The 90th Pennsylvania has four monuments at Gettysburg. The most famous and unique of these is a granite tree on Oak Ridge.
One of the items included on the tree is a bird’s nest.
Over the years, a story has grown up around the bird’s nest. The story is that during the battle a robin’s nest complete with baby robins in it fell out of a tree on the field. Braving a storm of bullets, a soldier in the 90th scooped up the bird’s nest and, with his life in jeopardy, placed the nest and its contents of baby birds up in the tree. It’s a story told by the licensed battlefield guides at Gettysburg, handed down from guide to guide. It’s a very heartwarming story. Unfortunately, it’s probably not true.
At the dedication of the monument in September of 1888, Hillary Beyer, the Chairman of the Memorial Committee of the Gettysburg Battlefield Association, and a veteran of the 90th, spoke about the symbols on the monument, saying, “The tablet on this monument tells you and future generations the number of men lost on this spot July 1st, 1863. The dove (the emblem of peace) perched on the edge of its nest, proclaims the sentiment of brave and true men who fought right here. The gun and knapsack attached to the tree proclaim to all that the war is over.” [Souvenir, Survivor’s Association, Gettysburg, 1888-1889, compiled by A. J. Sellers]
The Souvenir continues, “The old oak, indicative of strength, dignity and manhood; the powerful missile of war left its mark and track and even a cannon-ball is imbedded therein. In the crevices the birds (in bronze), emblems of love and peace, have sought shelter and built their nest above harm’s way. The ivy vine (in bronze) entwining around the bark with nature’s tenacity, symbolic of that fraternity which binds the veterans of the war unto each other in charity and loyalty. The gun and accoutrements (in bronze) of an infantry soldier (90th P.V.) no longer to be used in bloody strife, are suspended from a cut off limb, there to hang as a reminder, that compromise after compromise proved a failure, and treason was fought out on this line.” [Ibid.]
James Durkin, who wrote the only history of the 90th PA, searched for documentation of the bird’s nest story, but he could never find it. Apparently none of the veterans wrote anything about the alleged incident. While we may never know for sure, there just isn’t enough evidence right now to support the story, and the fact that it wasn’t mentioned at the monument’s dedication, nor has any written account of the alleged incident been discovered, tends to point to the story being apocryphal.