Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Spotsylvania Stump

Battle-ravaged tree, preserved at the Smithsonian Institute


A few years ago, we spent four days visiting the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. To say that the museums are packed with interesting exhibits is an understatement; the Smithsonian must be experienced to appreciate it. I wish we lived closer!

At the time we visited, the Museum of American History was closed for renovations. A small exhibit from the history museum, "Treasures of American History", was set up in the Museum of  Air and Space.

The history museum's curators chose about 150 items to represent American culture and history, including Mr. Roger's sweater, the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, R2D2 and his buddy CP3O,  the ENIAC, Thomas Jefferson's Bible, George Armstrong Custer's coat, George Washington's uniform and battle sword, Abraham Lincoln's top hat, and the Spotsylvania stump.

The Spotsylvania Stump is all that remains of a large oak tree that once grew in a meadow near Spotsylvania, Virginia. On May 7-19, 1864, Union and Confederate troops engaged in the Battle of the Spotsylvania Courthouse. On May 12, 1864, during a fierce encounter, the oak tree was mutilated by hundreds of bullets from small arms. During the battle, the tree's trunk broke, leaving only a stump standing. Estimates of the number of casualties vary, but 25,000 or more Union and Confederate troops were killed or wounded.

About a year later, the fallen oak tree had disappeared -- hacked up and carried away by souvenir hunters. Even the shattered trunk had been dug out of the ground and removed. When a Union division visited the battlefield and discovered that the stump was missing, Major General Nelson A. Miles made inquiries and located it in the smokehouse of an inn proprietor. Miles confiscated the stump and presented it to the U.S. Secretary of War.  (Source.)

The oak tree's trunk, just below the place where it was severed, was 22 inches in diameter. The stump still contains bullets that it took the day the Spotsylvania meadow became a battlefield. It is a testimony to the ferocity of the fighting and the tremendous destruction of life that occurred at Spotsylvania and other Civil War battlefields.

Credit: Museum of American History photo from Wikipedia.

1 comments -- please add yours:

Eastcoastdweller said...

It is a reminder, too, that people are not the only casualties of war.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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