Lee's campaign desk donated
The Post and Courier
Monday, July 6, 2009
It is called a campaign desk, an Antebellum-era box of mahogany and inlaid ivory that once carried papers, pens and Confederate stamps, and provided a stable writing surface on the battlefield. In other words, it is, as J. Grahame Long calls it, a Civil War laptop.
The desk would be valuable enough on its own, but this one, donated to the Charleston Museum this week, belonged to Lowcountry native and Confederate Gen. Stephen Dill Lee.
"It's nice to see personal items like this," said Long, the museum's curator of history. "Uniforms and weapons are nice, but these items help humanize a person."
The desk, donated by a descendent of Lee, likely saw more action than most Confederate soldiers. The general traveled the battle-scarred countryside throughout the war, fighting at Sharpsburg, Vicksburg, Franklin and Manassas. He likely carried the fold-out desk top everywhere he went.
"These were common and in high-demand, especially among officers in the Civil War," Long said. "It would have traveled with Lee, but obviously he loved it very much. He took care of it."
The desk is in near pristine condition and still carries mementos of this nation's deadliest period. Inside, there are a few Confederate stamps stuck to a lid, and there are two contemporary bullets where the ink well once sat.
He may not have been the most famous Lee from the war, but Stephen Dill Lee played an important role in the War Between the States. On April 11, 1861, Lee and Col. James Chestnut, husband of the famous Civil War diarist Mary Chestnut, rowed out to Fort Sumter to deliver the surrender ultimatum to Union Major Robert Anderson.
Charleston Museum curator J. Grahame Long looks at a Civil War-era campaign desk that once belonged to Confederate Gen. Stephen Dill Lee. The desk was donated to the museum by one of Lee's descendants. Some folks claim Lee even fired the first shots on the fort a few days later.
It's unlikely the surrender note was penned on this desk, or that Lee even composed it, but the antique is still an important piece of history.
Brag Bowling, chairman of the Stephen Dill Lee Institute, the education outreach program of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Lee is a major figure of the era. Although he eventually rose to the lofty rank of corps commander in the Western Confederate Army, he is perhaps even better known for his post-war work.
Lee eventually settled in Mississippi and became president of the state university there. He spent the final decades of his life trying to educate Southerners about the war.
As commander of the United Confederate Veterans, Lee charged the Sons of Confederate Veterans with upholding the honor and history of the South's soldiers.
It is a mission, Bowling said, the SCV continues to this day, and it's why the institute is named after Lee. No doubt some of those ideas promoted by the Charleston native in his life were composed on the desk, which is expected to go on display in August.
"That is a very valuable relic," Bowling said.
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.