McPherson, James Birdseye, 1828-1864

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McPherson was born in Clyde, Ohio. He attended Norwalk Academy in Norwalk, Ohio, and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1853, first in his class, which included Philip H. Sheridan, John M. Schofield, and John Bell Hood; Hood would oppose him later in the Western Theater. McPherson was directly appointed to the Corps of Engineers with the rank of brevet second lieutenant. For a year after his graduation he was assistant instructor of practical engineering at the Military Academy, a position never before given to so young an officer.

From 1854 to 1857, McPherson was the assistant engineer upon the defenses of the harbor of New York and the improvement of Hudson River. In 1857 he superintended the building of Fort Delaware, and in 1857–61 was superintending engineer of the construction of the defenses of Alcatraz Island, at San Francisco, California.

In 1859, while in San Francisco, he met Emily Hoffman, a woman from a prominent merchant family in Baltimore who had come to California to help care for her sister's children. They soon became engaged and a wedding was planned, but ultimately put off by the onset ofthe Civil War.

At the start of the American Civil War, McPherson was stationed in San Francisco, California, but requested a transfer to the Corps of Engineers, rightly thinking that a transfer to the East would further his career. He departed California on August 1, 1861, and arrived soon after in New York. He requested a position on the staff of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, one of the senior Western commanders. He received this (while a captain in the Corps of Engineers), and was sent to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1861, he was made captain, serving under Maj.-Gen. Henry Halleck. Halleck appointed him to the command of the Department of the West in November, where he was chosen aide-de-camp to Halleck while also being promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

McPherson's career began rising after this assignment. He was a lieutenant colonel and the Chief Engineer in Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army during the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862.

During the days that led up to the Battle of Shiloh, McPherson accompanied Sherman questioning people in the area and learned that the confederates were bringing large numbers of troops from every direction by train to Corinth, Mississippi, which was itself an important railroad junction.

Following the Battle of Shiloh, which lasted from April 6–7, he was promoted to brigadier general. On October 8 he was promoted to major general, and was soon after given command of the XVII Corps in Grant's Army of the Tennessee.

In September 1862, McPherson assumed a position on the staff of General Grant. For his bravery at Corinth he was promoted to major-general, dating from October 8, rising to that position solely on merit. Immediately after the siege of Vicksburg in which McPherson commanded the center, on Grant's recommendation McPherson was confirmed a brigadier general in the regular army, dating from August 1, 1863. Soon after this promotion, McPherson led a column of infantry into Mississippi and repulsed the enemy at Canton.

On March 12, 1864, he was given command of the Army of the Tennessee, after its former commander, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, was promoted to command of all armies in the West. He then requested leave to go home and marry his fiancé Emily Hoffman in Baltimore, Maryland. His leave was initially granted, but quickly revoked by Sherman, who explained McPherson was needed for his upcoming Atlanta Campaign. McPherson's army was the Right Wing of Sherman's army, alongside the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio.

Sherman planned to have the bulk of his forces feint toward Dalton, Georgia, while McPherson would bear the brunt of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's attack, and attempt to trap them. However, the Confederate forces eventually escaped, and Sherman blamed McPherson (for being "slow"), although it was mainly faulty planning on Sherman's part that led to the escape. McPherson's troops followed the Confederates "vigorously", and were resupplied at Kingston, Georgia. The troops drew near Pumpkinvine Creek, where they attacked and drove the Confederates from Dallas, Georgia, even before Sherman's order to do so. Johnston and Sherman maneuvered against each other, until the Union tactical defeat at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. McPherson then tried a flanking maneuver at the Battle of Marietta, but that failed as well.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis became frustrated with Johnston's strategy of maneuver and retreat, and on July 17 replaced him with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. With the Union armies closing in on Atlanta, Hood first attacked George Henry Thomas's Army of the Cumberland north of the city on July 20, at Peachtree Creek, hoping to drive Thomas back before other forces could come to his aid. The attack failed. Then Hood's cavalry reported that the left flank of McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, east of Atlanta, was unprotected. Hood visualized a glorious replay of Jackson's famous flank attack at Chancellorsville and ordered a new attack. McPherson had advanced his troops into Decatur, Georgia, and from there, they moved onto high ground on Bald Hill overlooking Atlanta. Sherman believed that the Confederates had been defeated and were evacuating; however, McPherson rightly believed that they were moving to attack the Union left and rear. On July 22, while they were discussing this new development, however, four Confederate divisions under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee flanked Union Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge's XVI Corps. While McPherson was riding his horse toward his old XVII Corps, a line of Confederate skirmishers appeared, yelling "Halt!". McPherson raised his hand to his head as if to remove his hat, but suddenly wheeled his horse, attempting to escape. The Confederates opened fire and mortally wounded McPherson in the back. When the Confederate troops approached and asked his orderly who the downed officer was, the aide replied "Sir, it is General McPherson. You have killed the best man in our army.” This was early in the one-day Battle of Atlanta, part of the Atlanta Campaign that led to the surrender of Atlanta a month later. General Otis Howard succeeded him as commander of the Army and Department of the Tennessee.

His adversary, John Bell Hood, wrote,

I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.

When Sherman received word of McPherson's death, he openly wept. He then penned a letter to Emily Hoffman in Baltimore, stating:

My Dear Young Lady, A letter from your Mother to General Barry on my Staff reminds me that I owe you heartfelt sympathy and a sacred duty of recording the fame of one of our Country's brightest and most glorious Characters. I yield to none on Earth but yourself the right to excel me in lamentations for our Dead Hero. Why should death's darts reach the young and brilliant instead of older men who could better have been spared?

McPherson was the second-highest-ranking Union officer to be killed in action during the war (the highest ranking was John Sedgwick). Emily Hoffman never recovered from his death, living a quiet and lonely life until her death in 1891.

Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, area was named in Gen. McPherson's honor on February 20, 1866.

McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., and its Metro rail station are named in the general's honor. At the center of the square is a statue of McPherson on horseback.

McPherson County, Kansas, and the town of McPherson, Kansas, are named in his honor. McPherson Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota is also named for him. There is also an equestrian statue of him in the park across from the McPherson County Courthouse.

McPherson County, South Dakota, founded in 1873, and organized in 1885, was also named in his honor.

McPherson County, Nebraska, and Fort McPherson National Cemetery, located near Maxwell, Nebraska, were named in his honor, and the National Cemetery was established on March 3, 1873. This 20-acre (81,000 m2) cemetery is located two miles (3 km) south of Interstate 80, near Exit 190.

A monument marking the death of McPherson was established at the location of his death in East Atlanta, at the intersection of McPherson Avenue and Monument Avenue. McPherson Avenue in Atlanta was named for him. The spot is marked by a Union cannon once placed at Glenwood Road and Flat Shoals Road to protect the flank of the front line and return fire against the defensive positions built by Lemuel P. Grant.

A distinctive engraved portrait of McPherson appeared on U.S. paper money in 1890 and 1891. The bills are called "treasury notes" or "coin notes" and are widely collected today because of their fine, detailed engraving. The $2 McPherson "fancyback" note of 1890, with an estimated 600–900 in existence relative to the 4.9 million printed, ranks as number 15 in the "100 Greatest American Currency Notes" compiled by Bowers and Sundman (2006).

The James B. McPherson Elementary School in the Ravenswood area of Chicago, Illinois, was named for McPherson.

In his home town of Clyde, Ohio, James B. McPherson Highway (US-20) was dedicated and named in his honor on August 9, 1941. The McPherson Middle School and McPherson Cemetery are named for him as well. The cemetery was named Evergreen Cemetery, but was renamed McPherson Cemetery on December 15, 1868. There is also a monument that was erected in his honor on July 22, 1881, at the McPherson Cemetery. President Rutherford B. Hayes gave the dedication speech during the ceremony for the monument. There were many US Civil War officers in attendance for the dedication of the monument, including General William Tecumseh Sherman. His childhood home on E. Maple Street in Clyde, Ohio is now owned by the Clyde Heritage League and is a museum that can be toured by appointment.

The alternate history novel Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory, by Newt Gingrich, and William R. Forstchen, includes McPherson as a major character.

In another alternate history, If the South Had Won the Civil War by MacKinlay Kantor - in which the war ended in 1863 with a decisive Confederate victory - McPherson survived to become President of the United States for two terms in the 1880s and strongly pursue a line of reconciliation with the Confederate States.

McPherson and his hat also feature prominently in the book Map of Thieves, by Michael Karpovage.

McPherson has been mentioned several times on the Drunken Peasants podcast by host TJ Kirk who has stated he is a relative of McPherson's.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Autograph File, M, 1648-1985. Houghton Library
referencedIn Walker, Henry Harrison, ca. 1833-1912. Letters, 1858-1860. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Allen, Theodore F., 1842-1919. Civil War Diaries 1864-1865. The Filson Historical Society
creatorOf Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891. William T. Sherman letter, 1864 Feb. 28. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
referencedIn Cox, John Cooke, 1817-1872. Letter, October 5, 1863. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Civil War Letters, 1852-1913 University of Kansas Kenneth Spencer Research Library Department of Special Collections
referencedIn Sill, Joshua Woodrow, d.1862. Letter: to J. B. McPherson /by Joshua Woodrow Sill, 1859 Feb 4. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Frederick M. Dearborn collection of military and political Americana, Part III: The Civil War: The Union, 1804-1915. Houghton Library
referencedIn Forbes, William S. Letter : 13th Army Corps Hospital, near Vicksburg, Miss., to Ulysses S. Grant, 1863 Jul 14. Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
creatorOf McPherson, James Birdseye, 1828-1864. Draft of orders, April 25, 1863. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Smith, Gustavus Woodson, 1822-1896. Letter, 1853 April 22, West Point, N.Y., to Barton S. Alexander. United States Military Academy, USMA Library
referencedIn Halleck, H. W. (Henry Wager), 1815-1872. Letters, 1862-1863. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Frederick M. Dearborn collection of military and political Americana, Part III: The Civil War: The Union, 1804-1915. Houghton Library
creatorOf Boggs, William Robertson, 1829-1911. Letter, 1863 November 29. University of Southern Mississippi, Regional Campus, Joseph Anderson Cook Library
referencedIn Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885. Letters, 1862-1864. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
contributorOf 1862 - McPherson, James B - File No. M248 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Willard, L. S. (Lot Sabine), fl. 1862-1865. L.S. Willard letters, 1862-1864. Newberry Library
referencedIn Strong, William E. (William Emerson), 1840-1891. Papers, 1863-1878. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn P. J. Smalley papers, 1863-1944 (bulk 1887-1912). Minnesota Historical Society
referencedIn Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891. Letters, 1864-1886. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Yandell family. Yandell family added papers, 1837-1919. The Filson Historical Society
contributorOf McPherson, James - Mississippi - 1863 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Proposals for the Construction of the Pedestal for the Statue of General James B. McPherson, 1875 - 1876 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Thruston, Gates Phillips, 1835-1912. Gates Philips Thruston : papers, 1864-1867. The Filson Historical Society
creatorOf McPherson, James Birdseye, 1828-1864. Correspondence, 1862-1863. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
creatorOf Sill, Joshua Woodrow, 1831-1862. Letter to James B. McPherson : Benicia, Calif. : ALS, 1858 June 1. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Evans, Jonathan H. Collected papers, 1789-1908. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Daniel Carroll Papers, 1662-1920, (bulk 1791-1868) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
contributorOf 1861 - McPherson, James B - File No. M779 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Elliot, George H. Letters : to General James B. McPherson / by George H. Elliot, 1861. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885. Letter: Head of Millikins Bend, La., to J[ohn] A. McClernand, 1863 March 18. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885. Civil War letters and telegrams, 1862-1863. Rutgers University
referencedIn William Kossak journals, Kossak, William, 1863-1865 William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Forbes, William S. Letter : 13th Army Corps Hospital, near Vicksburg, Miss., to Ulysses S. Grant, 1863 Jul 14. Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
referencedIn Smalley, P. J. (Palemon Jared), 1842-1912. P.J. Smalley papers, 1863-1944 (bulk 1887-1912). Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Clinton H. Haskell Civil War collection, Haskell, Clinton H., Civil War collection, 1841-1895 William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Tuttle, Miletus. Miletus Tuttle letters, 1864. Georgia Newspaper Project
referencedIn Humphreys, Andrew Atkinson, 1810-1883. Autograph letter signed : Washington, D.C., to William W. Belknap, [18]71 Aug. 4. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Frederick M. Dearborn collection of military and political Americana, Part III: The Civil War: The Union, 1804-1915. Houghton Library
referencedIn Records Relating to the Construction of the Pedestal for the Statue of General James B. McPherson, 1875 - 1876 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn St. John, Theodore Edgar, 1831-1887. Theodore Edgar St. John papers, 1862-1892. Library of Congress
creatorOf Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Commandery of the State of Massachusetts,. Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Civil War Commandery of the State of Massachusetts collection: 1724-1933 (inclusive), 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Cullum, George W. (George Washington), 1809-1892. Letters: Cairo, Ill., to [Henry W.] Halleck, 1862 Feb. 7 and 9. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Grand Army of the Republic, Department of New York, Gen. James B. McPherson Post 614 personal war sketches, 1897 Brooklyn Historical Society
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts Civil War collection, 1724-1933 (inclusive);, 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Philip Case Lockwood memorial collection of Civil War portraits and autographs, 1862-ca. 1886. Houghton Library
creatorOf Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891. ALS : Memphis, to James B. McPherson, 1863 Oct. 6. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn WAII-TV Collection. 1964 - 1964. Motion Picture Film. 1964 - 1964. DEATH KNELL! ATLANTA 1864
contributorOf 1861 - McPherson, James B - File No. M716 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Carroll, Daniel, 1764-1849. Daniel Carroll papers, 1662-1920 (bulk 1791-1868). Library of Congress
referencedIn Frederick M. Dearborn collection of military and political Americana, Part II: The Civil War and the Confederacy, 1832-1915. Houghton Library
referencedIn Jensen, Ellis E. Collected Civil War documents, 1759-1899. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf McPherson, James Birdseye, 1828-1864. Papers, 1863. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf McPherson, James Birdseye, 1828-1864. Papers. United States Military Academy, USMA Library
referencedIn Vicksburg depot quartermaster's office letter, 1863 Aug. 26. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
referencedIn McPherson, James B. -- Major General United States. National Archives and Records Administration
creatorOf Haskell, Clinton H. Clinton H. Haskell Civil War collection, 1841-1895. William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Ross, Leonard F. (Leonard Fulton), 1823-1901. Letters, September 16-17, 1862. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts Civil War collection, 1724-1933 (inclusive);, 1861-1912 (bulk). Houghton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Allen, Theodore F., 1842-1919. person
associatedWith Boggs, William Robertson, 1829-1911. person
correspondedWith Carroll, Daniel, 1730-1796 person
correspondedWith Carroll, Daniel, 1764-1849. person
associatedWith Cox, John Cooke, 1817-1872. person
associatedWith Cullum, George W. (George Washington), 1809-1892. person
associatedWith Dearborn, Frederick M. (Frederick Myers), b. 1876 person
associatedWith Elliot, George H. person
associatedWith Evans, Jonathan H. person
associatedWith Forbes, William S. person
associatedWith Grand Army of the Republic. Gen. James B. McPherson Post No. 614 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885. person
associatedWith Halleck, H. W. (Henry Wager), 1815-1872. person
associatedWith Haskell, Clinton H. person
associatedWith Haskell, Clinton H. person
associatedWith Humphreys, Andrew Atkinson, 1810-1883. person
associatedWith Jensen, Ellis E. person
associatedWith Kossak, William person
associatedWith Lockwood, Philip Case, 1844-1897 person
associatedWith Logan, John Alexander, 1826-1886. person
associatedWith Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Commandery of the State of Massachusetts, corporateBody
associatedWith Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Commandery of the State of Massachusetts, collector. corporateBody
associatedWith Ross, Leonard F. (Leonard Fulton), 1823-1901. person
associatedWith Ryan, Daniel, fl. 1862. person
associatedWith Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891. person
associatedWith Sill, Joshua Woodrow, 1831-1862. person
associatedWith Smalley, P. J. (Palemon Jared), 1842-1912. person
associatedWith Smith, Gustavus Woodson, 1822-1896. person
associatedWith Starring, Frederick A., 1834-1904. person
associatedWith St. John, Theodore Edgar, 1831-1887. person
associatedWith Strong, William E. (William Emerson), 1840-1891. person
associatedWith Thruston, Gates Phillips, 1835-1912. person
associatedWith Tuttle, Miletus. person
memberOf United States. Army. Corps of Engineers corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army. Illinois Infantry Regiment, 72nd (1863). corporateBody
leaderOf United States. Army of the Tennessee corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf United States Military Academy corporateBody
associatedWith Walker, Henry Harrison, ca. 1833-1912. person
associatedWith Willard, L. S. (Lot Sabine), fl. 1862-1865. person
associatedWith Yandell family. family
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York City NY US
Sandusky OH US
Vicksburg MS US
Norwalk OH US
St. Louis MO US
Fort Delaware (historical) DE US
Tennessee TN US
Atlanta GA US
West Point NY US
San Francisco CA US
Subject
Atlanta Campaign, 1864
Civil War, 1861-1865
Fort Henry, Battle of, Tenn., 1862
Fort Donelson, Battle of, Tenn., 1862
Vicksburg, Siege of, 1863
Shiloh, Battle of, Tenn., 1862
Occupation
Soldiers--19 century.--United States
Engineers
Aides-de-camp
Activity

Person

Birth 1828-11-14

Death 1864-07-22

Male

Americans

English

Information

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