Death of Gen. Warren at Bunker Hill

Painting by: John Tumbull

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Happening Truth By: Nicholas Iaccarino

On June 17, 1775, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, during the American Revolution General Warren, a political power of Massachusetts and member of the Committee of Safety volunteered to participate in the war, were he was killed later in the battle. He and his men were targeted by British soldiers on three occasions. The first two times they were able to defend against British attack however the third time, they were unable to defend due to lack of ammunition, leading to a retreat, were General Warren was struck by a musket ball. The shot hit him in the head, killing him instantly.


John Trumbull is one of the most notable artists of the American Revolution, whose patriotic pieces are clearly recognized as fundamental to the recounts of specific battles and events during the time period. Born in Connecticut as part of a prominent Puritan family, John was initially raised as a traditionally educated young man, and as such, attended Harvard College at age fifteen. However, during the American Revolution, John decided to join the Continental troops and contribute his talent of sketching to depict the events that he witnessed during his time on the field. After he left the army in 1777 due to complications with his officer commission, he decided to further pursue his art career by studying under the Englishmen Benjamin West and continuously recreating the scenes of battle that would be forever remembered in his mind. In 1780, Trumbull was arrested by the British as retaliation for the American Hanging of a British Major of the same rank. Upon his release, he left for the Colonies until American independence was recognized by Britain, before once again returning to study under West. As a result of his time with the renowned Benjamin West, Trumbull’s painting style is often reflects his neoclassical influences. However, because John Trumbull was involved in an accident as a young child and lost the use of one of his eyes, his ability to portray clear and distinct details was affected. This can be seen in his typical use of blurred outlines to portray the semblance of details instead of physically painting distinct objects.


In the painting, The death of General Warren at Bunker’s Hill, Charlestown, Mass., 17 June 1775 by John Trumbull, 1786. The painting seems to be very faded with light mostly on the left side, because during war things tend to be very confused and overwhelming and therefore showing how things can get all blended together. When first looking at the painting, one mostly notices the mass amount of soldiers and colonial men fighting in the middle of the piece, because Trumbull might have had the goal to show chaos and animosity. The painting also lacks an ample amount of detail other than in the very front; the background is blank other than a cloud of smoke and the people in the background are just figures. The historical evidence from the painting depicts the battle of Bunker Hill which was the siege of Boston during the American Revolutionary War. The battle took place in 1775 and was held between the British and United Colonies. The audience is not meant to feel like a part of the art, but is rather meant to see it for themselves and interpret the scene. The agreement and purpose of the painting is to depict the battle and overtaking between the British and United Colonies and shows how the colonists are in white and the British are in red; symbolizing innocence being overtaken and washed away by blood. In conclusion, this is a very over exaggerated portrayal of the battle, however correctly represents the severity of the battle.


In the Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, General Warren collapses into the arms of his comrade as the red British tide threatens to overrun his regiment. While he lays dying, a British footman approaches with the intent to spear Warren with his bayonet, only to be held back by John Small, a Major in the British army, and Moses Parker, as Lieutenant-Colonel in the Colonial militia. At the sight of their fallen friend and leader, the colonists who had begun to flee, instead turn to defend the body of their General, their faces filled with sorrow and rage. On the ground lie corpses of good men from both sides and across the Boston Harbor, Charlestown burns.


Before recruitments had arrived for either side involved in the war, it seemed as if they were equal. While the Colonists besieged the loyal city of Boston, the British soldiers within had enough manpower to strike back when necessary. It was some sort of an uneasy peace, but it wouldn't last for long.

Under the cover of night on June 16 of 1775, the Colonists made the decision to strike first before the possibility of being taken by surprise. As such, they decided to start fortifying the hills that surrounded the British, in order to better contain their enemies and ensure victory. However, the British wasn’t blind to the sudden flurry of activity that occurred upon the footsteps of their own hills, and made the decision to send a reconnaissance mission out the hills in order to inspect what the Colonists were planning to do. At the same time, aboard the HMS Lively, an order was given to fire upon the crowd of Colonists working. But because at midnight, it was reported back to the British that there wasn’t a need for alarm, a separate order was given to stop all fire – it seemed as if there was no threat posed by the activity of the Colonists.

However, when the rays of sunrise first illuminated Boston and its surrounding vicinity, the report was proven to be wrong. The Colonists had worked hard under the cover of darkness and constructed strong defenses upon surrounding hills, creating an immediate and dire threat to the British who were still stuck within the confines of the city. The British immediately scrambled to their positions and called upon the HMS Lively to return fire upon the Colonists in order to halt their construction.

That was the beginning of the terrible fight that would claim the lives of hundreds of soldiers from both sides, all for the label of victory upon an insignificant hill. Bullets were fired from muskets and bodies fell upon impact. The semblance of death hung upon the entire battlefield as blood washed the gravely earth and nearby streams red with the violence of the battle. Soldiers trembled from exhaustion as they stumbled across the field, wanting to fight for their cause, but unable to fight the exhaustion of their bodies.

The British forces held long enough for their reinforcements to arrive, swelling their ranks and morale against the Colonists, granting them the strength to subdue the rebels. However, despite a clear physical victory by the British, the price of victory had been too high. With bodies strewn upon the expanse of the battlefield and the death of the well-respected American patriot fresh upon the hearts of surviving Colonists, the resulting patriotism would lead to American victory not only in the next battle, but also the entire war.