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Time capsule from Confederate statue reveals US Civil War artifacts

The copper box was first discovered yesterday embedded within the statue of Robert E Lee.

Image: Governor Ralph Northam

A TIME CAPSULE buried 130 years ago in the base of a statue of a Confederate general revealed its secrets today – bullets, buttons and currency from the 1861-65 US Civil War alongside other artifacts.

The copper box was found yesterday embedded in the stone pedestal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during the bloody conflict between the North and the South.

Lee’s bronze statue was erected in 1890 in Richmond, the Virginia city that was the capital of the pro-slavery South during the Civil War. It was taken down in September, one of a number of Confederate monuments removed in recent months.

The time capsule was opened on Tuesday by conservators at the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond and the contents were in relatively good condition, having suffered only a bit of water damage.

“It’s in better shape than we had expected,” said Kate Ridgway, the state archaeological conservator, at a ceremony during which the 35x35x20 centimeter box was opened before live television cameras.

“We thought everything would be soup and it’s not soup so that’s great,” Ridgway said.

An 1887 article in a Richmond newspaper had listed some of the items secreted away in the time capsule and they matched some of those found on Tuesday.

The newspaper article had mentioned what would have been a rare 1865 photograph of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln in his casket but no such photo was found.

What was found was an engraving from the April 29, 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly depicting a woman weeping next to Lincoln’s casket.

Bullets, banknotes, buttons and coins

Several Civil War bullets known as Minie balls were also found in the container along with a piece of wood with a bullet lodged in it.

There was a shell fragment said to be from the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg.

“We were actually afraid this was live ordnance,” Ridgway said. “This was part of the reason we had the bomb squad come out. It is, in fact, not live.”

A small Confederate flag and a Masonic symbol carved out of wood were also found enclosed in an envelope.

The wood used for the carvings reportedly came from a tree that grew over the grave of another famed Confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Also found in the box were Confederate banknotes, buttons with the seal of the state of Virginia and a bundle of 12 copper coins.

The box also contained a black leather-bound Bible and an 1884 edition of a book written by Carlton McCarthy titled “Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia.”

A commemorative bookmark featuring General Lee was stuck inside the McCarthy book.

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Also found were an 1881 guide to Richmond, an 1887 almanac, a number of Masonic documents and the 1886 and 1887 reports of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

A different shoebox-sized container found in the base of the Lee statue was opened by the conservators last week but was clearly not the time capsule mentioned in the 1887 newspaper piece.

It contained three water-logged books, a photograph in a soggy cloth envelope and a coin.

The items appeared to have been mementos left behind for posterity by some of the workers who erected the statue.

Lee’s statue in Richmond became the focus of protests for racial justice last year following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a white police officer in Minnesota.

During the Civil War, the Confederate South seceded from the United States and fought to maintain slavery, which the rest of the country had abolished.

© AFP 2021

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