Water-soaked time capsule is found in La. monument

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2003

Vicksburg National Military Park Historian Terry Winschel measures the height of a time capsule taken from the Louisiana Monument Wednesday.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[6/26/03]A car-battery-sized time capsule known to be under the Louisiana Monument was found during restoration work Wednesday heavier than when it was put in the ground in 1920.

Water had soaked the contents of the metal box including a set of coins, ammunition and other relics from the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863. Newspapers, pictures, official documents were likely ruined.

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The base of the monument was being removed this week after the towering stone obelisk it held was struck by lightning twice in May 1999, inflicting damage that led to taking it down, section by section.

Vicksburg National Military Park officials, including historian Terry Winschel, knew the capsule had been prepared by actual Civil War veterans and placed under the base before the monument was erected 83 years ago.

“It was in a big hole full of water,” Winschel said Wednesday. “We were hoping we were going to receive it with everything intact.”

He said the copper box had holes in it, allowing water to seep in.

For now, the capsule is in Winschel’s office, still submerged in water, until a decision is made about what to do with it. Park Curator Elizabeth Joyner said she has called other curators and archeologists to find out the best way to handle the water-saturated documents and photos. She said if not handled properly, all of the paper contents could be ruined.

“If you do the wrong thing it could all disintegrate before your eyes,” she said.

Park officials said they have also called Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster’s office to see if he wants to be present when the capsule is opened

From a list kept separately, items in the capsule are described as a portrait of Capt. Louis Guion, a Confederate Commissioner of the Vicksburg Military Park who died in 1920; a copy of the Act of the Louisiana General Assembly approving building the monument; a portrait of Maj. Frederick Nash Ogden, commander of the Eighth Louisiana Battalion, Heavy Artillery in the Vicksburg Campaign; a copy of the Sept. 17, 1920, New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper; copies of The Vicksburg Herald from July 10 and 11, 1919, containing accounts of the groundbreaking for the Louisiana Monument and reports of the Louisiana commissioner charged with the compilation of Confederate Military records of 1918 and 1920.

Winschel said his goal after opening the capsule is to put everything salvageable back into the capsule, seal it up and put it back in the base of the monument. Items in bad condition may go to the park museum, he said.

The Louisiana Monument is the only monument in the park with a capsule placed in the structure by Civil War veterans.

The national park itself was created by Congress in 1899 to preserve the battle lines of the 1863 siege of the city. Defeat of Confederate forces here led to control of the Mississippi River by Union forces and, after the Confederacy’s losses at Gettysburg, to restoration of the United States.

All states, North and South, were offered sites to erect monuments to soldiers who fought here. Louisiana’s was on one of the park’s highest points, about 500 yards west of the Illinois Memorial.

Its sections have been on the ground since the lightning damage. Over the next several months, about $700,000 is being spent to rebuild a stronger base, adding lightning protection and making other improvements.