Emancipation Oak, Virginia-Peninsular Campaign- 1862


During the Civil War the Union miserably failed at Manassas, Va., in 1861

to take Richmond from  the north. Then a plan was hatched by General McClellan to invade peninsular Virginia from Fortress Monroe located at the terminus of the Virginia peninsula. It was here that nearly 120,000 troops were landed between March and July of 1862. Soon the fort and its environs could not handle the massive influx of troops and thus was established Fort Hamilton near to present day Hampton, Virginia. It is surmised that the roadway from Ft Monroe to Ft. Hamilton would have taken the thousands of Union troops immediately past an old live oak tree which is now known as the Emancipation Oak.    


Union General Benjamin F. Butler’s “contraband of war”

decision at Fort Monroe in 1861 changed the fate of many African-American slaves, enabling hundreds to reach freedom behind Union lines. Although previously forbidden an education by Virginia law, the rising number of “contraband's” camped in the area prompted the establishment of schools for those freedmen who exhibited “a great thirst for knowledge”. The peaceful shade of the young oak served as the first classroom for newly freed men and women, eager for an education. Mrs. Mary Peake, daughter of a freed colored woman and a Frenchman, conducted the first lessons taught under the oak  located on the University’s campus. Classes continued with The Butler School, which was constructed in 1863 next to the oak. 


One day in 1863, the members of the Virginia Peninsula’s black community

gathered to hear a prayer  answered. The Emancipation Oak was the site of the first Southern reading of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation an act which accelerated the demand for African-American education.

This Oak stands near the entrance of the Hampton University campus and is a lasting symbol of the University’s rich heritage and perseverance. With limbs sprawling over a hundred feet in diameter, the Emancipation oak is designated as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society. President William Harvey of Hampton University generously provided a small piece of bark to me from the Emancipation Oak (live oak). Turning this wood was difficult since it was bark and the tissues were not firmly held together. It is definitely one of a kind!

The Battle Of Shiloh, Tennessee April 7, 1862


In early 1862 General Grant

was advised by Washington D.C. to make efforts to seize the vital rail  link at Corinth, Mississippi. To do so he moved about 40,000 troops and all of the needed equipment up the Tennessee river to Pittsburgh landing with the idea of marching on to Corinth a mere 20 miles south. The Confederates, under Albert Sidney Johnston were not going to wait for Grant to get organized and they made an all -out attack in the early morning of April 6th. They over powered the  surprised the sleepy Union troops and pushed them back to the river’s edge. General Sherman was encamped at a church known as Shiloh. 


It is from this that

the battle gets its name and it too had to be  evacuated. However by midday the Federals made a determined stand at a sunken road known as the Hornet’s Nest but were eventually killed or captured.  General Johnston was hit in the leg and bled to death in the late afternoon and he was replaced with General Beauregard. By the night of the 6th and the early morning of April 7th Grant received an additional 20,000 troops led by General Buell marching down from Nashville. The tide of the battle quickly swung to the side of the Union. Shiloh was a Union victory and was the largest battle with the greatest loss to both sides by this time in the war. Also, It was one of the bloodiest battles in the entire Civil War.


The red oak tree

is near the location where General Johnston (now a memorial site) was taken from his horse and died. The tree was examined and shown to be a very slowly growing individual probably because of the rocky site on which it is located. It is likely that it was a small tree or seedling at the time of the battle given the count of 60 rings on relatively small side limb. Alternatively, it is the offspring of a tree that was there at the time of the battle. 

When The Ripe Pears Fell - Battle Of Richmond Ky Oct 29-30


Noted Historian Shelby Foote commented

"The Battle of Richmond, Ky. was the  nearest thing to a cannae of any battle in the entire Civil War". The Confederates captured or killed 5,353 Union troops out of 6,850 that  were initially on the field of battle. In the summer of 1862 the Confederates wanted to make a concerted effort to take Kentucky. The first of two CS armies to move north from Tennessee was that of General  Kirby Smith, with 6500 troops, and a few weeks later was the Army of the Mississippi under Gen Braxton Bragg. 


Generate excitement

Smith’s army first met Union skirmishers on the 29th and by the 30th a full scale battle was underway at Zion church (south of Richmond,  Ky.). The Union forces, under General “Bull”  Nelson, retreated and formed several defensive lines as they retreated  but were ultimately overwhelmed at the Richmond cemetery. As the battle raged near Zion Church,  General Smith ordered Churchill’s Confederates to use a hidden ravine to attack Manson’s weak right flank and this, along with General Cleburne’s attack on the Federal left flank was enough the break the entire Federal line.


This was the second largest battle

in the state of Kentucky and resulted in a complete rout of the Union army.  Total Union casualties were 5,353 (206 killed, 844 wounded, 4,303  captured/missing) 451 (78 killed, 372 wounded, 1 missing) out of 7,000 Union troops.  Coming out of the ravine near to the line of battle now grows an old, almost obscure honey locust tree. It was estimated to be about 180 years old and thus was a youngster when Churchill’s troops passed by it. This pen was made from wood from this tree. 

Find out more about the Battle of Richmond Ky.

The Battle of Baton Rouge, Louisiana August 5, 1862


In mid -1862, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn

desired to retake Baton Rouge, La. and reasoned that re-taking the city would be the key in driving all of the Union forces from Louisiana. General Breckinridge led about 5,000 men from Vicksburg to camp Moore from which they would launch an attack with the help of other Confederate troops against the city. Union command learned of an attack and formed a mile outside of town. 


By August 5, Union troops

were in the center of town and were facing two divisions of well – organized Confederates. The main action occurred in and around the Magnolia cemetery and with the help of Union naval gunboats, the outcome was the successful repulsion of the Confederate army’s attempt to re-take Baton Rouge.  


Getting wood from the Magnolia cemetery

was not easy. Multiple calls to the area revealed that I needed to contact Mr. Chip Landry who is the chairman of the magnolia cemetery organization. He is a retired sheriff as well as a confederate  re-enactor. I call him General Landry. He said that some huge water oaks grace the cemetery grounds (shown in the photo) and they were there  at the time of the battle of Baton Rouge. One of the oaks has a limb that is protruding over a gravestone and he indicated that somehow he would arrange to cut it off around Christmas of 2017 and eventually send it to me. What a great fellow is General Landry ! meeting folks like him is one of the major joys of this project, besides this is the only pen made of water oak in the  collection. 

Battle of Antietam and the Burnside Bridge Sycamore


The most famous of all witness trees

from  the civil war is this one. It  can be seen in the Alexander Gardner photo taken right after the battle (below) and today (left). The sycamore is hugging close to the first  arch on the bridge. The one day battle was the bloodiest day in American  History. The Army of the Potomac, under the command  of George McClellan, mounted a series of powerful assaults against  Robert E. Lee’s forces near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862.   


The morning assault

and vicious Confederate counterattacks swept back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods. Later, towards the center of the battlefield, Union assaults against the Sunken Road pierced the Confederate center after a terrible struggle.  


Late In The Day

the third and final major assault  by the Union army pushed over a bullet-strewn stone bridge at Antietam Creek (Burnside bridge).  Just as the Federal forces began to collapse the Confederate right, the timely arrival of A.P. Hill’s division from Harpers Ferry helped to drive the Army of the Potomac back once more.  

Battle Of Shepherdstown West Virginia September 19 & 20 1862


On the morning of Sept 18, 1862, at Sharpsburg Md

General R.E.Lee was waiting and prepared for a Union attack against his army. The day before had been marked as the deadliest in American History. Overall, Lee’s attempt to march into Maryland and make an impression on the Federal Government to recognize  the Confederacy as a Nation had failed. His retreat south took him to the area on the Potomac known as Boteler’s ford where he could  safely retreat into Virginia.  


The ford is located in Shepherdstown, WV

but at the time it was Virginia. General McClellan sent General Fitz John Porter’s fifth corps and it crossed the river in time to do damage to the rear of General Lee’s army. The Confederates responded by sending up A.P,  Hill’s light division which nearly annihilated the 118th Pennsylvania regiment. The action here discouraged the continued Federal pursuit of the Confederates which led to the disgust of President Lincoln who fired General McClellan as the leader of the Union Army – as Lincoln  said – “He had the slows.” 


The Witness Tree is a Box Elder

which is in the maple family. It was photographed and collected by my  friend Luke Greer of Northern Va. Frustrated at attempts to find an  accessible witness tree on the WVa side of the river he crossed to the Maryland side. He writes as follows: “My third and final option proved more rewarding. There is a parking area about a mile north of the Pack Horse Ford at Canal Lock 38 which actually has a historical marker for "Boetler's Ford"  It talks about the retreat from Antietam and given the massive amount of troop  movement I would imagine both Fords would have been used on the return as they had from the Virginia side prior to the battle. Alfred Waud’s account to Harper's Weekly talks about each of the fords and which units crossed. His drawing is attached. Behind the parking area is a massive tree. The wood was fairly wet, and may even have a few ants left inside. However I do believe it to be a likely witness and I was able to get a piece of it. I had  a tailors tape with me and measured over 96 inches around a little more than half of the tree. It was easily larger than my wing span.” Given the estimated diameter of the tree and its rate of growth it is estimated to be over 200 years old. It witnessed all of the events of the Battle of Shepherdstown on those fateful September days.   

The Battle Of Perryville Kentucky October 7 - 8 1862


By the late summer of 1862

all things were ready for a two pronged Confederate invasion of Kentucky. General Kirby Smith had moved a force north from Tennessee in early August followed by General Bragg in late august. These movements coincided with RE Lee’s activities in Maryland. On Oct 7, 1862, Union General Buell, in pursuit of Bragg’s army converged on the small crossroads town of Perryville, Ky. Union cavalry troopers, led by General Sheridan, skirmished with Confederates on the Springfield Pike before fighting began on Peter’s hill (just above the Bottom  house). The next day all hell broke loose as Union and Confederate divisions made stands and counterattacks especially around and near the hillsides of doctor’s creek. Fighting also occurred in Perryville itself later in the day. Basically, the battle was a Confederate tactical victory but a mass of Union reinforcements caused a withdrawal of the Confederate troops toward the Cumberland Gap. This was the biggest Civil War battle in Kentucky and the last time the Confederates challenged Union control of Kentucky. 


Two of the major sites on the Perryville battlefield

are the Squire Bottom house and the Chatham house. They both are located on the hillsides overlooking Doctor’s creek which was near to the center of the entire battlefield. Presently,  Mr. Alan Hoeweler owns the Bottom house and invited me and my family to stay at the house two nights in early May of 2018. It was an experience that I shall never forget. For instance, in the living room is a coffee table displaying battlefield artifacts recovered in his front yard. We slept in the bed previously comforting Mr. Ed  Bearss, a famous civil war expert from Billings, Mt. The Bottom house was used as a hospital during and after the battle.  


Across the road from the Bottom house

and near Doctor’s creek is a sugar maple witness tree that has recently been blown over by a storm. It represents one in an ever growing loss of the nation’s witness trees. Photos of it exist that were made during the civil war era. Then, near to the Chatham house, just across the Mackville road from the Bottom house, there still grows a  large pin oak that is a witness tree. It is shown with the house in the photo. Wood was obtained from both trees  and wonderfully figured pens were made. 

The Battle Of Stones River Tennessee


By December of 1862

the Union command decided it was time for a concerted action to take control over eastern Tennessee. With a strong Union force in Nashville, Union General Rosecrans initiated a three pronged attack against the entrenched Confederates at Murfreesboro, Tn. However, Confederate General Bragg struck first on Dec 31 on the outskirts of the town.  


Rosecrans held his ground

even though there was collapse on both the right and left flanks.  Confederate General Breckinridge made a charge on the Union left on Jan 2, 1863 and nearly achieved a breakthrough but massed artillery on the hill broke up the assault. The overall outcome was a valuable strategic victory for the Union in an otherwise dismal winter. This too was a battle with huge causalities  on both sides. 


On a ridge in the middle of this battlefield

were growing a small group of white oak trees. They witnessed the entire  battle. In fact one of them died a few years ago and lead bullets from the Civil War era were found embedded deeply within the tissues of the tree. Recently, a big limb on one of these giants died and fell to the ground. Larry Hicklen owner of Mid- Tennessee relics, gifted some of the wood to me. Photos were not available   so Gary's wife sketched the tree.

Battle of Glorietta Pass New Mexico


On March 28, 1862

the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico occurred. It was preceded by  the battle of Valverde, NM on Feb 20 -21, 1862. The Confederacy claimed Confederate Arizona territory which consisted of what is now the  southern halves of the states of Arizona and New Mexico. The capital of the territory was Mesilla, New Mexico. In order to establish a military  presence in the territory Confederate  Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley convinced President Jeff Davis that he could move troops from Texas to the Territory and live off of the land and cost the government virtually nothing. In early 1862 he moved about 1300 troops up the Rio Grande valley. The Union  responded by sending  Colorado volunteers plus a legion of troops from Fort Union.  


Ultimately, there were skirmishes

in the canyon south of Santa Fe on March 26, 1862 with a full out battle at Glorietta pass on the 28th. The Confederacy won the battle with Union troops falling back down the Santa Fe trail. However, Union General Chivington had taken 500 troopers around the battlefield and destroyed at least 80 supply wagons leaving the victorious troops with nothing to eat or drink- the victory was a Pyrrhic one for General Sibley. This was the virtual end of the Confederacy in the Southwest. 


The initial battle at Glorietta Pass

began at the Pigeon ranch (located  on the original Santa Fe trail) with a surprise attach by the Confederates. Being outnumbered, the Union troops fell back about a mile and set up a defensive position and right next to the trail is a huge boulder on which is growing a juniper tree. Its growth has been stunted by virtue of a lack of water  and nutrients. It witnessed the battle and saw the retreating Union  troops being pursued by the Confederate Army. A small side limb of the tree was cut off and the rings counted at 110. On the basis of this restricted growth the entire tree is estimated to be between 250 and 300 hundred years old. It is a classic witness tree. 

The Battle Of Cane Hill Arkansas


One of the oldest settlements

in NW Arkansas is Cane Hill. The first shots in the Prairie Grove Campaign in late 1862 were fired. The settlement was the location of a mill, many farms and Cane Hill College. The community was a focal point of a Civil War battle as the Confederates, under General Thomas Hindman and General John Marmaduke took up positions here in November of that year. They were ultimately challenged by Union forces under  General James Blunt. 


Heavy fighting occurred

on the hills surrounding Cane Hill and within the town site itself. Although Union troops occupied Cane Hill it did not deter the Confederates from marching north  just nine days later to carry out a major battle at Prairie Grove, Ar. The hanging oak witnessed all of the battle events at Cane Hill on Nov 28, 1862.  


Close the deal

We traveled around Cane Hill looking for big witness trees and one that was located on Google earth turned out to be not approachable, BUT one on a dirt road called college street (center  of Town) was the biggest bur oak that I had ever seen. Dillon Young  answered the door and was as friendly as ever. He even located a saw for me to cut off a dead limb. But before he could fetch it, I had the limb cut and it was in the bag. He indicated that he would soon be moving since a very rich Texan fellow was literally buying up the entire town. Most interestingly, besides witnessing the events of the battle of Cane Hill, the tree had been used in its day as the local hanging tree and it very much predates the civil war. 

The Battle of Fredericksburg, Va


In December of 1862

Brompton became the focal point for the first Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.,  with the Confederates fortified behind the famous Stone Wall at the Sunken  Road, directly in front of Brompton on Maryes Heights. 


General Longstreet

chose the Brompton House (also known as the Marye house- seen behind the  tree) for his headquarters, noting its defendable position and view of  the town. This tree witnessed the entire battle occurring in and around Fredericksburg.  


A Famous Gardner photograph

also exists that illustrates soldiers resting  under this old white oak tree. The home is now located on the campus of the University of Mary Washington.

Battle of McDowell Virginia


General Stonewall Jackson's 1st Victory


Came in early May of 1862 when the Union army under Generals  Milroy and Schenck decided to invade the Shenandoah valley of Va, the  breadbasket of the Confederacy, via the Allegheny mountains on the Parkersburg Staunton turnpike.


“Allegheny” Johnson

led by Stonewall Jackson and his troops headed off the invaders at  Sitlington’s hill overlooking McDowell. The battle was the first of  many victories of Jackson in his valley campaign which ultimately  resulted in him being considered the “right arm” of Robert E Lee. 


The old white oak tree

still stands on Sitlington’s hill and found itself in the heat of this important battle. Many times these trees still bear the scars and lead  of the war. 

The Battle Of Pea Ridge, Arkansas


By the spring of 1862

Union forces had pushed Confederates south and west through Missouri into northwestern Arkansas. On the night of March 6, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn and his 16,000-man Army of the West set out to counterattack the Union position near Pea Ridge. Near to Pea Ridge is Leetown which was one of the earliest settlements in Northwest Arkansas. The town sat in the middle of a broad, wooded plateau bordered by Pea Vine Ridge to the north and the Little Sugar Creek to the south.  


Surgeon D.S. McGugin

of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry, described the hamlet in his after-battle report. McGugin stated that Leetown consisted of "some fifteen or twenty houses, frame and log, and but one story in height." On March 7, 1862, the Federal battle line was only a half-mile north of the village. According to Dr. McGugin, "all the houses within three miles of the field were taken for hospitals." 


Leetown was devastated

by the battle. The fields and woods were filled with the debris of battle and the stench of death filled the air. Many of the families moved to the nearby community of Pea Ridge and rebuilt their lives there. This pen was made from a Black Oak on the battle field witnessed it all !

The Battle of Mill Springs Kentucky


Although Confederate Brig. Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer’s

main responsibility was to guard Cumberland Gap, in November 1861 he advanced west into Kentucky to strengthen control in the area around Somerset. He found a strong defensive position at Mill Springs and decided to make it his winter quarters. Union Brig. Gen. George Thomas received orders to drive the Rebels across the Cumberland River and break up Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden’s army. He arrived at Logan’s Crossroads on January 17, where he waited for Brig. Gen. A. Schoepf’s troops from Somerset to join him. 


Maj. Gen. George Crittenden

Zollicoffer’s superior, had arrived at Mill Springs and taken command of the Confederate troops. He knew that Thomas was in the vicinity and decided that his best defense was to attack the Yankees. The Rebels  attacked Thomas at Logan’s Crossroads at dawn on January 19. Unbeknownst to the Confederates, some of Schoepf’s troops had arrived and reinforced the Union force. Initially, the Rebel attack forced the first unit it hit to retire, but stiff resistance followed and Zollicoffer was killed. 


His death occurred

near to this huge white oak tree which, starting in 1902 was honored  annually by Dorthera Burton with floral wreaths as per the early photo. It has been historically known as the Zollie tree. This battle represented the first union victory in the war.  The folks at the Mill Springs battlefield park were kind enough to find  and send along a small piece of the Zollie tree which has since died and  fallen. Its progeny lives on however as this tree has special  significance to those who live  in this area of Civil War America. 

The Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas December 7, 1862


While things were brewing

for a great battle at Fredericksburg, Va. in December of 1862, all was not quiet on the Western Front. The Trans- Mississippi areas of Missouri and Arkansas were being hotly contested. Union General J Blunt was in NW Arkansas while another Union force under J Herron was in central Missouri. Thus, Confederate General T. Hindman felt that he had a chance to destroy the Union presence in the area since the Union armies was separated. 


In Early December

Hindman left Ft. Smith and marched to do battle with Blunt’s army located to his north. In the meantime, General Herron and his troops did an unprecedented march to the south to come to the aid of Blunt. The Confederates set up a line of battle on a wooded ridge near the Prairie Grove Church. Though the conflict ended as a stalemate, General Hindman retreated establishing Federal control of NW Arkansas. 


The Post Oak witness tree

at Prairie Grove was my first encounter with this tree species (see  photo). It seems not to put on major girth as it ages as noted with the tree bored post oaks at Pea Ridge. Laura, the Prairie Grove Ranger indicated that this post oak is a witness tree of the battle. It is located just a short distance from park headquarters just down the path from the tower monument. The pen is one of the nicest, most figured in the entire collection.