- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

BEDFORD, Va. (AP) The 100 volunteers of the Bedford Southside Dragoons marched into battle alongside Confederate forces under a flag fashioned from a woman's silk dress.
Now the faded remnant of the Dragoons' battles at Bull Run and Sharpsburg is the focus of a restoration effort that will keep intact a rare relic of the Civil War and greatly increase its value.
The $7,000 restoration could increase the flag's value more than fivefold.
"The Confederate stuff is scarce," said Fonda Thomsen, a Maryland textile conservator who specializes in restoring flags and uniforms. "There's a huge collector's market out there."
The Bedford Dragoons organized about a year before the Civil War started. In 1861, the Dragoons joined Company F of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry.
Just before the Dragoons headed off to battle the Union Army, their wives, mothers and daughters created the flag from blue silk. It featured the image of George Washington on one side and the Virginia state seal on the other. The slogan "State Rights" and the state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," also were stitched onto the flag.
"We were fond of this beautiful flag, which was not a battle flag, but the flag of Virginia," Pvt. Moses Rucker wrote at the time.
In July 1863, Union soldiers captured it as the Dragoons retreated from Gettysburg. In 1919, Maj. William Graves, an ex-Dragoon and former Vinton, Va., mayor, recovered it in Trenton, N.J., and turned it over to the William Terry Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which is based in Bedford.
The UDC donated it to the Bedford City-County Museum in 1932, and since then it has been displayed in a glass frame in the basement of the Bedford County Courthouse or at the museum's present location across the street from the courthouse.
Ultraviolet rays, humidity and temperature changes have taken their toll, and many silk fibers have broken down.
"We've known for years what needed to be done, but it's been a question of paying for it," said museum director Ellen Wandrei.
Mr. Thomsen's company, Textile Preservation Associates Inc., restores about six to eight flags a month, many of them for private individuals or estates. It has also restored several flags for the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.
Mr. Thomsen said Confederate battle flags in good condition routinely sell for $150,000. Company flags like the one at the Bedford museum have sold for $40,000.
As part of the restoration process, Mr. Thomsen's company will humidify the flag with distilled water and dry it under glass weights to remove any creases. The flag also will be covered with a sheer, transparent polyester fabric, attached to a padded backing and enclosed in Plexiglas treated with a filter to guard against ultraviolet light.
"The silks can't tolerate light at all," Mr. Thomsen said.
He said the best way to preserve the restored flag is to keep it in a cool, dimly lighted room.
Miss Wandrei said the museum has collected about $2,000 toward the restoration costs.
Leslie Mehaffey, an official with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said it is important to preserve Bedford County's contribution to the war.
"We must remember our Bedford boys, no matter what war they fought in," she said.


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