Time capsule found on Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue site reveals artifacts from the Civil War era

Books, money, ammunition, pamphlets, newspapers – these were just a few of the Civil War-era artifacts that conservation experts revealed in a time capsule found at the site of a Confederate General Robert E. Lee monument.

The 36-pound box was discovered in Richmond, Virginia and carefully extracted from the site of the monument a day earlier, marking the end of a long search for the elusive capsule. When the contents inside were unpacked, it appeared to correspond to the description of the 1887 time capsule that conservation experts had been looking for.

“It looks like this is the box we were expecting,” Kate Ridgway, chief conservator for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, told reporters.

Records maintained by the Library of Virginia suggest that dozens of Richmond residents, organizations, and businesses contributed about 60 items to the capsule, including Confederate memorabilia.

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Along with several water-filled books, pamphlets, and newspapers, the box contained an envelope of Confederate money, carefully separated by conservators, and two carved artifacts — a Masonic symbol and a Confederate flag.

Conservators also pulled buttons, coins and Minié bullets, a type of bullet used in the Civil War, from the box. A bomb squad had checked the capsule on Monday, among other things to make sure there was no sharp ammunition.

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is bathed in the late sun on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, Monday, September 6, 2021.

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is bathed in the late sun on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, Monday, September 6, 2021.
(AP Photo / Steve Helber))

The contents of the box had expanded from the moisture and had stuck together, making unpacking difficult, so conservators decided to ease the pressure by cutting one side down.

After Ridgway and other team members carefully extracted each item, other conservators would then transport the pieces to the back of the lab for further examination and cataloging. The team made sure to photograph each item in the box before manipulating it.

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the huge equestrian statue of Lee removed in 2020 amid nationwide protests triggered by police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Trials pushed his plans back, and the statue was only removed in September after a court cleared the way.

Crews prepare one of the nation's largest remaining monuments for the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Wednesday, September 8, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia.

Crews prepare one of the nation’s largest remaining monuments for the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Wednesday, September 8, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia.
(AP Photo / Steve Helber, Pool))

Contemporary news reports from the late 1800s described in detail the location of the time capsule in the foundation of the pedestal, and imaging tests performed earlier this year appeared to confirm its existence. But a lengthy search during the removal of the statue in September stood empty.

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Earlier this month, Northam also ordered the pedestal removed, and crews working on the project began searching for the artifact again. A time capsule was discovered two weeks ago, which created excitement, but hours of careful and ultimately anticlimactic examination suggested that the artifact was located by someone else, perhaps someone involved in the construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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