Gettysburg’s orchards

In the summer of 2000, the National Park Service started its long-term project to bring back missing features on the Gettysburg battlefield that affected the fighting.  Since then,

A ripe apple on one of the last days of summer at Gettysburg National Military Park

we have removed non-historic trees, re-established open fields and meadows, rebuilt miles of fences, brought back a few missing farm lanes, and we planted 2869 apple trees on 109 acres at 35 historic orchard sites within Gettysburg National Military Park. 

By the way, it goes without saying that the orchard that gets 95 percent of the attention around here is the Sherfy Peach Orchard and we replanted it back in 2008 with 72 peach trees thanks to the financial support of the Gettysburg Foundation.

So why do it?  Farm orchards often affected the development and outcome of the battle of Gettysburg.  The more mature, fruit-bearing orchards provided closed canopies of foliage and often screened the movements and positions of army units.  The Trostle Orchard, for example, provided some cover to Union General Daniel E. Sickles, his staff, and some of his troops during the opening hours of the battle on July 2, 1863, and it was to this orchard that the general retired his personal headquarters when the Emmitsburg Road position was threatened.  While in the Trostle orchard, Sickles was critically wounded, and a monument marks this location on the battlefield today.

The Rose North orchard at Gettysburg with Wheatfield Road in the background.

Although in 1863 each farm would have had a variety of fruit trees, the park project is not a recreation; nor is it a restoration.  In other words, we did not scour the country to find the right heirloom peach, pear, plum and cherry, etc. for each of the farms.  Instead, our  rehabilitation project merely seeks to bring back the general look of an orchard.  We have planted very hardy apple trees that require minimal care and spraying of pesticides to keep them alive.  Some of the varieties of apple trees we have planted include: Enterprise, Freedom, Liberty, Pristine, and Williams Pride.  They are resistant to scab, cedar apple rust, powdery mildew and fire blight.

Even so, Gettysburg’s orchards still require some care and attention throughout the year by park staff.  They need weeding, mowing, mulching, pruning and spraying.  We also hang a bag of deer repellent on each  tree to protect it from browsing.

To give a few examples of how these orchards were used during the battle, here is some history prepared by the park’s retired senior historian, Kathy Georg Harrison:

Examples of the use of orchards by the armies during the battle of Gettysburg: 

(July 1, 1863, p.m.) A battery of the First Corps was advanced into the orchard north of the seminary building as the Union battle line fractured at McPherson’s Ridge and in the fields and woods west of its position. This battery, Stevens’s 5th Maine Battery, was sent to that point to cover the retreat of Union infantry back to the Seminary Ridge battle line. This orchard, owned by C. H. Dustman, occupied a large field on the western slope of Seminary Ridge and extended westward into the bottomland associated with the headwaters of Pitzer’s Run. Its northern boundary was formed by the Chambersburg Pike and its southern boundary nearly coincided with the boundary of the seminary grove. 

When the impetus and strength of the combined Confederate attack dislodged the last semblance of the Union defenses around the seminary, the orchard provided cover for the retreating Yankees who had fought within its confines. The trees protected the soldiers and the guns as they fell back to the ridge and to the reverse slope of Seminary Ridge, thus minimizing the numbers of casualties that could otherwise have been expected had the orchard not been there.

Sharpshooters from the Confederate army (primarily from Posey’s and Mahone’s brigades) occupied positions behind the trunks of and within the branches of the William Bliss orchard for three days of the battle (July 2-4), sending their deadly missiles to the east and to the northeast against the men occupying the picket lines, battle lines, and artillery lines of the Union Second and Eleventh Corps. These fields on the western side of the Emmitsburg Road became most contested during the first two of those three days, when Union attacks to control the Bliss property occupied the efforts of several regiments from the brigades of Willard, Smyth, Smith, and Carroll. Although the Bliss buildings were eventually burned down to eliminate Confederate sharpshooting from those structures, the orchard continued to harbor these concealed sharpshooters until the retreat of the Confederate army on July 5.

Even the smallest of orchards, like that at the Peter Rogers farm along the Emmitsburg Road, provided concealment and then cover to Union forces on July 2. The picket reserve and the headquarters of the 1st Massachusetts occupied the Rogers orchard in rear of its picket, then along the Henry Spangler-Peter Rogers fenceline to the west. When the Confederate attack overwhelmed this picket line, it fell back upon its reserve in the Rogers orchard before reforming along the Emmitsburg Road.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, September 20, 2012

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10 Responses to Gettysburg’s orchards

  1. Rob says:

    Am i right in saying that the replanted trees in the Peach Orchard are non fruit bearing? I thought i heard that somewhere once.

    • The Staff says:

      Actually the peach trees in the Sherfy orchard do bear fruit. – Katie Lawhon

      • Rob says:

        Thanks Katie. Where would someone have gotten that idea from then? Are there other orchards within the park that contain non fruit bearing varieties, whether they be apple, peach or whatever?

      • The Staff says:

        Rob, all the orchards, with the exception of the Sherfy Peach orchard, have been planted with apple trees. They all bear fruit but some are more along the lines of a crab apple. Katie lawhon

  2. Audrey Daugherty says:

    I am so happy to see the changes to what the battlefield was in 1863! Thank you. It helps to be able to imagine what things looked like to the men who fought there! Thank you!

  3. Ralph says:

    Why are the peach trees all tilted toward the east?

  4. Rob says:

    Interesting. Thanks!

    One last question – and this may sound stupid so i will apologize in advance – is it illegal to pick fruit from the trees? Or is it just simply frowned upon by the NPS?

    • The Staff says:

      @ Rob – YES… Most National Parks have a listing of rules called the Superintendent’s Compendium. Gettysburg’s is posted on the park website and says:
      The following fruits, nuts and berries may be gathered by hand for personal use or consumption within Gettysburg NMP in the following quantities:
      Acorns 1 peck / person / day
      Apples 1 bushel / person / day
      Blackberries 1 peck / person / day
      Blueberries 1 peck / person / day
      Cherries 1 peck / person / day
      Crabapples 1 peck / person / day
      Hickory nuts 1 peck / person / day
      Mushrooms 1 peck / person / day
      Peaches 1 peck / person / day
      Raspberries 1 peck / person / day
      Strawberries 1 peck / person / day
      Walnuts 1 peck / person / day
      Wineberries 1 peck / person / day

      1 peck = 537.61 cubic inches 1 bushel = 2,150.42 cubic inches

      – Katie Lawhon

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