The Battle of Bull Run: The Painting & The Story

Friends of the Vermont State House Annual Meeting Presents
Historian Howard Coffin and the Installation of a Painting by James Hope

On January 25, 2016, historian Howard Coffin, featured guest speaker and donor of the 19th century painting of The Battle of Bull Run by James Hope, will tell the story behind this critical Civil War battle and important work of art. The presentation will be held in the Senate Chamber of the State House at 3:30 pm and the installation of painting and a reception will be in the Cedar Creek at 4:00. Below is an excerpt of Mr. Coffin's explanation of the painting's provenance: 

James Hope, destined to become a well-known landscape painter, as a young man organized and commanded Company B of the Second Vermont Regiment.”  The Second, Vermont’s first three year regiment, would become part of the famous First Vermont Brigade.  The regiment participated in the Civil War’s first major battle, known in the north as Bull Run and in the South as Manassas.

Hope led his “Castleton Company” at Bull Run, as the Vermonters were ordered into action late in the battle. They fought well in an isolated position along Chinn Ridge, at the exposed right flank of the Union army’s main line.

The Vermonters suffered some 60 casualties as they exchanged fire with Confederates in the woods to their front. The Second held its position for a half hour, when the entire Union line collapsed and the Vermonters joined the general retreat.

Hope painted his first battle with remarkable accuracy, managing to show much of the battlefield, including Henry House Hill, in the background, where the battle was decided.The Henry House itself is accurately depicted, around it lying casualties of the vicious fight in its vicinity. 

Hope would later paint scenes of the Battle of Antietam, which he witnessed.  Those large paintings are now the featured exhibit at the Antietam National Battlefield.

Hope’s painting accurately depicts Vermonter soldiers in their first major engagement of the Civil War.  The painting was the centerpiece of the sesquicentennial exhibit assembled by the National Park Service at the battlefield park at Manassas, Virginia, to mark the Bull Run battle’s 150th anniversary.  It was displayed at the park’s visitors’ center, on Henry House Hill.