Growing up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Bacon witnessed first-hand the changes wrought by industrialization and urbanization on the New England landscape. First settled in 1640, Haverhill was one of the oldest towns in the Commonwealth. By the time of the Civil War, however, it was a center of the shoe-making industry in America and well on its way to becoming a mill city. From this urban environment Bacon marched off to fight with the Thirteenth Massachusetts Infantry.
After his army service, Bacon traveled to Paris to study painting at the École des Beaux Arts. Unlike his peers, however, who returned to the states after an encounter with impressionism, Bacon remained abroad for the majority of his career, painting conservative historical genre scenes and pictures of the exotic Middle East. Dissimilar in subject matter, Bacon’s paintings share a moralizing tone and a pervasive nostalgia for a primitive, pre-industrial past. Bacon’s American subjects proved to be highly popular and his magnum opus, The Boston Boys and General Gage, 1775, was exhibited in Memorial Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.