DescriptionMORT KÜNSTLER (American, b. 1931)
Fighting 69th: General Meagher and the Irish Brigade, Fredericksburg, Virginia, December 2, 1862, 1998
Oil on canvas
26 x 48 inches (66.0 x 121.9 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: © MKünstler '98
Titled, signed, and dated on upper stretcher bar verso: Fighting 69th / General Meagher and the Irish Brigade MKünstler '98
Hammer Galleries, Inc., New York;
Sun Art, Ltd., Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland.
Hammer Galleries, Inc., New York, May 1998.
Limited edition print, American Print Gallery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, December 1998;
H.S. Commager, The Blue and the Gray, Vols. 1-2, frontispiece, Easton Press, Norwalk, Connecticut, 1999;
Calendar CD, Aware Concepts, LLC, Herndon, Virginia, 2000;
The 2000 Künstler Civil War Collector's Calendar, Perfect Timing, Inc./Lang, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 2000, illustrated in color, December;
Mort Künstler's Civil War - The North postcard, Scenic Art, Temecula, California, 2000;
The 2001 Künstler Civil War Calendar, Perfect Timing, Inc./Lang, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 2001, illustrated in color, December;
The 2004 Gods and Generals Calendar Calendar, Perfect Timing, Inc./Lang, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 2004, illustrated in color, December;
M. Künstler, The Civil War Art of Mort Künstler, Greenwich Workshop Press, Seymour, Connecticut, 2004, pp 80-1, illustrated in color;
The 2006 Künstler Civil War Calendar, Perfect Timing, Inc./Lang, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 2006, illustrated in color, December;
P.R. Wylie, The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 2007, illustrated in color, cover;
M. Künstler, The Civil War Paintings of Mort Künstler, Vol. 2, Cumberland House Publishing, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 2007, pp 40-1, illustrated in color;
"Newsletter 301", Stonyhurst Association Newsletter, Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, UK, September 2010, p. 18, illustrated in color;
J.I. Robertson, Jr., For Us The Living: The Civil War in Paintings and Eyewitness Accounts - The Art of Mort Künstler, Sterling Publishing Co., New York, 2010, pp. 36-7 & p. 86, illustrated in color;
The 2011 Künstler Civil War Calendar, Perfect Timing, Inc./Lang, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 2011, illustrated in color, December.
From portraits of prehistoric American life to the odyssey of the space shuttle, Mort Künstler paints America's story. In the early 1980s, he began focusing mainly on the American Civil War. "Mort Künstler is the foremost Civil War artist of our time-if not of all time," says Dr. James I. Robertson Jr., author of the celebrated biography, Stonewall Jackson. "To study his paintings," says Robertson, "is to simply see history alive." Künstler's Fighting 69th: General Meagher and the Irish Brigade, Fredericksburg, Virginia, December 2, 1862, painted in 1998, perfectly encapsulates the courage and honor of the 'Fighting Irish' in that infamous battle, and showcases Künstler's virtuosity as the greatest painter of American history alive today.
The Irish Brigade was an infantry brigade, consisting predominantly of Irish Americans that served in the Union Army in the Civil War. The designation of the first regiment in the brigade, the 69th New York Infantry, or the "Fighting 69th," continued in later wars. The Irish Brigade was known in part for its famous war cry, the "faugh a ballagh," which is an Anglicization of the Irish phrase, fág an bealach, meaning "clear the way". According to Fox's Regimental Losses, of all Union army brigades, only the 1st Vermont Brigade and Iron Brigade suffered more combat dead than the Irish Brigade during the Civil War.
The brigade suffered its most severe casualties at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, where its fighting force was reduced from over 1600 to 256. Among the countless claims to valor that cold and bloody day would be the reputation earned by the soldiers of the 69th New York. They would charge into the flame of battle at Fredericksburg without their battle flag, which had been shot to ribbons in earlier fighting. Determined to "show the green," the men of the 69th would make their assault with sprigs of boxwood tucked into their kepis. They would indeed "show the green," and in doing so they would also show their pluck and prove their reputation as "The Fighting 69th."
In the present work Künstler paints his soldiers, their tattered green flag flying, poised to face Lee's legions and suffer inimitable loss. Every detail of the scene is meticulously accurate and painstakingly rendered. Kunstler notes:
"I painted The Fighting 69th because so many people asked for it. In 1991, I accepted a commission from the U.S. Army War College to paint "Raise the Colors and Follow Me!" It showed General Thomas Francis Meagher and the Irish Brigade charging the Sunken Road at Antietam. For this Irish Brigade picture, I selected a Fredericksburg scene.
"The Federal army arrived on the north side of the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg on November 17, 1862. The men believed there would be no more fighting that year and began building winter quarters on November 20th, before official orders were issued to set up winter camp. The army required an enormous amount of wood for shelter and sustenance. Consequently, whole forests disappeared within months, as is seen on the distant hills.
"It snowed on November 29th and since I enjoy painting snow scenes, I knew the picture had to take place sometime after this date. I planned to feature the famous 69th New York but the regiment had no green flag during the battle of Fredericksburg. Tattered and torn from previous fighting, it has been returned to New York to be replaced. Happily, I found that the colors were not retired until December 2nd, so the distinctive and colorful flag would still be present for my painting.
"I contacted Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., at Virginia Tech for weather conditions and learned there was a clearing and warming trend that day. The color guard and officers of the 69th arrived at the Brigade headquarters of General Meagher for the official return of the colors. Colonel Robert Nugent points out to General Meagher the spot where the long-awaited pontoons, which arrived on November 26th, have been placed. Other well-known members of the 69th are Capt. John H. Donovan (on horseback to the left with the patch over his right eye) and Major James Cavanaugh (the officer on Donovan's immediate left). Capt. Dennis Sullivan is standing at the far right. The man immediately behind him is Rev. William Corby, who was Chaplain of the 88th NY.
"The green regimental flag still exists today, as do the ribbons. The tears and bullet holes are based on the actual flag. An interesting note is that it says 1st regiment on the flag and not the 69th because the 69th NY was the first regiment of the Irish Brigade. The white and red headquarters flag shows it to be the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Corps. according to General Order 102 of the Army of the Potomac of 24th March 1862. The white marker with gold 69th NYSV also still exists."
All of Künstler's artistic devices come together in his engaging and genuine depiction of Fighting 69th: General Meagher and the Irish Brigade, Fredericksburg, Virginia, December 2, 1862. His singular ability to encapsulate American history so accurately and with such artistic vigor has earned him the admiration of collectors worldwide. In 1998, the year in which the present work was painted, the Nassau County Museum of Art in New York sponsored a one-man exhibition of Künstler's work entitled The Civil War--The Paintings of Mort Künstler. More than 130 paintings, drawings, and sculptures were gathered together from around the nation. The seven-week exhibition attracted more than 30,000 visitors, surpassing the previous attendance record set by a Picasso exhibit. Künstler's following and popularity among scholars, collectors, and museum-goers underscores the artist's firm ranking as a leading illustrator, not only of our generation, but of all time.
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