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updated: 9/3/2012 6:51 AM

Colorado couple brings a piece of Civil War-era history home to Lake County

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  • After two fires threatened a Civil War-era flag, its owners, Colorado residents Millie and David Ramsay, donated it to the Lake County Discovery Museum.

      After two fires threatened a Civil War-era flag, its owners, Colorado residents Millie and David Ramsay, donated it to the Lake County Discovery Museum.
    Courtesy of Lake County Discovery Museum

  • Christine Pyle, Lake County Discovery Museum's manager of historical resources, left, Corinne Court, collections cataloger, and Millie Ramsay.

      Christine Pyle, Lake County Discovery Museum's manager of historical resources, left, Corinne Court, collections cataloger, and Millie Ramsay.
    Courtesy of Lake County Discovery Museum

  • Edward Murray, a farmer and soldier from Newport Township, survived his Civil War wounds. A flag made for him by his mother is now in the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda.

      Edward Murray, a farmer and soldier from Newport Township, survived his Civil War wounds. A flag made for him by his mother is now in the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda.
    Courtesy of Lake County Discovery Museum

 
 

Edward Murray, a farmer from Newport Township in Lake County, survived a harrowing Civil War battle.

A U.S. flag his mother made in his honor 150 years ago has its own survival story, and it is now safely ensconced in the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda.

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When Millie and David Ramsay of Woodland Park, Colo., contacted the museum in July, collections coordinator Diana Dretske initially thought it was a common inquiry: a family seeking background on a Civil War-era ancestor from this area.

"They were doing research on Edward Murray," Dretske said. "I responded with a lot of information because I've done a lot of research on him."

Dretske didn't know then that the Ramsays were holding onto a piece of family history they had found years earlier stuffed in a shoe box -- a 4-by-8-foot American flag made by Murray's mother upon his enlistment with the Union army.

And as the conversations continued, Dretske learned they wanted the museum to have what is now considered a key piece in its Civil War collection, which includes information on Murray's 96th Illinois Regiment.

"The flag will really be quite a treasure and an amazing addition to that (collection)," she said.

Hand-delivered a few weeks ago by the Ramsays, the flag provides a valuable connection to Murray, a farmer-turned-soldier, who weathered an amazing battleground experience and lived to tell about it. The flag, too, survived recent brushes with Colorado wildfires.

The gift also provides the Ramsays with peace of mind and the pride in making a meaningful public contribution.

"We felt it should go some place where other people could look at it," David Ramsay said. "The flag is home, where it should be."

They discovered the flag about 12 years ago when Millie's father died. Going through his storage unit, they came upon a shoe box.

"There was a flag all folded up inside," David Ramsay said. A ribbon in the box identified Edward Murray as having enlisted in 1861 -- later determined actually to be 1862. They took the flag to the University of Denver.

"They cleaned the flag and looked it over and said, 'Yes, it's an old one,'" David Ramsay recalled.

They had no clue of its existence, as the family was very private.

"My father never told me anything about it," Millie Ramsay said. She later learned that Edward Murray was her great, great, great grandfather.

Wrapped in muslin and rolled up in a tube, the flag was stashed in a closet until 2001, when a wildfire roared nearby. Woodland Park is about 20 miles northwest of Colorado Springs and about 10 miles from Pikes Peak.

"We had to pack things up. We got the flag and stuffed that in our pickup truck," David Ramsay said. When the danger had passed, they returned to a home without damage.

The flag went back in the closet until a few months ago, when the Waldo Canyon fire caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

The Ramsays were out of the area at the time but had their daughter remove prized possessions from the home, including the flag. Again, they had been spared but figured it was time to do something with the flag.

They began looking for a home for it, and even contacted the museums at the Smithsonian. No response. They began searching in Lake County and connected with Dretske, who, by chance, has a personal interest in the 96th Regiment.

"Diana probably knows more about him than we do," David Ramsay said. "He had a pretty tough time."

The Discovery Museum, which is part of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, has many official records of the 96th including an account of Murray's experiences at the Battle of Chickamauga, Ga., which was detailed in his "Soldier's Reminiscences."

"He's one of the ones who stood out for me," Dretske said.

Murray was born in Scotland and came to the U.S. in 1834. He eventually settled in Newport Township on the north side of Russell Road across from what is now the Van Patten Woods Forest Preserve.

He was harvesting in the summer of 1862 when he was approached to enlist. A few days later, he and about 100 others signed the roll call in Waukegan and, though officially on duty, was allowed to go home to finish harvesting.

According to Dretske's "Lake County: An Illustrated History," about 2,000 men from Lake County joined the effort from 1861 to 1865, most serving in the 96th Regiment.

The flag, made of linen or cotton, was made by his mother, Agnes Riley Murray. With 13 stars of various sizes, it is not exactly government issue. But that wasn't the point.

"She probably made it and had it there at the farm when he was off at war," Dretske said. "My feeling is probably those were the original colonies that became the United States. It was just something patriotic she was doing."

Meanwhile, on Sept. 20, 1863, Murray would have one of the most harrowing experiences of any Lake County soldier.

While trying to reload his gun during the Battle of Chickamauga, Murray was shot between the shoulders and paralyzed from the waist down. As he lay helpless, according to Dretske, Union troops were forced to retreat and he was left between the two lines. He was shot twice more as the battle continued and a Confederate soldier took his gun.

That night, left behind with others who were injured, Murray recalled hearing one man calling out for water, Dretske wrote. Two Confederate soldiers gave him water and carried Murray to a fire and gave him a blanket.

Examined on the battlefield a few days later, Union surgeons left him for dead. He eventually was taken to the Confederate side, given food at a nearby home and transferred back to the Union army.

He was hospitalized and then sent home to Lake County. After a long recovery, he was able to walk again, according to Dretske's account.

The Ramsays drove to the Lake County Discovery Museum to deliver the flag and met with Dretske on Aug. 13.

"We think it should be there, instead of in our closet," David Ramsay said.

Because of its condition, the flag couldn't be exhibited every day but likely will be displayed on special occasions, such as the district's annual Civil War Days celebration next July.

"I really think people will connect strongly to it when they see it," Dretske said.

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