Tree-cutting at Gettysburg Battlefield

Historians, preservationists, history buffs and military strategists applaud it. Environmentalists and so-called “tree-huggers” abhor it. Perhaps nothing in recent times at the Gettysburg National Military Park (with the possible exception of the demolition of the National Tower a decade ago) has sparked more controversy than the recent tree-cutting. The National Park Service is in the midst of a multi-year project to restore parts of the battlefield to some semblance of their appearance in 1863 when the U.S. Army battled forces from the Confederate States of America on the hills and pastures surrounding Gettysburg. The sounds of chain saws and logging trucks now boom out over fields where cannons and muskets once roared.

The Park Service is restoring dozens of missing orchards in their historic places, rebuilding fencelines that have been gone for a century or more, and planting trees to replace woodlots that have long been open fields. None of this has fueled emotions as much as the clear-cutting of acres of trees in areas where woods were not present in 1863. As farmers sold their land to the private Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, or later, the National Park Service and other organizations, the land was no longer cultivated for crops. Over time, dense woods emerged where corn, rye, oats and clover once grew – places where soldiers fought and, at times, died. Trees and underbrush surrounded monuments to their courage and memory. The NPS began taking down these trees to restore sight lines and help the battlefield tramper better understand the fighting and what occurred where (and why).
The current focus is on restoring the pastures around the McMillan farm, a historic homestead on West Confederate Avenue used for a time by Robert E. Lee as a vantage point to watch the Union lines on distant Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge. It was also an important artillery platform. For decades, the gun line has pointed into the trees, and it was hard for casual visitors to understand why this position was so important. The new view opens to the Gettysburg Recreational Park, but now allows the viewer to get some idea of why the guns were placed where they were. The other focal point is the woods just west of Devil’s Den and Houck’s Ridge, an area where thousands of men and boys from Alabama, Arkansas and Texas advanced on elements of the Union Third Corps on the rocky heights.
Which side of the controversy are you on? Do you applaud and support the National Park Service’s efforts to restore the battlefield and encourage their authorities to continue or accelerate the master plan? Or, are you abhorred by the clear-cutting of acres of trees (they are keeping trees suspected of being present when the soldiers battled it out)? Or, do you simply not care at all – the park service can do what it wants with public land?

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6 Responses to Tree-cutting at Gettysburg Battlefield

  1. Ivor Janci says:

    Thanks for the report, Scott. I’ll have to make a trip out to Gettysburg in another year to two to see the changes, which I applaud. Hopefully, you’ll be able to guide me once again someday.

  2. susan and sarah says:

    Nooo, beautiful restful spots surrounded by the shade of trees have been wiped away- beauty replaced with a mulched field. How is this beneficial to the memory of those who have fallen?

  3. Daniel says:

    Why don’t they just clear cut the rocks and boulders also?

  4. Eric says:

    I grew up in Gettysburg, and have spent a lot of time on the battlefield. I now live in Colorado, and just heard about this. I’m also a certified arborist, and can’t believe this is happening I’m appalled. This seems to be the most irresponsible thing our national parks service could do! 576 acres of trees…somebody is getting rich. That’s a few million dollars of lumber for someone. If you’re a true preservationist then all the monuments, and access roads need to go because they weren’t there in 1863. For that matter most of the population, infrastructure, and business wasn’t there either. If you are a true preservationist then get rid of it all. Stopping the evolution of a planet is as ridiculous as getting rid of all the people, buildings, and traffic lights downtown. What next thousands of dead bodies baking in sun for the visitors of the battlefield. I think we can all see the forest for the tress…

  5. David Waluk says:

    I am glad they are cutting down some of the trees the last time i was at gettysburg it was hard to see what the park ranger was telling you i hope to go back there sometime in the future to see what has changed.

  6. greg gober says:

    Regardless of which side you are on I have been doing research on the historic woodlots and have found proof and locations of over 500 witness trees throughout the park. E-mail me at or visit Thank yo u

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