Of Granite Trees and Bronze Bird’s Nests

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.

One comment

  1. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

    I find it ironic that one of the top references I found under the search for “Bird’s Nest Tree Monument Oak Ridge Gettysburg” landed me right here. Oak Ridge was my very first Gettysburg location that I visited – after dark on a moonlight night. I saw this monument silhouetted against the night sky and found it mesmerizing, making a note to come back and see it in daylight. I was lucky enough to visit it two more times in daylight, which only added to its intrigue and forever cemented it as my favourite monument — right up there with Sallie, who is just a few paces down the road. I seem to have an affection for these out of the way battlefield locations, partly because of the solitude that they afford, and the more intimate experience that one can have without motorcycles, segways, and other intrusions interrupting the moments of contemplation. It is nice to gather more information regarding the monument, which serves to deepen its significance beyond its artistic appeal. Regarding unconfirmed fable about the Robin’s nest, I believe that the Italians put it best:

    Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato -> If it is not true it is very well invented

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