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the regiment's "second" (aka "Tiffany" colors) came to Notre Dame in the 1890s The conservation of the colors in 2000 Historical Documents (1861-65) Historical Documents (1892-1998)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!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1864 Election Night - Notre Dame Style!

Tonight, November 2, 2010, is a mid-term election night, and (hopefully) readers of this blog will have voted today and many may be watching the returns tonight. You think today's politics are tough?! Wait until you read how the votes at Notre Dame almost ruined election night for the Speaker of the House in 1864!

Read part of the story below and read the entire tale in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), available in just a few weeks!

In the midterm elections of 1862 – a tough proposition for the party in power – South Bend, Indiana's representative, Republican Schuyler Colfax, had faced stiff competition from Democrat “Dirty Dave” Turpie and won the election by a slim margin of less than 300 votes. In 1864, even as the powerful Speaker of the House, Colfax faced another difficult election at home. The voting public’s anxiety over wartime inflation and a burgeoning fifth column of Copperheads in Indiana compelled Colfax to write Lincoln, “the odds are heavy against us in Indiana.” Colfax would again face Turpie, who was still stinging from his close defeat in 1862 which the Democrats attributed to “fraud and trickery.” So motivated was Turpie to “lay Schuyler Colfax upon the shelf” that he turned down his party’s nomination as lieutenant governor.

On the eve of the election, the generally politically astute Notre Dame president, Fr. Sorin, wrote a friend that Colfax was devoted to him and that he (Sorin) sometimes availed myself of this good will. Fr. Sorin boasted of the power he had, writing that Colfax knew he had at his disposal from sixty to seventy-five votes at Notre Dame each election, either for him or against him. Colfax, who had always counted on those votes from Notre Dame, needed them in 1864. To that end, he visited Fr. Sorin to express his anxiety over the political landscape and reminded the good father of the draft exemptions and other political favors the Republican Party had secured for him.

Fr. Sorin understood Colfax’s not-so-subtle intimations and called a meeting of the priests and brothers that lasted for several hours and resulted in a resolution which was calculated to have the best result: that is, that no other ticket than the Republican or Union ticket shall be voted by the members of the Holy Cross congregation. Unfortunately, the person responsible for passing on this important information to the other members of the Notre Dame community failed to carry out this critical assignment, and the result was that - as Fr. Sorin reported to his superior – “three-fourths…voted against [Colfax]." (!)

Why did the priests and brothers vote against Colfax?
Did Colfax win?
How did Colfax retaliate against Notre Dame?
How did a thousand Haily Mary's (and a famous general's wife!) save the day?
Did Fr. Sorin (and Schuyler Colfax) learn a lesson?

Find out by reading Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), available November 24!