Sep 8


The Pender Tree, located on the east side of Seminary Ridge’s West Confederate Avenue, was struck by lightning sometime during the last two weeks of August. The lightning struck the lightning rod at the top of the tree, ran down the cable and exploded the bark where the bare wood is visible. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.

Visitors frequently ask about trees that might have been on the Gettysburg Battlefield in July, 1863 and are still standing today. The most common guess is that there might be somewhere between 100 and 200. The United States War Department, which operated Gettysburg National Military Park before the National Park Service took over in 1933, thought some of these “witness trees” were important enough to mark, and sometimes, protect. Small brass tags were placed in some of the trees, and lightning rods were also placed in some.

One of the lightning rods and its accompanying cable saved the Pender Witness Tree on Seminary Ridge sometime last month. So if you thought those cables, which were possibly installed by the War Department to protect any unexploded ordnance in Witness Trees are worthless, look how this cable possibly saved this witness tree (even though it wasn’t properly grounded). Maybe more cables should be installed in the other witness trees around the battlefield.

We would like to thank Licensed Battlefield Guide Larry Wallace for alerting us to the lightning strike which he discovered while giving a tour last week.



There are five witness trees in this area of McMillan Woods north of the North Carolina State Monument, which is out of sight in the left background. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



We showed these trees in our first Witness Tree post on April 30, 2008. The “Pender Tree” is labeled number 3 in this picture. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Wednesday, April 30, 2008.



The Pender Tree is on the other side of this cannon marking the position of Crenshaw’s Battery. The marker for Pegram’s Artillery Battalion is in the left background. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



At some point, long ago, the cable was torn and failed to be properly grounded. A line of green-colored bark at the bottom of the trunk shows the area where the cable was attached to the tree. Other pieces of bark were exploded and/or burned off the trunk by the lightning. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



Let’s see how far up the trunk that we can follow the cable. This view was facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



The bark that was growing around the cable, appears to have been burned by this or another lightning strike. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



We believe that this tree is 80 to 90 feet tall. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



The cable twists around the trunk as it makes its way to the lightning rod at the top, so we had to photograph it from another angle. It’s attached to the left center branch… This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



…maybe you can see it better now. But this is where we lost it in the leaves and couldn’t follow it all the way to the lightning rod. Maybe during the late fall or early winter we’ll remember to come take a look at it. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



Just in case lightning, disease, or the National Park Service takes it down in the future, this view shows what most of the tree looks like. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



No damage is visible from the other/north side of the tree. This view was taken facing south at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



This photograph shows the relation between the cable on the right and the War Department disc identifying the tree as a witness tree on the left. This view was taken facing east at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



Disc number D195. This view was taken facing east at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



The Pender Tree acquired its name because supposedly Confederate Major General William Dorsey Pender was near the tree on July 2, 1863, looking across the future Pickett’s Charge fields (in the distance, but washed out by the sun) when he was wounded in the thigh by a shell fragment. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.



General Pender was taken to Staunton, Virginia to recover, but an artery ruptured on July 18, 1863. Pender was able to stop the blood with a hairbrush and towel as a tourniquet, but surgeons determined the leg could not be saved. Surgeons amputated his leg, but he died a few hours after the operation. Some of his last words were “Tell my wife that I do not fear to die. I can confidently resign my soul to God, trusting in the atonement of Jesus Christ. My only regret is to leave her and our two children. I have always tried to do my duty in every sphere in which Providence has placed me.” William Dorsey Pender is buried in Calvary Churchyard in Tarboro, North Carolina. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 4:30 PM on Tuesday, September 7, 2010.


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