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Unearthed Painting Depicts the Irish Fighting 69th Regiment Returning From Bull Run [PHOTOS]

July 28, 2011   View Discussion

Unearthed Painting Depicts the Irish Fighting 69th Regiment Returning From Bull Run [PHOTOS]

Patrick Young, Esq.

by Patrick Young, Esq. - Blogger

For a list of other features in The Immigrants’ Civil War scroll to the bottom of the page.
“The Return of the 69th Irish Regiment” is a seven-foot high and eleven-foot wide painting. With dimensions like that, it is hard to see how it could go missing, but missing it was for half a century. The New-York Historical Society recently rediscovered the painting in its archives, and it was in terrible shape. After a year of restoration by seven conservationists, it will be unveiled again at the society’s museum on Veterans Day this fall.

Louis Lang, a German immigrant, painted “The Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment N.Y.S.M. From the Seat of War” in 1862-1863, during the Civil War. The painting is rich in symbolism, and captures an important moment in immigrant history: the return of the 69th to New York after the defeat at Bull Run.

The 69th arrived at the Battery on July 27, 1861, and marched up Broadway. While the battle had been a disaster for the Union, the 69h had acquitted itself well, and was given a hero’s welcome.

This painting was made soon after the event and was intended to serve as a visual narrative. It has multiple focal points, each intended to tell a story.

At the center is the 69th itself, led by boy drummers and the famous Irish revolutionary Thomas Francis Meagher riding on a horse.

Meagher had taken over command of the regiment when Col. Michael Corcoran was captured by the Confederates at Bull Run. The painting depicts Corcoran’s capture, shown on the front page of a newspaper being sold by a poor newsboy.

In the upper right of the painting, the Irishmen are hailed by the same sort of wealthy native-born who a few years earlier were trying to exclude the immigrants from power. They cheer from the steps of their well-appointed town houses, waving American flags. Have they accepted the Irish as Americans in recognition of their blood sacrifice? Some of the houses fly Irish flags, recognizing that some immigrants had made it and entered the city’s power elite.

On the left side of the painting are the Irish poor, who waited for nearly a day in the summer sun for their regiment to come home. They aren’t standing outside their homes. They are in a public park. Some of the Irish wear green sashes and green flags are in evidence, signifying that this is an immigrant regiment, sent out to represent an immigrant community. They also underscore the Irish nationalist associations of the 69th.

Even the American-born children of the immigrants understand that this regiment belongs to them. They may be “natural-born citizens”, but they are part of the Irish community and they, too, wave the green flag.

In the background is Castle Clinton, with a huge green flag flying. At the time, Castle Clinton was the immigration station for New York. Many of the soldiers had arrived there from Ireland just a few years earlier. Now they were returning to New York from that foreign country, Virginia, through the same “Golden Door” of immigrants.

The painting also depicts the cost of the battle. A cart on the left carries the seriously wounded soldiers of the regiment. A boy playing soldier turns and looks aghast at a soldier with a crippling leg wound.

Instead of marching in a place of honor in the center of the painting, the regiment’s priest is with the wounded, seeing to their needs and comforting a crying woman carrying her baby.

The painting also depicts a young woman receiving news from a member of the 69th’s Zouave company that her husband was killed. An old woman, the soldier’s mother is stoic, but the wife breaks down. All three ignore the boy offering fruit as a present for the retuned heroes.

This article describes the restoration of the painting, and includes a photo of it prior to restoration.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that will examine the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear monthly between 2011 and 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War - Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America - Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist- A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. ...And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?- The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did new Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles


Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

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Book Reviews

The Harp and the Eagle: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861 to 1865 by Susannah Ural Bruce

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader Edited by Jonathan Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn

Civil War Citizens edited by Susannah Ural Bruce

Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich

A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War By Amanda Foreman

Irish Green and Union Blue by Peter Welsh

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler- Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained




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