A handmade tribute by a proud mom for her son who had joined the 96th Illinois Regiment during the Civil War will be on public display for the first time since it was created about 150 years ago.
Donated last year to the Lake County Discovery Museum by a descendant of Edward Murray, the 4-by 8-foot American flag had been hidden in a shoe box for many years. On July 13 and 14, it will be made available for public viewing as part of the annual Civil War Days encampment sponsored by the museum at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.
Because it is as big as a conference table and too fragile to put on permanent exhibition, museum officials built a display case to share this piece of Lake County and family history.
"This is the first Civil War Days encampment since its donation. We thought it would be a special treat for the public," said Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of cultural resources for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, which operates the museum at Lakewood.
Murray was a farmer in Newport Township. His mother, Agnes Riley Murray, made the flag to mark her son's enlistment in Company C of the 96th Illinois Regiment likely after he left in 1862, according to the museum. Made of linen or cotton, the flag has 13 stars of various sizes, thought to symbolize the original colonies.
Both the soldier and the flag have remarkable stories.
In September 1863, Murray was shot between the shoulders while loading his gun during the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. Paralyzed from the waist down, he was left between two lines as Union troops withdrew. He was shot twice more, according to information compiled by collections coordinator Diana Dretske.
Examined a few days later, he was left for dead by Union surgeons. However, he later was taken by the Confederate forces and given food at a nearby home. He eventually was released to the Union army and hospitalized before being sent home to Lake County. He was able to walk again after a long recovery, according to Dretske's research.
The museum has many official records of the 96th Regiment, including Murray's account of that battle.
Last summer, Dretske got a call from Millie and David Ramsay of Woodland Park, Colo., who were doing research on Murray.
Thinking it a common request regarding an ancestor, she was startled later to learn of the existence of the flag. About 13 years ago, the couple came upon a shoe box while going through the effects of Millie's father, who had died. The flag, with a ribbon identifying Murray as an enlistee, was inside.
Millie Ramsay said she didn't know anything about the flag but later learned Edward Murray was her great-great-great-grandfather. The flag was stuffed in a tube and stored in a closet.
Their home was threatened twice over the years by wildfires, and the flag in the tube was removed each time, just in case.
They then decided to find a permanent home for the flag, personally delivering it to the Discovery Museum last August.
"This flag adds to the distinction of the (Civil War) collection," Hamilton-Smith said.