A Witness Tree is simply a tree that has lived through the battle, in other words the tree witnessed the fighting that occurred. In most cases the trees were small saplings at the time of the battle. Witness trees are not specific to Gettysburg or the Civil War. There are many witness trees at other battle cites from the Civil War. I imagine there are only a few if any left from the revolutionary war but for a time there would have been some.
To my knowledge there has been no real effort to map these trees in their entirety. This is probably due in part to the amount of money it would cost to have a specialist go around and identify these trees without harming the trees. The ones that have been identified have been identified by comparing pictures that were taken of the aftermath of the battle. You can do this too! There are many old pictures taken after the battle. Print some out before your next visit and go back to where the pictures were taken and see if anything is still there!
The number being thrown around that I have read is that there are 12 known witness trees remaining. Though some sources suggest quantities of 25 to 150. I suspect the lower numbers are more accurate.
You may have noticed our map test post, this is mostly for us to test an app i’m working on but your welcome to use it as well. One of the layers you can click on are witness trees. As I type this it shows the approximate location of a few of the witness trees as well as some that seem like they would be good contenders based on their size. In the coming weeks I will be getting the exact coordinates for the known trees and placing them on the map.
I will mention 3 of the more famous trees around the Battlefield. The first is the tree at Devil’s Den. It sits atop the ridge that terminates at Devil’s Den (you really cant miss it). This tree is approximately 180 years old. The other is by Sickles’ Headquarters near Plum Run. The third is a Honey Locust in the National Cemetery. The Honey Locust was badly damaged in a storm a few years ago but has managed to recover even though nearly 70% of the tree was blown down.
There are more witness tress and as I get more information I will write a more detailed post. This post is just so you know whats out there!