Time capsule buried under Confederate monument reveals its secrets


A time capsule buried 130 years ago in the base of a statue of a Confederate general revealed its secrets on Tuesday – bullets, buttons and currency from the American Civil War of 1861-1865 as well as other artifacts .

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

The bronze statue of Lee was erected in 1890 in Richmond, the city of Virginia that was the capital of the pro-slavery South during the Civil War. It was demolished in September, one of many Confederate monuments removed in recent months.

The time capsule was opened by curators at the Richmond Department of Historic Resources on Tuesday, and the contents were in relatively good condition, with only some water damage.

“It’s in better condition than expected,” Kate Ridgway, the state’s archaeological curator, said at a ceremony in which the 14x14x8 inch (35x35x20 centimeter) box was opened in front of television cameras in direct.

“We thought it would all 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 objects hidden 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 photo of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin, 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 beside Lincoln’s coffin.

Bullets, banknotes, buttons, coins

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

There was a shell fragment believed to have come from the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.

“We were actually worried that it was live ammunition,” Ridgway said. “That was part of the reason we brought the bomb squad out. Actually, it’s not live.”

A small Confederate flag and a Masonic symbol carved from wood were also found encased in an envelope.

The wood used for the carvings is said to have come from a tree that grew on the grave of another famous Confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

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

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

A memorial bookmark featuring General Lee was pasted inside McCarthy’s book.

Also included was an 1881 guidebook to Richmond, an 1887 almanac, a number of Masonic documents, and the 1886 and 1887 reports of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

Another shoebox-sized container found in the base of Lee’s statue was opened by curators last week, but clearly was not the time capsule mentioned in the 1887 newspaper article.

It contained three waterlogged books, a photograph in a soggy cloth envelope, and a coin.

The objects appeared to have been memorabilia left for posterity by some of the workers who erected the statue.

The statue of Lee in Richmond became the subject of racial justice protests last year after 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.



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