When you think about items found in a military camp, you might conjure up images like artillery, tents, or the American flag. However, you might not immediately conjured up an image of a desk! However, it is important to remember that officers need a whole range of tools and furniture in order to make decisions in an efficient manner. In fact, the Gettysburg National Military Park has one of those pieces of furniture on display at the Museum and Visitor Center: General Robert E. Lee’s field desk and table set. The two together are notable items because they are believed to have been used by the Confederate army leader while he led the three-day battle at Gettysburg.
While Lee’s actual desk and table are not for sale, you can own a strict replica of the general’s field desk.
Read on to learn more about the reproduction process, the importance of replicas, Lee’s original desk, and more specific information about the last of the available field desks created by the original founder of Gettysburg Sentinels: Lieutenant Colonel William Hewitt.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
Reproducing furniture that is an exact or close match to an original piece is quite the process! While specific steps vary based on the item to be replicated, a typical reproduction process is as follows:
Take detailed measurements and notes about any specific features in the original piece
Create a plan with drawings, cut lists, and materials
Purchase or acquire materials needed for the project
Cut and put the pieces together
Finish the piece by sanding or applying a finish
Compare the replica to the original to make sure there are no inaccuracies
Creating a replica is a time-consuming experience since there can be no “artistic license”. If the reproduction doesn’t match the original, then even more time will have to be spent into making it right.
The Real McCoy Isn’t Always Practical
Being able to view or even touch a genuine artifact can be a very significant event for people. However, this isn’t always possible. So why bother with reproductions? Reproduced artifacts can help preserve history by allowing people to study historical items without the risk of damaging the actual artifact. For example, one of the Lewis Chessmen - famous 12th-century Viking chess pieces that are currently on display in the British Museum in London, England- was damaged when en route to a special exhibition in Scotland. A replica would have allowed the public to examine the treasure while ensuring that the original was properly protected.
Reproductions can also serve educational purposes because they can teach the public about the historical significance of these items. A very common example is with museums housing reproductions of original paintings. While a trip to the Louvre in Paris or the Queen’s Gallery in London is not practical for those living “across the pond”, traveling to a local art museum and viewing replicas can help the public learn about an artist’s life, inspirations, and techniques.
To better appreciate the replica of Robert E. Lee’s field desk, it’s important to know a little bit about the one used by the general himself. In storage for decades, the desk and table were acquired by the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park around 2007. The desk has been described by Larry Bowers, a wood conservator who helped clean and preserve the original, as “modest and fairly crude, but it is what a soldier would have wanted in the field”. It was even built in two pieces, meaning it would be easier to disassemble and could be moved much more easily while on the go.
However, don’t expect to see Lee’s original desk restored; Bowers reminds visitors that conserving means preserving, not making items look new. Yes, he did clean the dead bugs and old nests that the desk had acquired during its period of storage, and he did coat the metal pieces from the desk in a synthetic material to keep them from tarnishing. However, the ink stains and chipped black paint were left as is.
As mentioned earlier, handling artifacts can be risky. Lieutenant Colonel William Hewitt - the founder of Gettysburg Sentinels and the woodworker who crafted the featured replica of the desk - was given special permission by the National Park Service to study and measure Lee’s original field desk.
General Lee’s original desk and table was painted a dark green. However, Lieutenant Colonel Hewitt decided to leave both pieces unfinished in order to show the grain of the battlefield oak used in its construction. The grain of oak, which is the pattern of the fibers in the wood, can be seen when the wood is cut. The field desk and table replica show patterns of straight and wavy lines on the raw oak wood.
This replica measures as follows (all dimensions are width x height x depth):
Desk and table: 36” x 50” x 20”
Desk: 33”x 22.5”x 12.5”
Table: 36”x 28”x 20”
The replica of General Robert E. Lee’s field desk and table can be shipped or picked up by its lucky new owner. Crating and shipping costs will be determined based on the destination of the reproduction. Inquiries can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rarity of the Reproduction
The original owner of Gettysburg Sentinels - Lieutenant Colonel William Hewitt - was given permission by the National Park Service to study and measure the original field desk and table. A total of five replicas were made by him, but there is only one left available for purchase. What a novelty!
Having a handsome handcrafted desk will allow you to experience the types of tools used by the Confederate general himself. Imagine the decisions made, the conversations held, and the letters written at a desk that looks just like the one you’ve purchased.
History in your hands
While it’s not possible to purchase Robert E. Lee’s original field desk and table, our last available strict reproduction of the desk is available for purchase. Since we at Gettysburg Sentinels aim to create a quality product and honor the memory of the past, you can be sure that the replica will be a piece any history buff would be proud to show off.
Take a look at the rest of our one-of-a-kind hand-crafted items made from the wood of the Battle of Gettysburg. Each piece is made with care and attention to detail and is a perfect addition to any history enthusiast's collection. They also make wonderful gifts!
Order now and own a piece of history!