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620,000 trees to honor fallen Civil War soldiers

Jul. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Marine Capt. Christopher Hall and Cub Scout Brayden Scott tag one of what will eventually be 620,000 ceremonial trees, each commemorating a Civil War soldier who fell in battle.
Marine Capt. Christopher Hall and Cub Scout Brayden Scott tag one of what will eventually be 620,000 ceremonial trees, each commemorating a Civil War soldier who fell in battle. (Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership)
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Marine Capt. Christopher Hall and Cub Scout Brayden Scott tag one of what will eventually be 620,000 ceremonial trees, each commemorating a Civil War soldier who fell in battle. (Courtesy of Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partne)

Visitors along the scenic byway between Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Charlottesville, Virginia, will begin to notice clusters of trees lining the route.

But it’s much more than a beautification project. The 180-mile corridor will honor fallen soldiers: 620,000 to be exact.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Journey through Hallowed Ground Partnership’s Living Legacy Project will be planting or dedicating a tree for each man who died in the line of duty from 1861 through 1865.

Shuan Butcher, the organization’s director of communications, says 1,500 trees already have been planted or dedicated, and the goal is to have all 620,000 grown to maturity by the time the country honors the bicentennial of the Civil War in 50 years.

“It would be great to see 620,000 trees in bloom and really contributing to not only the landscape in terms of beautification, but honoring the individuals who fell for the cause and fell for what they believed in,” he says.

The project will showcase four types of trees, all in the red family, the color symbolizing courage and bravery: red bud, red oak, red maple and red cedar. The trees will be geotagged, and visitors can access information about each soldier represented, when available, including photos, diaries and records from the 1860s.

According to the National Park Service, half of the Civil War’s fallen soldiers remain unknown, but even those without records will have a tree dedicated in their honor, Butcher says.

“The idea is when visitors and people who want to honor their ancestors visit this hallowed ground, and they see certain trees dotting the landscape, they’ll take notice,” Butcher says. “We want to create what we’re calling the ‘cherry blossom effect’ just by the sheer mass of these trees that bloom at one time.”

On June 29, the Marine Corps helped dedicate 500 trees at a ceremony south of Leesburg, Virginia.

“For individuals who are serving or who have served in more modern times, this is a chance to connect with people who have served generations before us,” says Butcher, an Army veteran.

Marine Staff Sgt. Joshua Miles, with the Battle Color Detachment, participated in the June 29 dedication ceremony, where the United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps performed patriotic music. Miles says events like this are always important, especially if it’s anything related to a fallen service member.

“It doesn’t matter when those service members fell — whether it was the Civil War or Iraq or Afghanistan,” he says.

Besides its pertinence to service members, Butcher says the Living Legacy Project is a good way for individuals to get involved because many Americans have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and they can honor that person by planting or dedicating a tree.

“It’s a great way to tell their story because most of the stories have never been shared,” he says.

Each tree costs the project about $100, which includes site preparation, planting/dedication and lifetime maintenance.

Virginia arborist Peter Hart, who worked with the organization on the project, has a personal interest in honoring soldiers from the Civil War. Two of his great-great grandfathers survived the conflict, while three of his great-great uncles were killed.

“Families were torn apart,” Hart says. “My great-great grandfather was wounded, and then he was mustered out in 1862 and then he reenlisted on his own on June 3, 1863, with his little brother.”

The brother, Justin Hart, was dead six months later.

“I try to imagine what [my great-great grandfather] went through,” he says. “Was he there when his little brother was killed?”

The project seems overwhelming at times, Hart says, but “I thought to myself, if this nation can sacrifice 620,000 lives, then we can certainly plant 620,000 trees.”

It’s a nice symbolic statement to have something living to represent a human who died, he says.

“I personally feel like the country needs to be reminded of the people who have lost their lives,” he says. “It’s so present because of all the American men and women who were killed in the recent battles. I try to imagine what it’d be like if 150 years from now nobody ever paid any respect to them. The time separation ... between today and the Civil War should be irrelevant.”

To donate a tree or find more information, visit

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