack that would have split the Union army in two. These examples connect us to the past and to the events that have shaped our history.
The significance of Battlefield Trees
Battlefield trees serve as reminders and monuments to historical events. In fact, they are often marked with plaques to give visitors historical context and information about various events that took place in the area. This helps to educate visitors about the history and the importance of the trees and area.
For example, take Gettysburg National Military Park: Of the many things here that educate the public about the Civil War, of note is the Self-Guiding Auto Tour. The 24-mile drivable tour includes stops in notable areas that are marked with signs describing the historical significance. The 16 stop tour includes the #6 stop at Pitzer Woods, where Confederate General James Longstreet put his troops along Warfield Ridge to attack Union troops; or the #10 stop at the Peach Orchard, where fighting occurred at Rose Farm.
Not only do the battlefield trees in the area help in the education of the events, but they also help visitors immerse themselves into the history. Being able to experience the scenery for themselves can help tourists picture what those who fought on the battlefield might have witnessed 160 years ago.
The significance of regular trees
Regular trees might not have the historical importance that a battlefield tree does, but they definitely shouldn’t be discounted! I mean, if you’re currently breathing, go thank a tree because it and its brethren are helping keep you alive! That’s because trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. That in and of itself makes regular trees pretty important in my book! They also produce food for humans, meaning that you have a wide variety of choices of fruits and nuts when you visit the grocery store. As if keeping us humans alive wasn’t enough, regular trees also serve as home and food for wildlife like birds and insects, and they even help prevent disasters due to soil erosion.
Those still aren’t the only things that trees provide. Trees also absorb harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, which means the help improve the air quality of the area. Additionally, they help regulate the climate of an area by providing shade and reducing wind speeds, which means there’s less reliance on electricity for fans and air conditioning. This means more energy is conserved, which means there’s less of an affect on the environment. As you can see, trees and their benefits cannot be overstated!
Supporting all types of trees
Preserving trees of all kinds is important for ourselves and our cultural heritage. Here are a few ways this can be accomplished:
Donate to conservation organizations
The National Parks Service works to support all trees, both regular and battlefield. Donations will help fund efforts to help preserve and protect the trees.
Plant trees at your own home or in your own community. This helps replace those trees that have been removed for various reasons, and this also helps improve the quality of the environment.
Encourage others to visit sites with battlefield and regular trees. Educating the public can help promote long-term conservation efforts.
History in your hands
As a child, you might have been like me and only focused on whether or not you could climb the local trees surrounding my home and local parks. However, I hope you too have grown to appreciate more than just the hours of fun trees can provide! Battlefield trees like those found in our handcrafted pieces and at the Gettysburg National Military Park help connect us to our past by helping to educate the future. And they, just like regular trees, provide the world with oxygen, food, and shelter from the elements. Keeping this in mind, help conserve those trees that we have or plant new ones to replace those that have been removed. Doing your part will allow future generations to continue to reach for those higher and higher branches until they’ve reached that top.
Take a look at our unique hand-crafted items made from the wood of the Battle of Gettysburg. Each piece is made with care and attention to detail and is a perfect addition to any history enthusiast's collection. They also make wonderful gifts!
Order now and own a piece of history!