Sentinel: a person or group that watches over someone or something
Gettysburg is fortunate to have many sentinels protecting and watching over its hallowed grounds. Whether they’re historians, preservationists or everyday citizens, these individuals have the passion and vision to ensure the people and places changed forever by the Battle of Gettysburg are remembered and maintained for future generations.
Since the creation of the Gettysburg National Military Park in 1895, the National Park Service has stood sentinel over the hallowed grounds and the interpretation of the battle. In recent years, the National Park Service has made improvements to Park with the goal of restoring the battlefield’s landscape to how it was in 1863 and, in turn, enhance the visitor experience and understanding of those three days of battle. This battlefield rehabilitation has included working to improve the historic terrain — removing non-native plants not growing there in 1863, reestablishing grasslands, replanting orchards, restoring wetlands — and, in turn, creating a sustainable environment for these historic lands. [Goals of Battlefield Rehabilitation - Gettysburg National Military Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)]
I work with another type of sentinel — majestic trees that once stood on grounds related to the three-day battle as well as engagements leading up to and after the battle (known as the Gettysburg Campaign). Many are Witness Trees, those that were standing during the Gettysburg Campaign and Battlefield Trees, those trees found on battlefield grounds, but weren’t there during the battles 160 years ago. The wood used for my products comes from such trees. I legally acquire the wood after they’ve died or fallen, such as from storm damage, or they’ve been determined not to have stood during the battle in 1863.
Combining my four decades of woodworking experience and lifelong interest of military history, I transform these special pieces of wood into tangible history, ensuring these sentinels continue their watch and remind us of what happened in June and July of 1863. Accompanying each piece, I include details unique to the tree.
Consider the wood I use from an Oak from the Bloody Wheatfield. This Witness Tree stood watch on the second day of the battle, located on nearly 20 acres of ground in the southern end of the battlefield, where some of the deadliest fighting of the battle took place. Soldiers from Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia fought over this ground, with many generals mortally wounded and the fighting evolving into a regiment-by-regiment, man-to-man engagement. Neither side gained control of the land, but many men died trying.
Or rings made from the Gettysburg Address Witness Tree that stood in the National Cemetery in Gettysburg. Not only did this tree witness the battle itself but was also there for Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address in November 1863.
For me, it is all about the trees and the history they beheld. It has become my mission that every finished piece I make holds sacred the stories of which they stood sentinel.
Merriam-Webster Online “Sentinel.” Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Sep. 2023.