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Battle of Gettysburg 'witness tree' falls during severe storm

Sunday, August 10, 2008

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Standing just 150 feet from the platform on which President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, one of the few remaining "witness trees" to the Battle of Gettysburg has been severely damaged by a storm, National Park Service officials said.

The huge honey locust tree on Cemetery Hill fell Thursday evening.

"The top of it is totally broken off, and [the storm] severely damaged 70 to 80 percent of the tree," Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Jo Sanders said. "That means there's not a whole lot left of it. But it didn't kill the tree."

The tree, which stood on the right side of the Union lines, "was there as a silent witness -- to the battle, to the aftermath, to the burials, to the dedication of the cemetery," park historian John Heiser said.

"I have no doubt that Union soldiers sat under it for all three days of the battle," he said.

Park maintenance officials will assess what to do with the remains of the tree.

"When it's something this bad, it's highly doubtful that a tree like that can survive," Heiser said.

Heiser said he knows of only three other witness trees that still stand in the heart of the battlefield.

"It's a shame when you lose the last living entities on this battlefield," he said. "Nothing lives forever, unfortunately."


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