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When someone mentions the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 – images come to mind of soldiers fighting for something truly important; countries battling each other for everything from new laws and freedom to ultimate supremacy. But what usually does not come hand-in-hand with wartime history is the outlook for a stronger ‘green’ world. In this case, we are speaking about the restoration of trees.
I want to share a very personal story. Perhaps you have been there yourselves and you will relate to the town I speak of called Gettysburg. With Hollywood focused on that time period once again, and the incredible movie, Lincoln, Gettysburg has once again been brought to the forefront of peoples’ minds.
I was only around ten-years-old when my parents took me to that amazing location. I walked the battlefields with my father that, I swear, were completely quiet even though there were a ton of visitors and loads of cars running up and down the streets. (After all, it was the 20th Century we’re talking about here.) But when we stepped out on that grass and stared at the cannons, the statues, the memorials – I was truly struck by what had happened there so long before. I then found myself in tears.
The power that resonated in that place; the energy that still came from men who’d lost their lives in order to create a ‘United’ States that we exist in today – some happily, some not – was overwhelming. I felt a real sense of gratitude to the ones who’d sacrificed themselves in order for me to be free.
Now, yet another truly depressing event is happening on those fields (certainly not as heartbreaking as the men who died, but still…). There is a group of new soldiers falling on that same field. A group that witnessed the battles and were once vibrant and full of life. I’m talking about the trees that stand throughout that area. Trees that have reminded the employees who work at Gettysburg National Military Park that the ‘soldiers’ have not stopped falling.
An article reached the papers just a few short months ago when, once again, the Park maintenance employees were cutting away yet another fallen oak tree that rested on the famous Culp’s Hill and found bullets embedded in the tree. Now, for those who are unaware, this particular area on the Gettysburg battlefield saw a great deal of intense fighting back in that horrific July of 1863. And, over a century ago, it was absolutely normal to find bullets strewn on the lawn and embedded in the trees, but finding the same discovery today is very rare. There were several discoveries found in both 2011 and 2012, and those discoveries were what caused various oaks to fall, finally surrendering to the battle that they were once a part of.
Environmentalists and Park employees are truly saddened by the loss of these trees. Not only are they a true historical marker, but they are also sheer beauty; and having them fall and disintegrate, crack and be found rotting away, is a travesty.
These particular soldiers are referred to as ‘The Witness Trees’ by the employees as they speak with the tourists who walk the Gettysburg battlefield. These trees have formed a ‘fan club’ of their own; a group of fans who truly want to see them survive so that they can forever remain as the last ‘witnesses’ to what is this country’s most brutal battle of ‘Brother against Brother.’ It is this war that (hopefully) taught us to never raise arms against one another again. And the rehabilitative work that the Park and the charitable investors have done in order to see these trees restored has truly been an outstanding effort.
In fact, rehabilitation efforts for the entire battlefield are underway, which is a program where the Park will re-open historic meadows and farm fields in order to restore the historic integrity of the 1863 battlefield. By doing this, the land will not only be refurbished and the habitat brought back to life, but it will also improve our understanding of what actually happened during that epic Civil War battle.
Not only will ‘The Witness Trees’ rediscover new life, but the crush of development will be lessened as all the hard work and determination of this group of people make sure to retain the land that was the place of death for so many of our young, brave men.
And, yes, as with everything in this world there are negatives that have crept up as the work continues to move forward. In one case, it is the Cyclorama building that was designed in 1962 by world-famous architect, Richard Neutra, that is still on the ‘hot seat,’ so to speak. This particular building is set to be demolished this month, along with the visitor’s center, in order to preserve the actual battlefield. There are also efforts to clear-cut some trees in order to restore battle-era sight lines – a move that truly has environmentalists up in arms.
Whereas some want the trees to remain no matter what, there are others on the ‘historic’ end that wish to bring a better understanding to one and all about the fields of observation that were once there, in order to clearly see how our troops maneuvered and fought. And even though things such as motels and car dealerships will be cleared so that Gettysburg can come back to life, there will always be battles about how one side believes that the Park should be brought back to the time of 1863, and the fight to keep ALL nature that has grown up in the last hundred and fifty years right where it is.
Either way, I have to say that the reverence of Gettysburg will always remain; the sheer awe and power that was created on that battlefield will never be forgotten. To view those ‘Witness Trees,’ to walk across the field and hear the wind blow through the branches as if whispering every detail about what happened so long ago, is a breathtaking event that no one can take from any of us.
Let’s do our best to keep history around as long as possible. Other generations need to know the immense sacrifice that our men gave in order for us to be free!
Until Next Time Amy Lignor