Mortally wounded Civil War Sgt. George Poundstone of Grand Ridge was bleeding very badly on the battlefield. But his focus was on saving his country's flag.
Hoping to keep his regiment's U.S. flag from Confederate forces after a battle, Poundstone stuffed it in his tunic.
Today the flag, visibly stained with Poundstone's blood, is stored flat in a cabinet in Springfield with hundreds of other similar fragile banners.
They are waiting for the day when funds can be raised to restore them to a condition where they again can be seen and perhaps shared with their home communities.
Poundstone was a member of the 53rd Illinois Infantry, which organized in Ottawa in the winter of 1861 and 1862. A member of an established La Salle County farming family, he was 32 and single when he joined up in November of 1861.
By early the following year the regiment had been trained and sent south to Missouri, then Tennessee and finally Mississippi.
On July 12, 1863, outside of Jackson, Miss., the 53rd Illinois was ordered to take part in a charge on Confederate fortifications.
The attack was a disaster. Withering Confederate fire cut down the union troops. In 40 minutes half of the Union troops were casualties.
The 53rd started the fight with 250 officers and enlisted men but finished with only 66. The eight members of the color guard that Poundstone was in charge of all were killed or wounded.
Thirty years later Brig. Gen. Walter Greshman, who witnessed the fight, had this to say: "The assault was as heroic as it was disastrous, and it may be that the responsibility for the terrible loss of so many gallant men will always remain a matter of uncertainty."
The general who ordered the charge, Jacob Lauman, was relieved of command and sent home to Iowa, never to be called back to duty.
After the battle, a Confederate patrol brought back to Jackson three Union flags and 200 prisoners, which included Poundstone, who had been shot in his thigh, left eye and heart.
After the news reached Grand Ridge, Sgt. Poundstone's father, Richard, and his brother, Samuel, headed south with a wagon, said Jeff Poundstone of Marseilles.
"His father said he would bring his son back to health or bring him back to bury him," said Jeff Poundstone.
"When he and Samuel arrived, the Confederates let them through the lines. As it turned out, George was dead before they got there. So they brought him back for burial."
Today Sgt. Poundstone rests with his parents and brother in the Grand Ridge Cemetery north of Grand Ridge on the east side of Route 23.
What initially happened to the flag is unknown. But on June 20, 1885, the New York Times reported the "blood-stained, battle-worn" flag had been found at the War Department in Washington, D.C.
According to the newspaper story, Poundstone had been left in Jackson when the Confederates abandoned that city and then taken to Vicksburg, were he died on July 23.
The story says veterans of the 53rd Illinois planned to get the flag returned to Illinois.
Whether the flag was ever a Confederate battle trophy or Sgt. Poundstone had been successful in keeping it from the enemy is unknown. But the flag was returned to Illinois where it was put on display with other battle flags in the capitol building.
In the 1920s the flags were moved to the state's Centennial Building where they remained on display until 2003. Since then the flags have been stored in a modern climate-controlled facility at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. There they are protected, but out of sight, and to a degree out of mind.
Sgt. Poundstone himself is barely remembered, yet his sacrifice is not one that can be forgotten.
"After being shot through the heart, he tore the flag from the staff and thrust it in his bosom," said one 1886 account.
"His heart's blood has written upon the flag he loved so well, a record of his devotion and bravery that speaks more plainly than could epitaph on marble."
Saving Sgt. Poundstone's flag
When it was new the flag of the 53rd Illinois Infantry snapped in the wind in La Salle County.
Today it is in storage. But the flag — stained with the blood of Civil War hero Sgt. George Poundstone of Grand Ridge — can be brought back to its home community for a number of years if the flag's restoration is paid for.
The bottom line is $15,000 to $20,000, said Bill Lear, curator of the Illinois State Military Museum.
The restoration program is run by the nonprofit Illinois National Guard and Militia Historical Society, a nonprofit organization. The program only covers actual costs.
The state has approximately 1,000 military flags, most of which are in serious need of restoration.
The program works by finding a sponsoring organization — or individual — that will raise the amount and then finding a safe and appropriate location to display the flag.
The process is to ship the flag to New York where it is conserved, framed and shipped back.
The condition of the flag is a factor in the final cost.
The flag of the 53rd Illinois is actually in pretty good shape compared to its brothers, said Lear. In some cases the flags are so worn from service that missing segments are recreated to be displayed behind them to show what they originally looked like.
But no matter what the shape two of the big ticket expenses are the cost of special shipping to and from the conservator — about $3,000 to $4,000 — and the frame, another $5,000 to $6,000.
Lear said the state then will loan the flag for display for at least two or three years, and longer if conditions are right. The flags still are the property of the state, he noted.
The display location must be in a temperature controlled building and out of direct sunlight to prevent fading.
The restorations are rare. Last summer four were started that are just about finished.
One will be put on display in the Old State Capitol in Springfield and another in DuPage County.
"It's a doable thing," said Lear.