James B. McPherson

career officer of the United States Army

James Birdseye McPherson (November 14, 1828 – July 22, 1864) was a Union Army major general during the American Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Atlanta during the Atlanta Campaign.

Lithograph of James B. McPherson

Early life


McPherson was born in 1828 near Clyde, Ohio.[1] He was the eldest son of William and Cynthia (Russell) McPherson who were farmers.[2] To help his family, in 1841 at age 12, McPherson entered an apprenticeship at a general store. He became a clerk for Robert Smith. McPherson was raised and tutored along with Smith's children. His father died in 1847 and Smith paid for McPherson's education at Norwalk Academy.[2] In 1849 Smith arranged an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. McPherson spent much of his time tutoring his roommate John Bell Hood.[3] McPherson graduated in 1853, first in his class.[1]

Military career


He secured a posting as a second lieutenant with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.[1] He worked on improvements to New York Harbor. He was assigned to the building of Fort Delaware. McPherson then directed worked on fortifications on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.[4] In 1858 he was a first lieutenant. In 1861 when the Civil war broke out, he raised a company of volunteers to fight for the Union.[1] Now a captain went to Boston to supervise the construction of harbor defenses. His former commander helped him by making McPherson his Aide-de-camp and promoted him to Lieutenant colonel.

In early 1861 McPherson was assigned to the staff of general Ulysses S. Grant as an engineering officer. In 1862 he impressed his superiors and was assigned to supervise military railroads in Mississippi. In this position he was a brigadier general of volunteers.[1] After the Battle of Corinth McPherson was promoted to the rank of major general (8 October 1862).[4] He became commander of Seventeenth Corps in the Army of the Tennessee. At the Battle of Raymond a small force of Confederates attacked his 10,000 man column. They were almost completely destroyed before they realized their mistake.[4] He commanded his corps at the Siege of Vicksburg.

Siege of Vicksburg

In January 1864 he succeeded general Sherman as commander of the Army of the Tennessee.[5] As part of Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, on several occasions his army threatened the enemy's supply lines. McPherson's army was also used in flanking maneuvers. Sherman's combined armies kept moving towards Atlanta while the confederate armies, under Joseph E. Johnston, fell back. Finally Johnston retreated into Atlanta on July 9–10.[6] Jefferson Davis the Confederate president, dismissed Johnston for not stopping the Union army. Davis gave command to general John B. Hood, McPherson's friend and former roommate.[6] Hood had little chance of succeeding. Sherman's larger army, including McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, was five miles from the city when Hood took command.[7]

His death


On learning of Johnson's replacement by Hood, and knowing Hood as well as he did, McPherson readied his army for an attack by Hood's confederates.[8] McPherson's Army of the Tennessee was holding Sherman's left flank. On 22 July 1864, Hood directed his attack against McPherson's army. The battle went on for several hours.[8] During a break in the fighting McPherson saw a gap developing in the Union lines. He rode out with a staff officer to close the gap.[8] He came upon confederate skirmishers who ordered him to surrender. He turned and spurred his horse to escape, but was shot and killed.[8] His body was returned to the Union lines for burial. Both Sherman and Hood mourned his death. McPherson was the second highest ranking Union officer killed in the civil war. He was buried in his hometown of Clyde, Ohio. Five years after his death President Rutherford B. Hayes presided over a ceremony where a bronze statue was placed over his grave.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 John C. Fredriksen, Civil War Almanac (New York: Facts on File, 2007), p. 728
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cynthia Russell McPherson, James Birdseye McPherson Family Papers, Local History & Genealogy Department Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Toledo, Ohio, Biographical Notes pp. 4–6
  3. "James McPherson". The Blue and Gray Trail. 26 May 2007. Archived from the original on 22 September 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "James B. McPherson; Major General, November 14, 1828 – July 22, 1864". Civil War Trust. n.d. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  5. John C. Fredriksen, Civil War Almanac (New York: Facts on File, 2007), p. 729
  6. 6.0 6.1 "The Atlanta Campaign; A Strategic Overview". The Civil War Trust. n.d. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  7. The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion, ed. John C. Inscoe (Athens : University of Georgia Press, 2011), pp. 73–84
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 John C. Fredriksen, American Military Leaders: from colonial times to the present (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1999), p. 508
  9. "Biographical Sketch of James Birdseye McPherson". Sandusky County Scrapbook (Ohio). 2001. Retrieved 31 October 2014.

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