James B. McPherson

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James Birdseye McPherson
Brady-GeneralMcPherson.jpg
General James B. McPherson, photographed by Mathew Brady
Born (1828-11-14)November 14, 1828
Clyde, Ohio
Died July 22, 1864(1864-07-22) (aged 35)
Atlanta, Georgia
Place of burial Clyde, Ohio
Allegiance United States United States of America
Union
Service/branch  United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1853–1864
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General
Unit Corps of Engineers
Commands held XVII Corps
Army of the Tennessee
Battles/wars

American Civil War

James Birdseye McPherson (November 14, 1828 – July 22, 1864) was a career United States Army officer who served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Atlanta, the second highest ranking Union officer killed during the war.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

McPherson's house in Clyde

McPherson was born near present-day Clyde, Ohio.[2] He attended Norwalk Academy in Ohio,[3] and graduated from the United States Military Academy 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 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, and was next engaged from 1854 to 1857 as 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, Cal.[4]

Civil War[edit]

At the start of the 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.

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. Following the Battle of Shiloh, he was promoted to brigadier general. On October 8, 1862, he was promoted to major general, and was soon after given command of the XVII Corps in Grant's Army of the Tennessee. 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 (after Grant was appointed general-in-chief). His army was the Right Wing of Sherman's army, alongside the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio. On May 5, 1864, Sherman began his Atlanta Campaign.

Lithograph of McPherson

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.[citation needed] 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 disaster at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. McPherson then tried a flanking maneuver at the Battle of Marietta, but that failed as well.

On July 17, Confederate President Jefferson Davis became frustrated with Johnston's strategy of maneuver and retreat, and 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. While they were discussing this new development, however, four divisions under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee flanked 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.

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.[5]

Legacy[edit]

Sculpture in McPherson, Kansas

Fort McPherson in the 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. 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Memorialized on the 1891 $2 Treasury Note, and one of 53 people depicted on United States banknotes.

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).[9]

The James B. McPherson Elementary School in the Ravenswood area of Chicago, Illinois, was named for McPherson.[10]

In his home town of Clyde, Ohio, James B. McPherson Highway (US-20), McPherson Middle School and McPherson Cemetery are named for him.

In popular media[edit]

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.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Woodworth, p. 167. Eicher, pp. 383–84, 477–78: John Sedgwick, a Union officer who was also killed in battle, was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 4, 1862, almost three months before McPherson, therefore technically had a higher rank. However, unlike McPherson, Sedgwick never commanded an army.
  2. ^ Woodworth, p. 153.
  3. ^ Eicher, pp. 383–84.
  4. ^ Woodworth, p. 154.
  5. ^ About North Georgia website
  6. ^ Fort McPherson National Cemetery
  7. ^ http://content.sos.state.ga.us/u?/postcard,351
  8. ^ http://www.eastatlantavillage.net/about.phtml
  9. ^ Bowers, Q.D., and D.M. Sundman, 100 Greatest American Currency Notes, Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2006.
  10. ^ School website.

References[edit]

External links[edit]