Trees have become a forgotten casualty of war. Accounts from privates and generals throughout the Civil War attest to this. While trying to get across the ferocity of the battle, they’d describe how the branches and limbs would be cut down by artillery fire. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the spark from rifle fire also inflicted massive damage to entire forests, setting fires in the underbrush that crawled up the trees. They would also be chopped down and hewn into logs to create earthworks and fortifications, reducing expansive forests into clear-cut fields within days. The battles and army movements would scar the land for years before new growth could replace what the war had destroyed.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than what happened at the Bloody Angle on May 12th, 1864. The horrendous fighting that lasted for almost 24 hours exacted more than just fleshly wounds. An oak tree, 22-inches in diameter (that’s close to two feet, y’all) was shot down by small arms fire during the battle. The stump was originally presented to the U.S. Army’s Ordnance Museum by Nelson Miles, who was on the assault-end of the attack on the day of the battle. In 1888, it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where it’s now on display at the National Museum of American History.
The famous oak tree isn’t the only tree that’s been preserved from the Civil War. There are quite a handful of museums and battlefield visitor centers that feature sections of trees that still have artillery and minie balls imbedded in their wood. You’ll find more pictures below.
To learn more about the environmental consequences of the Civil War, I encourage you to read Brian Allen Drake’s book, The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War.
You can also read more here: Environment and the Civil War – Essential Civil War Curriculum
Top level: First two are on display at the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana. The third is on display at Gettysburg.
Bottom level: The left tree was on the Gettysburg battlefield, displayed at their visitor center museum. The right is on display at the Atlanta History Museum and was from the Kennesaw Mountain battle.