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“The Return of the 69th Irish Regiment" by Louis Lang

Hidden US Civil War masterpiece is rediscovered

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“The Return of the 69th Irish Regiment" by Louis Lang

The famous masterpiece  “The Return of the 69th Irish Regiment,” a seven foot high 11.5 feet across monumental painting has been rediscovered.

It had lain forgotten since the late 1940s, but now the New York Historical Society will once again showcase the painting on November 11th, Veteran’s Day.

The painting depicts July 27th 1861, in New York City, as General Frances Meagher, the head of the Irish regiment, and his men return to a hero’s welcome in New York City after the first battle of Bull Run.

The painting by Louis Lang lay forgotten in a New Jersey warehouse after the obsession with modern art began after the Second World War and it was cast aside.

It practically fell to pieces but has now been lovingly restored by Linda Ferber, Vice President and art historian at the New York Historical Society.

Lange had given the painting to the New York Historical Society, New York’s oldest museum.

“It is both a work of art and a feat of reportage unprecedented in its day, as memorable as any news photograph or television image,” said Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times article reporting the finding of the painting.

The event in the painting took place in modern Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan as Meagher and his men returned from the battle. The officers were mostly Irish nationalists forced to flee after the 1848 uprising in Ireland, the enlisted men were mostly Famine refugees.

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Col Michael Corcoran, the commander of the 69th, was captured by the Confederates and is not present in the scene but is depicted on the front page of a newspaper held by a newsboy.

Meager was an heroic figure to the Irish. He had visited France during their 1848 revolution and returned with a tricolor which became the official flag of Ireland.

A poem at the time to him read “Long life to Captain Meagher, that Irish blood of fame/Who wore the Harp and Shamrock upon the Battle plain/Who said unto his warlike men: Remember Fontenoy!”

The Irish poet Paul Muldoon, a professor at Princeton University and poetry editor of The New Yorker, is composing a poem about the painting’s  resurrection.

“There’s something wonderful about the sweep of this painting,” he says, “something quite thrilling. It’s the tension in it that I respond to, between the glory of its purported subject and the slightly gory and very ragged aspect of many of the people depicted here.”

The painting is “touching and troubling,” Muldoon told The Irish Times.

“The Irish willingly gave themselves to fight so many wars in Europe. When you look at the number of Irishmen who joined the cavalry in the west, at Custer’s last stand ... They were out there for better or worse – often for worse, as [the American poet] Louis Simpson wrote, ‘And grave by grave we civilise the ground.’”

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