I have some follow-up to the last post, about General McClellan dashing over the field during the battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862. Happily more battle illustration is required in accompaniment.

Hope 2
A Fateful Turn: Late morning looking east toward the Roulette Farm (James Hope via ANBP)

This is one of the five famous Hope Paintings, a series of very large panoramic views painted by battle veteran James Hope working from sketches he made during the battle. These were first exhibited to the public in or after 1872 at his Watkins Glen studio.

The Park Service notes describe this picture:

… burning Mumma Farm is seen on the left, and Gen. George McClellan is riding with his staff on his only visit onto the battlefield that day at about 2:00 pm. On the right, Richardson’s and French’s Union Divisions advancing on Bloody Lane.

Is this further evidence of McClellan’s whereabouts on the field or artistic interpretation?

I notice a similarity in the depiction of the McClellan group in the Hope painting and the Forbes engraving from The Century, as shown last post. Here are details from each:

Hope2 (detail)McClellan riding the line (detail)

There goes the General, racing ahead, with one staff officer near behind, the rest in a trailing clump. An obvious difference, however, is that Forbes (1886) pictured the group ahead of a large body of troops in line of battle–with the inevitable cheering and throwing of hats–whereas Hope (c.1872) had them alone on a more peaceful field.

I wonder if Forbes took inspiration from Hope and added the troops for dramatic effect? He was helping to sell magazines, after all, and I would assume (without real evidence) that he had seen Hope’s Antietam series.

Another possibility is that Forbes’ view is more accurate and that Captain Hope heard stories, but didn’t actually see the General on the field September 17th–including him allegorically.

All this is really just a tease, although fun to play around with.

Thanks to some excellent pointers from Harry and others, and expectation of further research tonight or tomorrow, I ought shortly be able to put General McClellan more specifically on the field the day of the battle in context with events and surroundings.

I would like to learn how truly he is (or isn’t) represented in the art of Forbes and Hope.


Hope self-portrait
James Hope (1818-1892), self-portrait

Speaking of Hope, there are some nice representations of his other art online here, here and here. The self-portrait above accompanies a nice biography from AskART.

2 Responses to “McClellan on the field at Antietam”

  1. Tim Abbott says:

    Hope was very ill at the time of the battle and unable to participate with his unit (2nd VT, Vermont Brigade, 2nd Division, VIth Corps). If he were really well enough to scout and sketch, one wonders why he could not also fight. If he were only able to observe from afar, then he was likely near McClellan’s HQ where the VIth corps was initially staged before its 1st 2 divisions moved to reinforce the Union right. He was a faithful recorded of the engagements in which his unit participated but may not have been present for the scene he painted at Antietam that would have included the Vermont Brigade and I think may also be the one in which he includes McClellan. All other speculation aside, if he were only able to observe from near McClellan’s HQ then he probably was in a position to know whether the commander ever left that position.

  2. Brian says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I don’t have any information about what Hope actually saw, I’m just speculating. The Park website suggests each of the five paintings was done from eyewitness sketches. I don’t know what evidence they have of that.

    I agree with you that he’d know if McClellan left HQ if that’s where Hope was posted that day. I don’t doubt McClellan was on the field, though — just don’t know yet exactly where, when, or why.

    This is not a big mystery, except to me. I’m sure lots of other people are already clear on where and when. I’m just catching up …

    Ezra Carman, on the battlefield tablet for the Vermont Brigade, has their movements–

    Brooks’ Brigade left its camp in Pleasant Valley at 6 A.M. of the 17th, crossed the Antietam at Pry’s Ford and reached the field about noon. It was ordered to the support of Sedgwick’s Division, Second Corps, on the Union right but, before getting into position, was ordered to the support of French’s Division and formed in Mumma’s Cornfield, on ground vacated by the 14th Connecticut, its left connecting with French, its right resting on Mumma’s Lane, facing south parallel to and about 170 yards from the Bloody Lane. It was subjected to a galling fire of both Artillery and Sharpshooters, causing some loss. It remained in this position until the morning of the 19th.

    As you say, Hope may well have stayed on the east side as the Brigade crossed the Antietam at Pry’s. Interesting.

    Thanks again.

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