Updated: Mar 8
The choice of wood used in woodworking is important for several reasons. To start, different types of wood have different degrees of strength and durability, so it's critical to choose the correct type based on the final product’s purpose. Different types of wood also have different colors and textures. This means that a woodworker must choose his medium carefully.
Gettysburg Sentinels makes an effort to choose wood from the location of the Battle of Gettysburg to convey the stories and events that took place during the three-day battle while also honoring the 51,000 dead, injured, or missing soldiers. We use sycamore, walnut, cedar, and oak wood from Witness and Battlefield trees to tell the stories of a time when brother fought against brother during the American Civil War.
Battlefield vs Witness Trees
Before we go further, it's important to note that since these trees are part of a national park, they are not and cannot be harvested just to create Gettysburg Sentinels products.
Almost all the wood used by Gettysburg Sentinels was acquired from arborists and tree removal professionals that were contracted to remove trees due to things like a tree’s death, acts of nature, or the park itself fulfilling its charge to interpret the Battle of Gettysburg.
Founder of Gettysburg Sentinels Lieutenant William D. Hewitt and current owner Greg Allen help keep the history of the battle alive by utilizing wood that otherwise would have been destroyed after the tree’s removal!
Gettysburg Sentinels uses both ‘witness trees’ and ‘battlefield trees’ to create the handcrafted items that can be purchased. However, there is a distinct difference between the two.
A Witness tree was literally a witness to a historical event. That means that when it comes to the Battle of Gettysburg, these trees are at least 160 years old. While it can be difficult to determine the true number of Witness trees in existence - boring into the tree to determine its age can damage it - witness trees like the Sickles Oak and Camp Letterman’s Oak can still be visited at the Gettysburg National Military Park today. In fact, the felled General John Buford’s Oak and General John Longstreet’s Oak are used to create some of the products sold by Gettysburg Sentinels!
Battlefield trees were not alive during the Battle of Gettysburg, but grew on the battlefield years later. Some of the battlefield trees used in Gettysburg Sentinels products are the Pickett’s Charge Oak, Codori Thicket Cedar, and High Watermark Oak, pictured to the left.
Sycamore Trees: Walking Past History
One type of wood I use is sycamore. Sycamore wood is a type of wood that is pale in color. It is tough and has a nice, even grain, meaning it’s a popular medium for furniture, flooring, and woodcarving. However, it is best used for things that will be kept inside because it does not hold up well to moisture. Despite this, its properties make it an excellent household items like fountain pens, bottle stoppers, or cigar cases, all of which can be purchased by visiting the Gettysburg Sentinel's website.
The sycamore wood in these items comes from one of three sycamore witness trees that were alive during the Battle of Gettysburg, two of which are still standing along Baltimore Street! These witness trees not only would have stood in the midst of sharpshooters from both the Union and the Confederate armies, but they were also passed by Abraham Lincoln on November 19th, 1863. On this date, he was making his way to the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery to give “a few appropriate remarks”. These words would later be known as one of America’s most important speeches: “The Gettysburg Address”.
Walnut Trees: The advance of Pickett's Charge
Another type of wood we use is walnut. Walnut wood is a type of wood that is typically dark brown. Similar to sycamore, it also has an even texture. However, unlike sycamore wood, because walnut is dense and includes a high natural oil content, it holds up well to moisture. This means that it's more resistant to rot.
Due to its appearance and durability, walnut is also a popular wood used to make furniture, cabinets, and floors. It can even be made into musical instruments because the wood allows for string instruments to make a warm tone! Our shop sells handcrafted magnifying glasses, bottle stoppers, and pens made from walnut Battlefield trees. Browse our products here.
From the Battlefield to the Woodshop
The walnut wood in some of my products comes from a Battlefield tree that stood near the location where Pickett’s Charge formed and advanced. Named after George E. Pickett, Pickett’s Charge involved three Virginian brigades made up of about 12.500 men.
While the assault was cautioned against by General James Longstreet, Picket was ordered by General Robert E. Lee to head a frontal assault on General Meade and his troops on July 3rd, 1863. The charge, which involved Confederate troops crossing an open field about 3/4ths of a mile long, was absolutely devastating. It left as many as 7,000 Confederate soldiers killed, wounded, or captured.
History in Your Hands
You can explore handcrafted wooden products made with sycamore and walnut woods here. While wooden items are a handsome addition to any home, knowing that these objects come from trees like Abraham Lincoln’s Sycamore, General John Buford’s Oak, and James Longstreet’s Oak that were witnesses to history brings another level of pride and understanding that few other things can compare to.
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!