Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Robert E. Lee's Medicine Box

Before visiting the new Gettysburg Visitor Center, I didn't know that General Lee even had a medicine box.

The center's museum houses clothing and war relics from, and features short films about, the American Civil War. The layout is a conglomeration of displays in a dimly-lit maze of walls, media screens, and glass cases. Very atmospheric. You could easily spend hours admiring artifacts and reading and viewing film about the war.

Halfway through the museum I happened upon these unexpected gems—General Lee's medicine box and campaign desk.

The photos are out of focus because all pieces are behind glass and flash is not permitted.

The medicine box, I'm guessing, is about 14" tall,12" wide, and 12" deep, and is filled with little cubbies and tiny drawers. The cubby partitions are only about 3/32" thick. Both sides of the case are removable and were laying beside the cabinet. The front opens like a door and I believe the wood is cherry.

The campaign desk may be walnut.

My only thought upon viewing the cabinet, after closing my slackly-opened jaw..."I must build this someday."

I hope to gain access to this piece in future in order to take measurements and detailed photos. The museum opened within the last year, so access to the relics will not be allowed for some time.

But I did obtain the curator's phone number and plan to contact him about it, using my best "nice lady" voice. Wish me luck!


Anonymous said...


These are wonderful! I wonder if you would be willing to provide measured drawings if you do get access to the medicine box? Or maybe just some drawings. When I first saw the bottles in the window, my first *thought* was "Hmmm...General Lee drank!"

Anonymous said...


I have the same question, if and when you get access to the medicine box. Also the campaign desk would be nice to have drawings. With the increasing number of reenactors, this would be a fun reproduction.


Kari Hultman said...

I'll keep you posted. : )
I think you can see from the fuzzy photos, that the box was very well made. And obviously well cared for.

Anonymous said...

You'll probably get a million of these "Me, too!" notes, so I'll try to get mine in early!

Woodfired! said...

Nice one Kari! Chests like this are very much my thing. You may be interested in this early 19th century chest that was used for a natural history collection. (Choose the 'Science & Invention' category and then 'Collector's Chest'.)

This was one of 130 exhibits from 38 libraries from around the world - in what must have been one of the greatest exhibitions of library treasures ever. It caused quite a sensation in my town back in 2001. They had to keep extending the opening hours to accommodate everyone until eventually it was open 23 hours a day (they needed 1 hour free to cycle the air conditioning). You could turn up at 3am and there would be a queue of 50-100 people. And this is in a city of only 300,000 at the time. Everyone in Canberra has a story about the Treasures exhibition. The exhibition was only ever shown in Canberra. Quite a coup for our National Library.

But amongst the original manuscripts by Mozart, Einstein, Tolkein and Jane Austen, the Dead Sea Scrolls, letters signed by Elizabeth I and Ghandi, ancient maps and some of the most exquisite Korans you will ever see, you can guess what attracted my eye!

For some reason they wouldn't let me play with it. It lives at the State Library in Sydney so one day I may get a more detailed look at it.

Kari Hultman said...

Mark, what an extraordinary chest! I've never seen anything like it, with the painted panels inside the drawers. No wonder people were willing to show up at all hours to view the collection. I'll have fun poking around this site. : )

Vic Hubbard said...

I completely understand why they need to have pieces like these behind glass, but I still hate it.
It sounds like both Grant and Lee had their demons.;)

Anonymous said...

Hey VC

Go to http://www.logancreekdesigns.com/ to see some reproductions of Lee and Jackson furniture very well done. No plans available because he pays royalties to the various museums. Good stuff though.

Want to see a shop to make a grown woman cry call me next time you're in Atlanta.

Terry Chapman

Kari Hultman said...

Terry, I read about Joe Cress in an article in Woodwork Magazine about 2 years ago and since then, I've been on the lookout for Civil War furniture. His is a very interesting story and he has a link to the article on his site if you haven't already read it. And you're right, his work is terrific.

Thanks for the invite! I'll bring my tissues. ; )