- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — After two decades collecting Civil War treasures, Texas oilman Ray Richey finally reached a turning point.

“Either build a third storage building or a museum,” he said. “Or I could quit collecting, which was not an option.”

Mr. Richey went with the museum, an expansive building just a short walk from his office on the western outskirts of Fort Worth. But the Texas Civil War Museum, which opened to the public yesterday, is more than just his huge stockpile.

Mr. Richey partnered with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which had been seeking a permanent home for its artifacts since being uprooted by renovation of the state Capitol.

The 50-year-old Mr. Richey calls himself a “C+” history student who had little interest in the Civil War until he and his wife, Judy, visited exhibits on the war at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He later purchased some muskets at a gun show in Richmond, the start of a collection that has ballooned over 21 years.

Fascination with the all-American conflict, boosted by its centennial in the 1960s and Ken Burns’ PBS documentary in the 1990s, shows no sign of letting up, historian Steven E. Woodworth said.

“If a private person is going to own a lot of Civil War memorabilia or artifacts, I think this is the right thing to do with it: Put it on display, allow the public to look at it and scholars to look at it,” said Mr. Woodworth, a Texas Christian University history professor.

Mr. Richey built the spacious museum on property he owned at a cost of about $2 million. His collection alone, an estimated 65 percent of which is on display, is insured for $3 million.

“The firearms are not my favorite. You have to have them because that’s what they used to kill each other,” he said. “I like the personal items, the flags. That’s what the boys fought for.”

Among the most heart-rending is the bloodstained New Testament recovered from Confederate Pvt. Julius T. Sawyer of Georgia, who was killed at the Battle of Olustee, Fla., on Feb. 20, 1864.

Another of Mr. Richey’s favorites is the Confederate battle flag Pvt. Charles P. Matthews sneaked under his shirt at his unit’s surrender and brought home to Texas. A photo next to the framed, tattered banner shows an elderly Pvt. Matthews in 1910, holding the flag in a ramrod-straight pose.

“This is cool; it really is,” said Tom Stuart, of Flower Mound, Texas, a Civil War re-enactor and museum volunteer who pointed out possible bullet holes in the worn standard.

The museum covers 15,500 square feet and more than 3,000 artifacts that will rotate on exhibit.

Camp gear, muskets and even locks of hair from Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee can be seen.

The museum has more than 200 colorful Victorian dresses collected by Mrs. Richey, 36 of which are on display.

The Civil War divided families and dramatically reordered the nation, eliminating the long-held institution of slavery at a cost of more than 600,000 American casualties — about 270 times the number killed in the Iraq war thus far.

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