Monday, November 29, 2010

Civil War Artifacts at Notre Dame - A Famous Flag

The University of Notre Dame is home to a wonderful legacy of its own contributions during the American Civil War, which I have written about in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).

The university is also home to a wonderful collection of Civil War artifacts and correspondence, including the Sherman Family Papers (about which I posted earlier here) and wartime manuscript collections in the Rare Books and Special Collections section of the library (including images and transcriptions here).

Also in the collection is one of the famous and beautiful Tiffany-crafted flags that belonged to one of the regiments of the famous Irish Brigade. The stories of the regiment, the brigade, the colors (and abiding myths), how the colors came to the university, and how - almost 150 years later - they were properly restored and conserved, are the subject of a terrific book: Blue for the Union & Green for Ireland: The Civil War Flags of the 63rd Regiment New York Volunteers, Irish Brigade by Peter J. Lysy (University of Notre Dame Archives) and available through the archives here.

Although seemingly short at 60 pages, the book is packed with information and more than 60 illustrations, most of them in color and some of them quite rare, indeed!

The book is divided into five main parts: The flags of the 63rd New York How the regiment's "second" (aka "Tiffany" colors) came to Notre Dame in the 1890s The conservation of the colors in 2000 Historical Documents (1861-65) Historical Documents (1892-1998)

The book first describes the organization of the New York regiments of the Irish Brigade and the importance - both practical and inspirational - of flags (colors) in the Civil War armies. The 63rd NY was bestowed with no less than four sets of national and regimental colors over the course of the war.

The author makes the important point that the Irish Brigade is a very popular subject for modern military painters and - given the beauty and iconic nature of the brigade's regimental colors - that they can hardly help themselves in including them in their paintings, even though they were not always (indeed, rarely) carried in battle.

The flag was given to the university in the 1890s and was proudly displayed in her "Irish Hall" along with other artifacts of the war and Irish heritage. The colors changed hands at the university, being held in turn in the school's art galleries and the ROTC "Military Museum" before being given to the university's archivists.

The book includes more than twenty color illustrations of flag detail before and during the restoration process, which took place in 2000. The book closes with a collection of wartime and modern documents that detail the original crafting and presentation of the colors to the regiment, soldiers' mentions of the colors during the war, their transmittal to the university in the 1890s, and their restoration.

This TERRIFIC, handsome, and affordable (only $16.95!) book will be of great interest to readers interested in the 63rd New York, the Irish Brigade, and in Civil War vexillology (the scholarly study of flags) and flag restoration!

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