Howard Coffin Brings the Civil War Alive at Presentation of James Hope's Painting of The Battle at Bull Run

Guests and visitors filled the elegant State House Senate Chamber a few weeks ago to listen as historian Howard Coffin recounted the fascinating history of "The Battle at Bull Run" and the meaning of James Hope's painting depicting this bloody Civil War battle. As commander of Second Vermont's Company B, the Castleton Company, Hope, a Vermonter, was eyewitness to the action. 

This special event, organized and hosted by the Friends of the Vermont State House, also celebrated Mr. Coffin 's generous donation of the Hope painting with a reception in the Cedar Creek Room, where the painting was hung.  

Mary Leahy, president of the Friends, said of the art, “This is one of the most important of all Vermont Civil War paintings, and is a major addition to the Cedar Creek Room, which is like a Vermont Civil War shrine itself.  We are thrilled by this generous gift to the State House and to all Vermonters. ”   

This video, provided by The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, gives some highlights of the event. 

Excerpt from Howard Coffin's Presentation

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.