The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1776 (Painting)
Artist John Trumbull's painting (completed between 1815 and 1831) depicts the death of Founding Father Joseph Warren at the June 17, 1775, Battle of Bunker Hill, during the American Revolutionary War.
According to Wikipedia: Warren, an influential Massachusetts physician and politician, had been commissioned as a general but served in the battle as a private. He was killed during or shortly after the storming of the redoubt atop Breed's Hill by a British officer.
Artist John Trumbull (1756–1843) was in the colonial army camp at Roxbury, Massachusetts on June 17, 1775, the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He watched the battle unfold through field glasses, and later decided to depict one of its central events. Joseph Warren, a Massachusetts politician and member of the colony's Committee of Safety, volunteered to serve under Colonel William Prescott in the defense of the redoubt which the colonists had constructed on top of Breed's Hill. This redoubt was the target of three British attacks, of which the first two were repulsed. The third attack succeeded, in part because the defenders had run out of ammunition. Warren was struck by a musket or pistol ball during the evacuation of the redoubt, and killed instantly.
The central focus of the painting is Warren's body, dressed in white, and John Small, a British major, dressed in a scarlet uniform (holding a sword in his left hand). Small, who had served with colonial General Israel Putnam during the French and Indian War, is shown preventing a fellow British soldier from bayoneting Warren. Trumbull wanted to express the poignancy in the conflict of men who had earlier served together.
On the far right of the painting is a colonial officer, Thomas Grosvenor, with a Black man holding a musket behind him. The Black man was long thought to be Peter Salem, a freed slave who served in the cause of American independence. Later research identified him as a slave belonging to Grosvenor.
The foreground is littered with bodies from both sides of the conflict, and the background includes clusters of colonial and British troops carrying flags. Boston Harbor is also visible in the distance. The sky is partially obscured by smoke rising from Charlestown, which had been torched by the British.
In describing the painting for a catalogue of his works, Trumbull explained why he chose to emphasize the British Major Small's role, saying that Small, whom he had met in London, "was equally distinguished by acts of humanity and kindness to his enemies, as by bravery and fidelity to the cause he served."
Depicted Colonists: Joseph Warren. Thomas Grosvenor, soldier to the far right. An African-American slave of Grosvenor, shown behind the officer. Major Andrew McClary. A black freeman, possibly Peter Salem, head visible below the flags on the left side of the painting. General Israel Putnam, colonial officer on the far left of the painting. Thomas Knowlton, standing over Warren and holding a musket. Lieutenant-Colonel Moses Parker of Chelmsford is depicted sitting wounded to the left of Warren. Colonel Thomas Gardner lying on ground lower right (both Gardner and Parker were taken prisoner, and both died in early July in Boston). Colonel& William Prescott, who allegedly ordered his soldiers not to fire until "you see the whites of their eyes".
Depicted British soldiers: Major John Small, the red-coated British soldier stepping over a fallen redcoat soldier to hold back the bayonet of a fellow soldier. Major John Pitcairn, falling back dying in his son's (Lieutenant Pitcairn's) arms. General Henry Clinton, bare-headed British officer with raised sword at the rear, center of the painting. General William Howe, standing to the left of Clinton from the viewer's point of view with his sword pointing forward. Lord Rawdon, then a lieutenant, holds the British color, center-right in the painting. Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie, the redcoat soldier, laying dead underneath John Small and at General Warren's feet.
Download the Keys to John Trumbull's American Revolution Paintings (to view the name and location of each person depicted in the composition).
Artist: John Trumbull
Date: 1815 - 1831
Original medium: Oil on canvas