Fairfax County Museum Collections: Civil War Tree Carving
This tree section was cut from the side of a very large beech that once grew near Big Rocky Run on land known as "Camp Chantilly" during the Civil War (present-day Greenbriar Stream Valley Park). Alvin Birch, former owner of the property, described the tree in its glory:
"It was a magnificent tree. It reached over 100 feet into the air and towered over all the trees around. It was straight and well shaped with very smooth bark. Its diameter was at least four and one half feet. There was a majesty about it."
The cut tree section measures 17-1/4" high and 36" wide. In Fairfax County, beech trees can live to be 200 years old.
In addition to its tremendous size, this piece of wood is unique because of the letters and dates originally carved into the bark which are still faintly visible:
The 25th Maine Infantry, formed September 29, 1862, consisted of Union soldiers from the Portland area who had enlisted for a nine-month tour of duty. Reaching the Washington area on October 18th, they were stationed at Camp Tom Casey, Virginia. On March 25, 1863, they were deployed five miles west of Fairfax Courthouse at Camp Chantilly for picket duty along Little River Turnpike. They were mustered out on the l0th day of July 1863.
Lieutenant Hollis Randall Mountfort was a member of Company B. According to his granddaughter, Alice L. Shaw of Gray, Maine, Mountfort was called Rand at home. Born in 1836, he had blonde hair and stood slightly over six feet. Mrs. Shaw described her grandfather as being "rather blunt in his conversation", saying what he thought. His favorite expression when he was disgusted at something was "Good GAWD", and he often would say, "the gol darned thing won't go." After his tour of service with the 25th Maine Infantry, Mountfort returned to Maine and married Roxanna A. Leighton. They had three sons and two daughters. When his first child was born in 1865 he was at sea as a ship's carpenter; he later operated the family's water-powered saw mill. (The mill is no longer operational, but still stands and is now a recreation area in West Cumberland, Maine). Lieutenant Mountfort died in 1925.
In 1979, a storm caused the top part of the beech tree to break off and after that the tree began to deteriorate badly. The Fairfax County Park Authority in conjunction with the United States Forestry Service examined the tree, but concluded it could not be saved. Instead, a section of the tree that included the carving was removed and a preservative treatment applied. The carved tree section is preserved as an historic object in the Park Authority Historic Collections.
With grateful thanks to Bernard W. Poirier for researching the history of the tree and its carving.
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