Archive | January, 2014

Men in (High) Hats: the Tyson Brothers of Gettysburg

23 Jan

This is an update to a prior post: “Finding Photographers and Their Equipment in Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery Photos”

Within a photographic print attributed by William A. Frassanito to Peter S. Weaver taken on November 19, 1863 from the 2nd floor window of the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse are two men facing in a direction away from the camera and hauling what appears to be a long ladder probably for use as a photographic platform (see detail below from file 32845u.tif, courtesy of the Library of Congress).


Might these be the late arriving Tyson Brothers on their way to a position for photograph taking on or very near the border between the grounds of the Gettysburg Soldiers’ National Cemetery and the private Evergreen Cemetery? These Tyson Brothers candidates are highlighted within a circle in the image above; a red arrow indicates the direction in which they appear to be proceeding.


The lead figure (#1, above), wearing a dark coat and a tall stovepipe hat, appears to have crested over a small rise — mimicking a topographical feature existing today near the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse — because the lower half of his horse is obscured. The trailing figure (#2, above) also wears a tall formal topper but is bedecked in a very light-colored coat. He appears to be managing a tall ladder over his right shoulder (perhaps he drew the shorter straw?). It isn’t clear if he is walking or also riding a horse. At some distance in front of him is the partially blocked image of a man or boy (#3) who appears to be considerably shorter than #1 either because he is on foot and/or not nearly as tall as #1. The male designated #3 is cradling a square or rectangular object in his right arm against his side. That object may be a case containing glass plate slides or photographic chemicals. The rider designated #1 appears to be turned in his saddle facing in the direction of and looking down towards #3.

We get enough of a view of individual #1 to see that he has long dark hair tumbling out beneath the back of is hat and a dark sideburn running into a beard, features bearing a considerable resemblance to the same seen in a photograph of Charles J. Tyson at page 29 of William A. Frassanito’s seminal book, Early Photography in Gettysburg (1995). Mr. Frassanito dates that photograph to 1860. Isaac G. Tyson, who looked much like his brother, is pictured sporting a goatee in a c. 1863 photo both at page 29 of Mr. Frassanito’s aforementioned book as well as at: The more diminutive fellow, #3, may well be the Tyson Brothers’ assistant, William H. Tipton, who was then just 13 years-old and in later years took over the Tysons’ photography business in Gettysburg.

The fact that there are two men wearing high hats proceeding together with photographic equipment further suggests that they are the Tyson Brothers. It reasons that local photographers would be far more likely to dress in formal attire — especially stovepipe hats — then out-of-town photographers who had to lug their gear and chemicals by rail or horse and wagon to Gettysburg. This would explain why of all of the candidates for photographers visible within this view, they are the only ones wearing tall, formal top hats. The other visible photographers wore far more comfortable and practical headgear. It also is no coincidence that the Gettysburg dedication scene sketch drawn by Frank Leslie’s artist Joseph Becker probably depicts the Tyson Brothers in tall hats (see the discussion of this topic in my book —  Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: A Review of Alexander Gardner’s Stereoscopic Photos:

 If these are the Tyson Brothers, it appears that they are on their way to a spot where a ladder already has been deployed (boxed in yellow, below). Perhaps their objective was to set up two ladders side-by-side to create a photographic platform. It is not clear why the backside of the deployed ladder appears to be backed by a dark triangular-shaped piece of cloth with a straight-lined bottom horizontal to or laying on the ground. Although the purpose of this feature is not fully understood — perhaps it had to do with a portable darkroom setup — it does support the conclusion that what we see are not stacked arms, but, rather, a tall folding step ladder observed from a side angle.


On the apparent ladder already in place, boxed in yellow, stands a man (marked #4) a rung or two off the ground. He is facing in a direction more-or-less opposite to the speakers’ platform with his right arm extended gripping the leg of the ladder or something reflective on the ladder. He might be assisted by a man marked as #5 facing the camera and another possibly standing on the opposite side on an even higher rung facing roughly towards the speakers’ platform, marked #6. However, it is just as likely that #6 is a man standing in the background, in which case only one or possibly two men had gone out in advance of the Tyson Brothers candidates to begin the process of erecting their photographic platform outside of the crowd gathered on the dedication grounds.

The third Alexander Gardner stereo view may well show the Tysons in their tall dark toppers — one in a light-colored coat, the other in a dark one — standing side-by-side on their two ladders hovering above the crowd (circled in red, see below):

Hauling Ladder Photographers2

If so, we can deduce that the photo taken possibly by Peter S. Weaver and his father from the 2nd floor window of the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse was created well before the third and final Alexander Gardner stereo view was exposed. The location of those two men in Gardner’s third view comports with the positioning of the already deployed ladder boxed in yellow, above, giving further weight to the conclusion that they are the same men seen in the photo attributed by Bill Frassanito to Peter S. Weaver. Neither of those men are visible in that location in Gardner’s first two stereo views, illustrating the considerable time gap between Gardner’s second and third views.

I tip my hat to Charles J. and Isaac G. Tyson for the three surviving procession photos they took in Gettysburg on November 19 (see detail from one of them, below, courtesy of the Library of Congress).


But I must remove my hat to scratch my head in puzzlement over what happened to any photographic exposures they made from their elevated platform at the cemetery — were any of them ever printed? Hopefully what became of those cemetery views will be “uncovered” some day soon. Should they be discovered, those images could represent the Tyson Brothers “crowning” photographic achievement.

All of the text and marked images contained in this blog are copyrighted; all images are derived from the photographic collection of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

— Craig Heberton IV, January 23, 2014


The Brady Bunch: The Case of the Missing Gettysburg Photos

11 Jan

David B. Woodbury was a Civil War battlefield photographer who worked for Mathew B. Brady. According to Frederic E. Ray, Woodbury probably is the man seated on the left, below, in detail from an 1864 image at the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Division (


A recent online auction offered for sale a collection of manuscripts — including a diary, notes, and letters — written by or belonging to David B. Woodbury (the “David B. Woodbury Collection”). The owner of the David B. Woodbury Collection noted in that auction that the diary and pertinent letters were enthusiastically reviewed in 1970 by Josephine Cobb, a pioneer in Civil War photography scholarship who worked for years at the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives and first identified Lincoln seated on the speakers’ platform in a Gettysburg photograph in 1952 (the “Bachrach photo”). Unlike a number of his colleagues, David B. Woodbury continued to work for Mathew Brady in Washington, D.C. even after Alexander Gardner struck out on his own. He is described by Frederic E. Ray as “arguably the best of the artists who stayed with Brady throughout the war.”

The 1860 Federal Census reveals that 21 year-old David B. Woodbury then lived in Norwalk, CT with the family of photographer and former jeweler & daguerreotypist — Edward T. Whitney.  After learning wet-plate photography from Boston’s famed photographer J.W. Black, Whitney moved to Norwalk, CT in 1859 from Rochester, NY.

1855 Humphrey's Journal of Photography  vol 07 n04_05 June 15, 1855 adAd in June 15, 1855 Humphrey’s Journal of Photography  Vol. 07, n0. 4.

It is very likely that David B. Woodbury first met and worked for Edward T. Whitney in Rochester because the Woodbury family relocated from Vermont to Rochester after 1850 but sometime prior to the taking of the 1855 New York State Census when David was 16 years old. Consequently, David probably moved to Norwalk with Whitney in 1859.

Detailing some of his professional and wartime experiences, Edward T. Whitney reminisced in 1884 that:

[ I must allude] to the valuable aid and instruction I received from Mr. A. W. Paradise [in New York City in the late 1840s], who was Mr. Brady’s right-hand man so many years, and who afterward became my partner in business. Also to the courtesy extended to me by Brady and Gurney, in whose galleries I was accorded access … In 1859, my health becoming impaired by use of cyanide, causing constant headache and weak eyes, I went to Norwalk, Conn., to recruit. In three weeks I recovered my health and decided to sell out in Rochester. Leaving a successful business, I returned to New York, opened a gallery at 585 Broadway with Mr. A. W. Paradise, also one in Norwalk, Conn.

1865 Trow's NY Register_p975 069 Whitney & Paradise

Business card in 1865 Trow’s New York City Directory

When the war broke out, Mr. Brady asked me to take my operator, Mr. Woodbury, and go into the field and make photographs for the Government of the scenes of the war. We went. Our first pictures were taken after the battle of Bull Run. We had a large covered wagon with two horses, and a heavy load of glass, apparatus, chemicals, and provisions  …  We spent the winter taking views of the fortifications around Washington and places of interest for the Government. But time will not allow me to go into detail of views taken at Yorktown, Williamsburgh, White House, Gaines Hill, Chickahominy, Seven Pines. During the seven days’ retreat from before Richmond to Harrison’s Landing, photographs were taken of James River from a balloon. At some other time, if desired, I may try to do justice to those times and scenes. Mr. Woodbury and myself were not the only ones connected with Brady in getting pictures of the war scenes … We endured the hardships of the camp, the difficulties of getting transportation, the sickening sights of the dead and dying, the danger of capture—and for what? To perpetuate for history the scenes of war, refusing to stop by the way to make portraits for money, which many were doing.

Mr. Whitney’s account gives us a nice general overview of some of David B. Woodbury’s Civil War experiences for the period of 1861 through part of 1862. But what of the rest of the war?

As a sort of “teaser,” the owner of the David B. Woodbury Collection posted at his auction site a low resolution image of the first page of a letter written by David B. Woodbury to his sister, Eliza, dated November 23, 1863. Here is what I was able to decipher within that image:


Nov 23, 1863

Dear Sister

I received yours of the 4th some time ago and was very glad to hear that you were doing so well and that Father and Mother … ??? … health. I was very sorry to hear of [Father?] being sick … wish to presume he is about well by this time. I went to Gettysburg on the 19th with Mr. Burger the superintendent of the Gallery here. We made some pictures of the crowd and Procession. We took our blankets and provisions with us expecting the crowd would be so great that not more than half would find lodgings. We found no trouble in getting both food and lodging.

The “Mr. Burger” who accompanied Woodbury to Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 undoubtedly is Anthony Berger who had journeyed with Woodbury to Gettysburg from Washington, D.C. in July of 1863 shortly after the conclusion of the great battle [Berger is best known for a number of photographs he took of Lincoln at Brady’s Washington, D.C. studio, the most recognizable of which graces the U.S. Five Dollar bill].

Berger manager-1864 Boyd's Directory-Wash DC-001 MB Brady at 288c

1864 Boyd’s Washington [D.C.] and Georgetown Directory (1863), p. 288 

After several days of familiarizing themselves with the Gettysburg battlefield terrain, they were joined in mid-July by their boss, Mathew B. Brady, whereupon they recorded a number of photographic views.  Thus, Messrs. Woodbury and Berger were quite familiar with Gettysburg and some of its inhabitants from their extended visit to that place a mere four months earlier.

Of the nine known photographs taken in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, none are attributed by modern day scholars or photo-historians to David B. Woodbury, Anthony Berger, Mathew B. Brady, or anyone else who then worked or freelanced for Brady. The first page of David B. Woodbury’s letter to his sister Eliza reveals that he was in Gettysburg on the 19th of November and took photographs there “of the crowd and Procession” with another Brady man, Anthony Berger. It leaves us wondering what other nuggets of information are inscribed in Woodbury’s November 23 letter, including descriptions of the events of the day and whether he and Berger took any photographs on the cemetery grounds. This single letter may or may not contain extraordinary information previously hidden from historians (other than Ms. Cobb) about both the dedication event and the photographs that these two men created.

Detail (below) from a photograph (LC) taken looking out over the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery grounds on November 19, 1863 shows a photographer on a ladder above his assistant, to the right, who is standing next to an apparent portable darkroom on a tripod. The view of them is slightly impaired by some leafless tree branches but there is no doubt that these men were photographers. Might they be David B. Woodbury manning the camera while perched atop the ladder and Anthony Berger standing next to the portable darkroom?

32845u-auto adjusted5

Some other questions have to be asked out loud — is it possible that Woodbury and Berger created any of the known Gettysburg images, such as, for example, the photo taken from a second floor window of the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse attributed by William A. Frassanito to Peter S. Weaver (which would rule out them appearing in the above detail) or even the famous photo depicting Lincoln which Mr. Frassanito and others credit to David Bachrach? Might some or all of the Woodbury Gettysburg photos still await discovery in a dusty attic or a long-ago sealed box? Or were all of the glass plate exposures created by those men in Gettysburg on the 19th of November destroyed or placed somewhere forever out of our collective reach? Irrespective of the answers to these questions, the David B. Woodbury Collection may well constitute a gold mine for research into one photographer’s actions and experiences in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 as well as at different times and places during the war.

Alexander Gardner mentioned in passing in his Sketchbook that he “attended the consecration of the Gettysburg Cemetery, and again visited the ‘Sharpshooter’s Home.'” David Bachrach commented briefly on his Gettysburg experience in a 1916 article, noting that he “did the technical work of photographing the crowd, not with the best results with wet plates, while Mr. Everett was speaking” and was then displeased with the 8″ x 10” “negatives” he took. Peter S. Weaver’s father wrote on November 26, 1863 that he “assisted Peter of getting a Negative of the large assembly on the Semetary [sic] ground, which I think is very fine, we have not as yet printed any Phot. of the Negative …” But it remains to be seen whether David B. Woodbury wrote in even greater detail elsewhere in his letter to his sister, some other letters, or within his diary about what he did and experienced in Gettysburg. Let’s hope that someday sooner rather than later the David B. Woodbury Collection is made available for scholarly review and analysis so that some of these questions can be answered and other new ones can be asked. In the mean time, the names of Messrs. David B. Woodbury and Anthony Berger appear to merit being added to the short and exclusive list of known Gettysburg dedication ceremony photographers.

— Craig Heberton IV, January 10, 2014

The cropped images in this post are all courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division