How Lee’s Army Helped Mr. And Mrs. Tyson to Set Up Housekeeping

My friend Tyson had related to me while coming into town that he had been married but a short time and had just begun housekeeping when he was compelled with his wife to leave his home and his gallery and seek safety in the country. When, therefore, we reached his house I dismounted and went in with him. He was agreeably surprised to find things in as good order as they were. The Confederates had made a fire in the centre of the parlor carpet, scattered clothing about the house, selected some things with the evident intention of taking them away, but probably left them because of the suddenness of their departure. Remembering that he had secreted a barrel of flour behind the cellar door Mr. Tyson looked to see if it had been taken, but found it just as he had left it, the door opening so as to conceal it. We made a hurried visit to the photograph gallery which was found locked, no one having entered it during his absence. In the front wall of the building a three-inch rifle shell was half buried. A few days ago I addressed a few lines to Mr. Tyson, recounting some of the incidents of that day, and received in return the following interesting letter:


FLORA DALE, Pa., January 16, 1884.

N.D. Preston, Esq., Bradford, Pa.

Dear Friend Noble: Yours of the 9th instant came duly to hand while I was in Baltimore and reached me on Saturday last and to make amends for the long time I kept you waiting before I shall answer this at once. You certainly have a very good memory, though I shall have to correct it a little bit, and if this epistle should seem to you disconnected, never mind that, but pick out of it anything of value to you and let the balance go. I shall only write what I know to be fact.

About 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, June 27, my wife and I were putting down the last carpet in the front second-story room in our little house on Chambersburg street, Gettysburg (we had just commenced housekeeping — were married April 31, 1861), when we heard an unusual noise. Upon looking out the turnpike toward Chambersburg we saw the advance of Ewell’s Corps, consisting of numerous mounted men, some with hats, some without; some in blue and some in gray. On they came and as they dashed past the house and up into the town they rent the air with yells, at the same time discharging their carbines and pistols into the air. Following them came the mass of infantry, which filled the road from side to side, and when they reached our house and passed on the solid mass extended tot he top of Seminary Ridge, and still on they came. Presently, the word "Halt!" was given. "Stack arms!" next. So they halted and the stacked.




We had taken the precaution to lock the front door and yard gate, and were looking out through the venetian shutters—seeing but unseen. We heard them trying the door, and heard one fellow spell out from the door plate "T-y-s-o-n ; wonder who the devil he is," and at the same time began chopping on the step or door, and I said to my wife: "There’s no use trying to keep them out if they want to get in; I will go down and open the gate." I did so, and said to them: "You look warm and dry; we have a well of cool water in here; come in and refresh yourselves." They came right along without a second invitation, and then they wanted bread and butter, but we told them we did not have enough to commence on and they were satisfied far more easily than I expected; were very polite and gentlemanly. Once, a German asked where Joe Hooker was; said they were after him, and would have him if they had to go to Philadelphia for him. I would like to have seen him a week later. This gang passed on to York, and next day the town was clear again. One straggler came in and was promptly captured.


On the following Wednesday morning, July 1, I arose to find Gettysburg swarming with Union soldiers and the stores all open and doing business. I opened the gallery and went to work and was kept very busy till near ten o’clock. I had made an exposure and the room was full. I went into the work room to finish the picture. When I returned, the room was empty excepting the one person. He offered me in pay a note I could not change. I ran down stairs to get change, when, to my surprise, all the stores were closed and no one to be seen. I gave the man his money and he disappeared. Judge Russell turned the corner just then and I asked: "What does this mean?" He answered: "It means that all citizens are requested to retire into their houses as quietly and as qucikly as possible," and off he went, and off I went up stairs and gathered up a few valuables and started for home. By the time I reached the opposite side of the square I met my wife, who was coming to see what had become of me. It was then between ten and eleven o’clock. I returned with her to our house. She had a small trunk packed, which contained our wedding suits and some other valuables.


The cannonading was then going on in good earnest and the people living on Chambersburg Street were advised to go farther up town. We locked up the house and I put the trunk on a wheelbarrow and started. Going a short distance I met our neighbor, Mr. Boyer, who had a spring wagon, covered, and in it his mother-in-law, who sat upon some trunks. He very kindly permitted me to put my trunk on, which I did and tumbled my barrow over into Mr. Chritzmans’s yard. We all went up on Baltimore Street and remained there until about two o’clock. In the meantime the churches were being filled with wounded men and the pavements were lined with those slightly wounded. Several blocks of captured rebels passed out Baltimore street and I concluded to go down home and bring up a basket of fresh bread to distribute to the soldiers—(my wife had baked a large quantity the day before or that morning)—but when I got nearly down to the square I met one of our officers riding up the street, warning all women, children and non-combatants to leave the town, as General Lee intended to shell it.


This caused quite a stir, and the streets were full of people hurrying to and fro preparing to leave. Suffice it to say, I did not go for the bread, but I did go for my wife. We kept in company of our neighbors, the Boyer family, and went out the Hanover road, crossed the bridge over Rock creek and went on to Daniel Benner’s on the hill. Before we got there it rained in torrents, but having an umbrella we did not get very wet. We remained there till the rain was over, when I proposed to Mr. Boyer that we leave our trunks in the cellar and put our wives in the wagon. This he consented to do, and on we went to Littlestown, ten miles south of Gettysburg. Mr. Boyer’s son and I walked. Next day we went out the pike toward Gettysburg as close as we could go safely. Next day, Friday, I met Moody (I think). He said he had passed the gallery the day before, and it was, to use his language, "gutted!" and my house, he said, still stood, but everything was destroyed. My all was there, and you can perhaps imagine my feelings better than I can describe them. In the meantime, I learned that the house at which our trunks were left was within rebel lines, so that all (so far as I could learn) was gone, except the well-worn suit on my back.


Therefore it was not strange that I should feel very good upon entering my house to find nothing wantonly destroyed. My secretary was ransacked and the contents scattered over the room. In the parlor we found a small heap of ashes, the residue of burned letters and papers, the forms of the envelopes still preserved on the top of the pile. Upon removing the ashes we found the carpet uninjured, and after the carpet was swept no trace of the fire could be found. The carpet, which was Brussels, remained on the floor in constant use until we sold the property in 1867 and I presume still longer, as we sold it with thehouse. We found several bundles put up ready to be carried off, but which were left behind. All my clothing was taken and several rebel suits left in place. With this exception we missed very little indeed, outside of the cellar and pantry, which was pretty well cleaned up. Your recollection of the barrel of flour is correct to a fraction. You remember we entered the house in the rear—the front door being locked just as I left it. Or did I unlock it and enter from the front? Indeed I would not be sure about that. But the door was locked and the front parlor window open. Yes, we found the gallery undisturbed. The wife of Lawyer Wills claimed to have prevented the men from going into the gallery by telling them it was dangerous. They, however, entered the cellar and emptied a barrel of ninety-five percent alcohol. I had a gross of eight ounce bottles there also and they were seen carrying these bottles out filled with alcohol.





The shell has never been removed—is still there just as it was, ready to blow somebody up perhaps, sometime or other. A minie ball passed through the back window, which was raised, passing through both panes of glass, cutting a round hole through the first pane, without cracking the glass. The next pane the hole was much larger and the glass cracked. The ball then passed through an inch-pine partition and lodged on its side on the opposite side of the room, half embedded in another partition. I covered this with a glass case. It was still there when we left the place a few years ago. We found our trunks safe and sound. Mr. Benner and his wife retreated to the cellar when the rebels took possession of the house, and made their beds on our trunks and in that way saved them for us. In its proper place I omitted to say that on Saturday morning, July 4, a rebel who had evidently overslept himself, was seen coming out of my house with an overcoat on his arm. He was very promptly arrested and the overcoat afterward returned to me. It proved to belong to my brother, who lived with us at that time.

C.J. Tyson