The Tyson Brothers of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and their apprentice and eventual successor, William H. Tipton, immortalized the Samuel McCreary house through their photography in the years following the Battle of Gettysburg. Charles J. and Isaac G. Tyson were the first local cameramen to have recorded scenes on the battlefield during the summer of 1863. When they initially opened their gallery after their move from Philadelphia on August 16, 1859, they concerned themselves with portraiture rather than outdoor scenes and landscapes. Their first views of the Battle of Gettysburg were not taken until weeks after the battle was over, in part because they needed to obtain the equipment to accommodate outdoor views. Their gallery, located at present day 9 York St, remained open during the first day of the battle, before the townspeople were advised to evacuate the premises in anticipation of Confederate occupation. In response to the sudden vacancy of the town, Charles Tyson asked a fellow citizen: “What does this mean?” to which the man replied: “It means that all citizens are requested to retire into their houses as quietly and as quickly as possible.” Fortunately for the Tyson brothers, their house and gallery were left untouched, although a cannonball lodged itself into the edifice of their studio. It was never removed and can still be seen today.
On August 10, 1863, The Compiler announced that the Tyson brothers were preparing to release their first group of battlefield photos. Many of the Tyson negatives have been lost over the years, but perhaps some of the most important survivors are three images recorded on November 19, 1863, of the procession that preceded the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. In these images, the McCreary house can be detected in the background behind a cluster of trees. In one of the three images, it seems that the brothers captured a rare photograph of Abraham Lincoln himself. This is only speculation but experts in the field of photography have suggested that he is amidst the crowd. Additionally, these Dedication Day scenes mark the conclusion of the brothers’ major production of outdoor scenes.
Ownership of the gallery shifted to William H. Tipton in October 1868. Even before his thirteenth birthday, Tipton was an active member in the Tyson gallery as their apprentice. He continued the portrait legacy of the gallery’s previous owners but added approximately twenty-one images to the old C.J. Tyson series. They focused primarily on Plum Road, Devil’s Den, and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. William Tipton maintained ownership of the gallery until his death in 1929. The photograph at the top of the page that he took of the Samuel McCreary House was captured in 1890.
The home of Samuel, Marie, Robert, and Mary McCreary stood at the intersection of Baltimore Street and Lefever Street. Samuel, age sixty in 1860, was a brick maker whose estate was valued at $1,600. At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the McCreary home was situated on an advanced Confederate skirmish line and was used by Confederate sharpshooters who were aiming in the direction of Union lines on Cemetery Hill. Sharpshooters were used throughout the Civil War, as was the case at the Battle of Gettysburg, in part to create confusion in enemy ranks. Men of excellent marksmanship were picked out of the ranks and given special, rifled weapons that, while providing greater precision, were heavy and slow to load.
One of the sharpshooters posted at the McCreary home was Corporal William H. Poole of the 9th Louisiana which was part of Hays’s brigade of Richard Ewell’s 2nd Corps. Poole, firing at the Union soldiers on Cemetery Hill, was shot dead at his post by a Union bullet. This was the only casualty in the McCreary house during the battle. According to Hays’s Official Report, his total losses were as follows: 7 officers and 29 men killed, 22 officers and 178 men wounded, and 4 officers and 91 men missing.
Not far from the McCreary house stood other sharpshooter posts, including the Rupp house and the Winebrenner house. The main Confederate battle line ran through town along Middle Street not far from the location of Poole’s untimely demise at the age of twenty-one. Baltimore Street, along which the McCreary house sat, was the primary route for the Union retreat through town to Cemetery Hill on the first day’s battle.
What stood out about the McCreary house after the Battle of Gettysburg was the bullet ridden fence surrounding the house. After the battle, a sign was posted that read: “bullet holes, fence preserved as courtesy to visitors” and attracted curious visitors anxious to view such an obvious scar of America’s bloody history. The house seen in Tipton’s photo does not appear as it would have in 1863 due to enlargements such as the mansard story roof. However, much of the original structure stood on that intersection for approximately seventy-seven years after the battle ended, until 1951 when the Gettysburg School Board began demolishing the house to construct an entrance to the school district. As mentioned previously, the Samuel McCreary house stood witness to Lincoln’s procession along Baltimore Street on November 19, 1863, for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Very few photos of the dedication have survived and even fewer still that include images of Lincoln. He paraded past the McCreary house in November of 1863, though all that remains on the house’s lot from November 19 is a tree, today marked with a plaque reading: “President Lincoln passed by this tree November 19, 1863.”
Surrounding the area are extant signs of battle: the bullet holes that litter the side of the Farnsworth house, the site of Jenny Wade’s death and the bullet hole through her sister’s front door, and the tree that acts as a silent witness to history. Though the house is gone, what it represented still remains scattered throughout the battlefield. Buildings forever scarred by rogue bullets, the cannonball hole in the barn of the Trostle Farm, and the National Cemetery that memorializes those who sacrificed their lives on the Gettysburg battlefield are all tangible representations of what the McCreary fence memorialized; a chaotic and destructive fight between two brother nations that left an inescapable mark on the sleepy town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The structure itself is gone but nearly everywhere one turns is a longstanding memorial to those who fought here. In the immortal words of one of the final victims of the American Civil War: “we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it.” It is this thought that lends power to the photos taken by Tipton and the Tyson brothers so many years ago. We do not need structures to commemorate the events of 1863. All we have to do is remember.
For Further Reading:
Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
“Abraham Lincoln Witness Tree,” Gettysburg Daily.
“Civilians Caught in the Crossfire with Licensed Town Guide Lisa Shower,” Gettysburg Daily. Frassanito, William A. The Gettysburg Bicentennial Album. Hanover, PA: The Gettysburg Bicentennial Committee, 1987.
Frassanito, William A. Early Photography at Gettysburg. Pittsburgh: Thomas Publications, 1995. Hay, Harry T. “Reports of Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays, C.S. Army, commanding brigade. June 3-August 1, 1863.
— The Gettysburg Campaign. O.R. — Series I — Volume XXVII/2 [S# 44].”
Lincoln, Abraham. “The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln Online: Speeches and Writings. Lee’s Heaquarters Museum. Sharpshooter Exhibit. Gettysburg, PA.