to be General in Chief of all Union armies. His approach was to have a concerted and unified effort made against all Confederate armies at the same time throughout the Southland. He and General Meade would assume the responsibility to attack Lee’s army of Northern Virginia and eventually take Richmond. As Sherman marched on Atlanta, Grant in central northern Virginia engaged Lee’s army west of Fredericksburg at a place called the wilderness. It consisted of a tangled brush, and immature trees and rolling hills making warfare almost impossible. The Union would suffer about 18,000 casualties over 48 hours and that was many more than lost by the Confederates. Then, after 48 hours of intense combat, neither side was the victor.
which was a surprise to Lee whose usual Union antagonists departed the field. To the relief of President Lincoln and the joy of his men, the general continued his advance toward Richmond with engagements at such places as Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor and Petersburg ultimately ending nearly a year later with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
Much of this battle occurred on the Ellwood plantation. The home itself was built in the 1790s. In the battle of Chancellorsville (May, 1863) the Ellwood house served as a Confederate hospital. The family burial place also served as a site for the burial of Stonewall Jackson’s amputated left arm. Then, in 1864 General Gouverneur Warren set up headquarters here. Both Lee and Grant had visited the house in 1863 and 1864.
and near where the slave cabins used to be located stands a very unique witness tree and the first of its kind to be located. It is a beautiful old Kentucky Coffee tree belonging to the legume family of plants. We had picked up a dead branch from this tree in a corn field adjoining it. As I was trimming the limb a ranger came scrambling over to me thinking that I was cutting on this witness tree. Suffice it to say that once formalities were over he allowed me to keep my prize even after I volunteered to put it back into its original spot only to rot. He was from a neighboring town in Montana and could see the wisdom of letting me keep the wood to make the pen that is so beautiful and is pictured here.
of the Union Army, he lost no time in planning a major offensive to take Richmond. Thus, while General Sherman was engaged in his march to the sea in Georgia, Grant began the famous “Overland Campaign” by initiating battle with Lee’s army at the Wilderness on May 5-7, 1864. After two bloody days of battle in totally unforgiving surroundings (a dense forest- thicket) Grant ordered his army to march south towards Spotsylvania Court House to do a flanking movement.
managed to reach the area before the union and quickly built defensive breastworks, trenches and artillery emplacements- known as the “muleshoe.” Over the next 12 days Spotsylvania witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire war with a total of nearly 30,000 casualties. Union troops had modest success in breaking the mule shoe but their efforts were quickly quelled. The battle was inconclusive and Grant disengaged from the fight as his troops continued to march south towards Richmond.
was the McCoull house which served as Confederate Headquarters. It was heavily damaged during the battle and was totally destroyed by fire in 1921. Not far from the house was an Eastern Red Cedar growing in an open field. Growth rings on the tree showed annual rings of only on to two millimeters per year. The tree, based on the radius of the trunk and the narrow growth rings would be well over 200 years old. The fine grain and reddish coloration of the cedar wood makes for a gorgeous pen.
By mid 1864, Union General David Hunter was instructed to inflict damage on the Shenandoah and he ended up burning the Virginia Military Institute and other colleges and homes in the area of Lexington. After his defeat at the battle of Lynchburg and retreat, General Lee ordered General Early to take the Second Corps and link up with General John C. Breckenridge to clear the Shenandoah Valley of all Union influence. After securing the Valley, Early was to invade Maryland, putting pressure on the Federal capital, Washington D.C. By the first week of July, Confederates had entered Maryland and caught Union forces largely off guard. Major General Lew Wallace and roughly 3,200 inexperienced troops of the Middle Department, headed west from Baltimore, MD and took up a position just south of Frederick, MD at Monocacy Junction along the Monocacy River. Grant, who was facing Lee in Eastern Va., ordered the third division of the Sixth Corps north, hoping they would reach Maryland in time to slow Early’s advance. By the morning of July 9th, nearly 6,600 Union troops had gathered near Monocacy Junction, with Wallace in command. Early’s 15,000 Confederates were to the north in Frederick - the stage for battle was set.
Lew Wallace was ultimately successful. His efforts had delayed Jubal Early’s advance long enough for additional Union reinforcements to reach Washington D.C. By the time Early’s men reached the capital on July 11, help had arrived in the Federal capital. Some fighting and skirmishing occurred near Fort Stevens on the city’s outskirts, but Early was unable to take Washington. Early and his men withdrew back into Maryland and eventually crossed the Potomac River back into Virginia - their campaign was over. This is a little known battle of the war but an extremely important one. General Lew Wallace went on to write the book Ben Hur the most acclaimed novel of the 19th century and he was selected as one of two Indiana’s people to the US Hall of Fame.
of a dead limb used to make the pen. It is in the foreground of Gambrill mansion (photo- NPS headquarters) built in the 1890s, Just to the left in the photo (not shown) is the Gambrill mill (1830) which was used as a hospital during the war. The wood was especially punky and insect ridden. It had to be infused with a plasticizer to make it useful. Such a condition makes for an interesting final product with unusual coloring and highlights.
Confederate forces attacked Washington, D.C. This maneuver greatly perturbed President Lincoln who decided that he had reached his wits end with the Confederates in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia from which Early had come. At this point Major Gen Philip Sheridan was chosen to take care of the valley by clearing it of the Confederates and burning it. On October 6, after major victories at Winchester and Fischer’s Hill, Sheridan began withdrawing, as his cavalry burned everything that could be deemed of military significance, including barns and mills. .
Reinforced by Kershaw's division, Maj. Gen. Thomas Rosser arrived from Petersburg to take command of Gen Fitz Lee's cavalry division and harassed the retreating Federals. Confederate General Thomas Rosser nipped at the heels of the marauding Yankee force, and Torbert, under orders from Sheridan, told his generals, George Custer and Wesley Merritt, to counterattack. At dawn on October 9, Custer and Merritt and their respective forces attacked the two wings of the Confederate cavalry and it was a total route as the Yankees chased the Confederates for over 20 miles in flight which became known as the Woodstock Races. It was a complete Union victory.
is the source of the wood that was harvested by Luke Greer the Virginia photographer. According to Luke when he arrived at the site, right on Tom’s Brook on the old road located on the field of battle- “ I told the young guy and his very pregnant wife that I had seen the sign offering to shoot trespassers so I figured I should ask permission. He granted me permission though it's technically his landlord’s pile of branches there in the ditch. I quickly grabbed a branch that barely fit in the back of my truck and got out of the kids way. The tree is over 6’ in diameter and is a witness tree to the battle at Tom’s Brook.
In the spring of 1864, Union Major General David Hunter was sent to threaten the Bread Basket of the Confederacy, the Shenandoah Valley. His actions in the valley between May 15 and June 18, 1864 are known as the Lynchburg Campaign. Hunter had clashes with the Union forces at Port Republic and General William “Grumble” Jones at Piedmont on June 5 with some success. Close to mid- June he began destroying everything in sight ending with the burning of the Virginia Military Institute as well as much of Lexington. Hunter then set out for Lynchburg,
Confederate General Early, in an effort to create the illusion that he was being strongly reinforced, had empty trains run up and down the track, whistles blowing. The local populace was recruited to raise a cheer every time one of these “troop trains” arrived. Local bands struck up martial airs all within the earshot of the Union line. Prostitutes were allowed to pass through the lines to help spread the tale of the great influx of troops to their Yankee customers. Hunter was completely taken in and soon retreated after some bloody fighting resulting in a total of about 1000 total causalities in the battle.
was Early’s headquarters located at the Spring Hill Cemetery. Here, near the old sugar maple tree, Early's reinforcements were gathered. A dead limb of this tree furnished wood for a unique pen.
began in the early summer of 1864 in Chattanooga, Tennesse and was opposed by Confederate General Joe Johnston. There were a series of battles and skirmishes by the Union forces as Johnston’s army withdrew toward Atlanta. One of the major battles occurred at Resaca in mid-May. It covered a massive amount of land with Confederates doing their best to defend a multitude of positions.
with no advantage to either side until Sherman sent a flanking force across theOostanaula River at Lay's Ferry, towards Johnston's railroad supply line. Unable to halt this Union movement, Johnston was forced to retire from the field. Much more fighting was in store for both sides while Atlanta loomed in the distance as Sherman’s major target.
both of the Resaca area were at the gate of the newly created battlefield site park to greet us. It is to be noted that photographs of the field made after the battle show assorted individual trees growing randomly all over the battlefield. The cherry bark oak shown with Strobel is undoubtedly one of these trees. It measured about 7.5 ft in diameter at waste high. The tree could easily be over 200 yrs old given its rate of development. The tree is hallowed by locals as a witness tree.
at Gettysburg in July of 1863, the Union Army now under U.S. Grant began a pursuit of Lee’s Army in Northern Virginia. Nagging Grant on the Western flank was the Shenandoah Valley still in Confederate hands. Grant ordered General Franz Sigel on a mission of conquest and destruction of the valley in May of 1864. His Army of 10,000 men was met by Confederate John Breckinridge with 4,100 men who out maneuvered Siegel and won the battle.
Breckinridge, with permission of President Davis, got the help of 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute who marched 80 miles to do battle with the Union forces. They played a key role in the Confederate victory. Each year as a commemoration of the event, in May, there is a cadet march from VMI to New Market.
on the battlefield near to the New Market Civil War museum there is a huge red bud tree (a legume) having small growth rings and measuring over 3.5’ in diameter. It was there at the time of the battle! This species is a relatively small native tree that grows slowly and puts out an amazing display of red blooms in the springtime. The tree was estimated to be about 180 years old.
was poised for a major assault to General Lee’s right flank and cut off the Confederates from Richmond, but when Maj. General Hancock's Second Corps arrived after a midnight march too fatigued to support the Union left flank, the operation was postponed until the following day. This fatal delay gave Lee's troops time to build an impressive line of trenches. At dawn June 3, Union troops assaulted along the Bethesda Church-Cold Harbor line and were slaughtered at all points
of Cold Harbor after nine days of trench warfare and continued to try to flank Lee's army at Petersburg. Grant later expressed remorse for the egregious Union casualties at Cold Harbor, stating, "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained."
of this battle, trees by the hundreds were removed from the battle lines and trenches. Those still standing were hit by thousands of rounds of ammunition. From one of these yellow pine trees was found a sharps bullet embedded in the wood. It was fashioned into a pen and is probably the only one of its kind in the world.
On 12th-14th of July, 1864, the attack on Fort Stevens was witnessed by President Lincoln. As the bullets flew past him a young officer bellowed out “Get down you damn fool”. The officer turned out to be the future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The Union Army, under Horatio Wright pursued Early’s army at it withdrew from the Nation’s capital.
by elements of Crook's command and on the morning of July 18th a vanguard of the Union infantry moved through Snicker’s gap, Virginia, and crossed the Shenandoah river at Judge Richard Parker’s Ford. Early’s three divisions moved to defend the area west of the ford. The battle result was inconclusive but it allowed Early’s men to retreat to Northern Virginia where other major battles with the Union army awaited him later in 1864.
As a side note, Judge Richard Parker served as the judge at the trial of John Brown whose men raided the Harpers Ferry Arsenal on Oct 16-18, 1859.
is in the photo by Luke Greer (above) and he also collected it. The tree was more than 5.5 ft in diameter. And it was enclosing a stone wall the history of which is unknown. Luke is a professional photographer and a good friend. His contemporary black and white photo of the battlefield site is shown here. The pen was made from a dead limb piece of this historic tree that he collected and kindly sent to me for the collection.
the 3rd battle of Winchester, was the most important conflict of the Shenandoah Valley because it was the first of several battles that led to total Union control of the Valley. That poor little town had changed hands over 70 times during the war and what occurred on that September day in 1864 would be the bloodiest of the entire war in the Shenandoah.
In June of 1864, General Early successfully led Confederate forces against Union General David Hunter at the Battle of Lynchburg. From here he headed northward and thwarted a Union force at Monocacy. Ultimately, he attacked Fort Stevens just outside of Washington D.C. which caused no end of consternation to Lincoln and the Federals. In response to the Washington D.C. raid, General Sheridan was given 40,000 men and was tasked to take care of Early’s Army of the Valley. After many small encounters in Northern Va., a defining battle was at Winchester, Va., near Opequon Creek on Sept 19, 1864. Attacks from both sides swept back and forth across 600 yds of open ground called the “Basin of Hell.” The battle was considered a Union victory as Early and his men retired from the field.
on the slope leading down to the “red bud” run stood a young white oak tree. This witness tree stood for more than 146 years, the last survivor of the battle before it was felled during a violent storm in 2010. It is a good example of an ever widening loss of the big old trees that witnessed the Civil War. Wood from the tree was supplied by Mr Terry Heder to me for the collection in the summer of 2016.
Lieut. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee marched on the Columbia Pike toward Spring Hill, Tn, to get astride Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s Union army’s supply line. Hood was pursuing Schofield as the Yankees withdrew north from Columbia towards Nashville knowing that Hood’s army was going to try to take Nashville. Cavalry skirmishing between Union and Confederate troopers continued throughout the day as the Confederates advanced. On November 29th, Hood’s infantry crossed the Duck River and converged on Spring Hill. In the meantime, Schofield reinforced two brigades holding the crossroads in town there guarding the Union supply trains
and Confederate cavalry led by Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked from east to west attempted to dislodge Schofield's army from the Columbia Pike. During the evening, the rest of Schofield’s command passed unmolested from Columbia through Spring Hill to Franklin and within a few hundred yards of Hood's men in their camps for the night. This was, perhaps, Hood’s best chance to isolate and defeat the Union army. The engagement has been described as “one of the most controversial non-fighting events of the entire war." The next day, Hood would meet Schofield 12 miles north at Franklin in one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Civil War.
heavily punctured with lead bullets recently fell in a storm that hit the Spring Hill area. It was located just south of Spring Hill within two hundred yards of the Columbia Pike and near to the Rippavilla Plantation. It is an excellent example of an ever dwindling number of witness trees that still exist in Civil War Era America.
late in the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1864. One of the most intense conflicts of the war, it was fought in just five hours. The battle raged across the fields south of Franklin, scarred the landscape, claimed thousands of lives and changed the small community of Franklin forever. Near to the Harpeth river flank of the battlefield was the Carnton Plantation owned by the McGavok family. It turns out that more than 1,750 Confederates lost their lives at Franklin.
four Confederate generals’ bodies Patrick Cleburne, John Adams, Otho F. Strahl and Hiram B. Granbury were laid out for a few hours after the battle. The McGavocks tended for as many as 300 soldiers inside Carnton alone, though at least 150 died the first night. Hundreds more were spread throughout the rest of the property, including in the slave cabins. Carrie McGavock donated food, clothing and supplies to care for the wounded and dying, and witnesses say her dress was blood soaked at the bottom.
Osage Orange tree witnessed all of these events. So too did an old walnut tree located in the river bottom near the house. Gary Strobel and his wife Suzan are shown with the Osage Orange tree. The pen top is walnut and its barrel is osage orange wood.
A few of these pens are available in the gift shop at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. Store.BOFT.org
legend grows substantially when his Confederate cavalry routs a much larger Union force in Mississippi at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads in the summer of 1864. Union General Sherman, who was leading the Atlanta campaign, insisted that Forrest be neutralized and ordered a force from Memphis to hunt down Forrest’s command. On June 1, some 5,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry troopers under the command of General Samuel D. Sturgis trudged out of Memphis in search of the elusive Forrest.
Brice’s Crossroads for its muddy roads and dense woods (mostly blackjack oak) to mitigate the Union’s numerical advantage and called for his men to attack the leading Yankee cavalry, which would force the trailing infantry to hurry to the battle and fight before recovering from the march. The plan worked to perfection. In the afternoon, Forrest orchestrated a series of attacks all along the Union front, which broke the Yankee lines and sent the Federals from the field in disarray with the Confederates in hot pursuit. The chase continued into the next day. The Battle of Brice’s Crossroads stands as his greatest military victory.
is covered with blackjack oak and some of these witness trees still stand and are over 4-5’ in diameter. Every book on the subject of Brice’s Crossroads includes a description of these trees and their protective role in the battle. The pen was made from a dead branch from one of these oaks in the center of the battlefield.
Late in the afternoon, the Confederate army was defeated at the Battle of Nashville and began a retreat from the main battlefield south on Granny White Pike. Confederate Colonel Ed Rucker held the pike “at all hazards” to block the Union Cavalry from capturing the retreating Confederates at Brentwood. General Edward Hatch ordered his United States Cavalry south on Granny White Pike and attacked Rucker’s Brigade near the Witness Tree.
began nearby, and the fierce fighting continued around this tree and to the south before the hand-to-hand combat ended in the cold darkness. Although Col. Rucker was successful, but it was at a high price, he was wounded and captured with many of his men.
the victorious but exhausted U.S. Cavalry camped under the Witness Tree’s branches. This witness pen is made entirely of the outer bark of huge Bur Oak. This tree is over 250 years old.
and was the final battle of the Sheridan’s Valley Campaigns. Confederate General Jubal Early launched a surprise3 attack against the encamped Union army. One of the main Confederate advances was a night march across the Shenandoah river and then they followed an old trail near the base of Massanutten mountain. They crossed the river again and did a very early morning attack that routed seven Union infantry divisions. General Early failed to continue his attack north of Middletown.
General Sheridan dramatically riding to the Battlefield from Winchester Va., on his horse Rienzi, was able to rally his troops to hold a new defensive line. A Union counterattack that afternoon routed Early’s army. In hindsight, most would agree that Early could have easily won the victory had he listened to General Gordon and continued to press the morning offensive north of Middletown.
witness tree was pointed out to me by Mr. Eric Campbell of the National Park Service. The tree is located near a clearing near to where union General Thoburn was attacked by General John Gordon's and General Kershaw’s divisions after they made an all- night march at the base of Massanuten mountain and re-crossed the Shenandoah river. This white oak is a classic oak witness tree and it is great to have a pen made form it in the collection.
the Battle of Olustee was the largest Civil War battle fought in Florida and dashed Union dreams of conquering the state in time for its electoral votes to figure in the 1864 Presidential election. More than 200 Union soldiers were killed in the fighting and were buried in a mass grave on the battlefield. In addition, the Federals lost 1,152 wounded and 506 missing, most of whom were captured. Confederate losses in the battle included 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing. The massive number of wounded left on the battlefield at Olustee stretched Confederate resources almost to the breaking point.
to the Battle of Olustee –Black troopers of the Mass 54th Under the command of now-Colonel Edward Hallowell, the 54th fought a rear-guard action covering the Union retreat at the Battle of Olustee. During the retreat, the unit was suddenly ordered to counter-march back to Ten-Mile station. The locomotive of a train carrying wounded Union soldiers had broken down and the wounded were in danger of capture. When the 54th arrived, the men attached ropes to the engine and cars and manually pulled the train approximately three miles (4.8 km) to Camp Finnegan, where horses were secured to help pull the train. After that, the train was pulled by both men and horses to Jacksonville for a total distance of ten miles. It took forty-two hours to pull the train that distance.
grace the Olustee battlefield site. They would have been seedlings at the time of the battle or would have arisen from seeds of nearby live oaks that were there at the time of the battle. Other major tree species gracing the battlefield are long leafed pines whose life span is relatively short. Wood from the live oaks is highly figured and exceedingly desirable. Dead limb material of this tree was supplied by Dave Nelson of Uncle Davey’s Americana in Jacksonville, Florida.
at 3rd Winchester, General Jubal Early retreated south to a gentle rise in the landscape known as Fisher’s Hill. Here on Sept 21 and 22, 1864, his men were entrenched and ready to do battle with Union General Sheridan and his overwhelming Union force.
is a huge Chestnut Oak tree that served as a look out and signal station for the Confederates.
has been removed but the majority of the tree still survives. It, unlike many witness trees, is a classic “witness” tree since it actually participated in the war.