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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 and was the highest ranking Union officer killed during the conflict.

Early life and career

McPherson was born near Clydemarker, Ohiomarker. He attended Norwalk Academy in Ohio, and graduated from the United States Military Academymarker 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 Yorkmarker and the improvement of Hudson River. In 1857 he superintended the building of Fort Delawaremarker, and in 1857-61 was superintending engineer of the construction of the defenses of Alcatraz Islandmarker, at San Francisco, Cal.marker

Civil War

At the start of the Civil War, he was stationed in San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker, 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 Yorkmarker. 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. Louismarker, Missourimarker.

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 Henrymarker and Donelsonmarker. Following the Battle of Shilohmarker, 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 sent to the East). 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 Campaignmarker.

Lithograph of McPherson
Sherman planned to have the bulk of his forces feint toward Daltonmarker, Georgiamarker, 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, Georgiamarker. The troops drew near Pumpkinvine Creek, where they attacked and drove the Confederates from Dallas, Georgiamarker, even before Sherman's order to do so. Johnston and Sherman maneuvered against each other, until the Union disaster at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountainmarker. 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. Hood was eventually defeated, and retreated into Atlanta. Meanwhile, McPherson had advanced his troops into Decatur, Georgiamarker, and from there, they moved onto the high ground on Bald Hill overlooking Atlanta. On July 22, they noticed that the Confederate troops had left Atlanta. Sherman believed that the Confederates had been defeated and were evacuating; however, McPherson rightly believed that they were moving to attack the Union right 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,


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

McPherson Squaremarker in Washington, D.C.marker, and its Metro rail stationmarker 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, Kansasmarker, 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 Dakotamarker, founded in 1873, and organized in 1885, was also named in his honor.

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

A monument marking the death of McPherson was established at the location of his death in East Atlantamarker, at the intersection of McPherson Avenue and Monument Avenue. McPherson Avenue in Atlanta was named for him.

The two-dollar Treasury notes, also called "coin notes", of the series of 1890 and 1891, feature portraits of McPherson on the obverse.

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

See also


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.
  • Woodworth, Steven E., ed., Grant's Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg, University Press of Kansas, 2001, ISBN 0-7006-1127-4.
  • Northern Georgia - James B. McPherson
  • James McPherson Biography
  • Retrieved on 2008-02-12


  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. Eicher, pp. 383-84.
  3. Woodworth, p. 154.
  4. Fort McPherson National Cemetery
  5. School website.

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