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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1853

Vol. II

(Born O.)

James B. McPherson

(Ap'd O.)


James Birdseye McPherson: Born Nov. 14, 1828, Clyde, OH.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1849, to July 1, 1853, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1853.

Served: at the Military Academy, as Asst. Instructor of Practical Engineering, and attached to Company of Engineer troops, at West Point, N. Y., July 30, 1853, to Sep. 6, 1854; as Asst. Engineer in the construction

(Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Dec. 18, 1854)

and repairs of the Defenses of New York Harbor, and Improvement of the navigation of the Hudson River, 1854‑57; as Superintending Engineer of the building of Ft. Delaware, Delaware Bay, 1857, — and of the construction of the Defenses of Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, Cal.,

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Dec. 13, 1858)

1857‑61; and in charge of the Engineer operations at Boston Harbor, Mas., and Recruiting Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers, 1861.

Captain, 19th Infantry, Mar. 14, 1861: Declined.

Captain, Corps of Engineers, Aug. 6, 1861.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑64: as Aide-de‑Camp to Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Halleck, and Asst. Engineer of the Department of the Missouri, Nov. 12, 1861, to Feb. 1, 1862; as Chief Engineer

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Staff — Additional Aide-de‑Camp, Nov. 12, 1861)

on the Staff of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant in the Tennessee Campaign, Feb. to Apr., 1862, being engaged in Operations against Ft. Henry, Feb. 2‑6, 1862, — Battle and Capture of Ft. Donelson, Feb. 13‑16, 1862, — and Battle of Shiloh, Apr. 6‑7, 1862; as Asst. Engineer in the Advance upon and Siege

(Colonel, Staff — Additional Aide-de‑Camp, May 1, 1862)

of Corinth, Apr. 15 to May 30, 1862; as Military Superintendent of the

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, May 15, 1862)

Railroads in the District of West Tennessee, June 1 to Oct. 2, 1862, — and was present on the staff of General Grant during the Battle of Iuka, Mis., Sep. 19, 1862; in command of Brigade, Oct. 2‑14, 1862, with which he moved from Jackson, Ten., fighting his way to the rear of Corinth, arriving on the evening of Oct. 4, 1862, too late to participate in the

(Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Oct. 8, 1862)

battle, but he immediately joined in Pursuit of the enemy to Ripley, Mis.; in command of Bolivar, Ten., Oct. 14‑25, 1862, — of 2d Division,  p516 Department of the Tennessee, Oct. 16‑24, — and of 2d Division, 13th Army Corps, Oct. 24 to Nov. 2, 1862; in the Vicksburg Campaign, Nov. 4, 1862, to July 18, 1863, commanding the right wing till Jan. 18, 1863, and subsequently the 17th Army Corps, and was engaged in the March to and Occupation of Lagrange, Nov. 4, 1862, — Reconnoissance to and Action at Lamar, Mis. (in command), Nov. 12, 1862, — Flank Movement to Oxford, Mis., Nov.‑Dec., 1862, having the lead in the Advance, and the rear on retiring, after Colonel Murphy's Surrender of Holly Springs, Dec. 20, 1862, — in Organizing and Massing his Corps at Memphis, Ten., Jan. 18 to Feb. 20, 1863, — Lake Providence, Feb. 20 to Apr. 16, 1863, — Movement to Bruinsburg and turning Grand Gulf, Apr., 1863, — Battle of Port Gibson, May 1, 1863, — Battle of Raymond (in command), May 12, 1863, — Capture of Jackson, May 14, 1863, — Battle of Champion Hills, May 16, 1863, — Assaults on Vicksburg, May 19‑22, and Siege of the place till its unconditional Surrender, July 4, 1863, he being one of the Commissioners to fix the terms of capitulation; in command of the 17th Army Corps and District of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, to Mar. 26,

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, Aug. 1, 1863)

1864, from which he sent out several important expeditions into Mississippi and Louisiana, and was engaged in the Surprise of the enemy's camp at Canton, Oct. 15, 1863, — and on General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sherman's Raid to Meridian, Mis., Feb. 1‑25, resulting in great destruction and large captures of the enemy's resources; in command of the Department and Army of the Tennessee, Mar. 26 to July 22, 1864; in Reorganizing and Massing his Army at Huntsville, Ala., Apr., 1864; in the Invasion of Georgia, May 4 to July 22, 1864, in command of the Army of the Tennessee (composed of the 15th, 16th, and 17th Army Corps), being engaged in the Movement by Snake Creek Gap to turn the enemy's left, May 7‑13, 1864, — Battle of Resaca, May 14‑15, 1864, — Occupation of Kingston, May 18, 1864, — Movement on Dallas, with constant fighting, May 18‑28, 1864, — Battle of Dallas, May 28, 1864, — Movement on Kenesaw, with almost daily heavy engagements, May 28 to June 20, 1864, — Battles of Kenesaw Mountain, June 20 to July 2, 1864, — Pursuit of the enemy, with severe Skirmishing, July 3‑17, 1864, — Occupation of Decatur, July 17, 1864, — and Battles of Atlanta, July 21 and 22, 1864.

Killed, July 22, 1864, while making a Reconnoissance before Atlanta, Ga.: Aged 35.

Buried, McPherson Cemetery, Clyde, OH.

Biographical Sketch.

Major-General James B. McPherson was born, Nov. 14, 1828, at Clyde, Sandusky County, Ohio. As a boy he showed an active and vigorous mind, which was developed while at the Military Academy, from which he was graduated, July 1, 1853, at the head of his class, and promoted to the Corps of Engineers, with which he was engaged in professional duties till 1861.

Stationed at San Francisco when the Rebellion began, McPherson immediately applied for active service in the field. General Halleck, who had known McPherson in California, soon after applied for him as his Aide-de‑Camp, with the rank of Lieut.‑Colonel. When active operations began, he was made Chief Engineer on the Staff of General Grant, and at once was engaged in the Tennessee Campaign. He was conspicuous by his skill and daring at Fort Donelson and Shiloh. In the operations against Corinth he was my assistant​a on many daring reconnoissances, and in restoring the broken-up railroads communicating with our base of supplies at St. Louis and Cairo. So marked was his efficiency that, May 15, 1862, he was appointed a Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, and now  p517 began his higher career as a commander, from a brigade to that of an army. He soon showed eminent capacity to organize, control, and handle masses of troops. He was first ordered to take the lead in the Mississippi Campaign to the rear of Vicksburg, having a sharp action at Lamar, but the advance of Grant's army was rendered futile by Colonel Murphy's surrender, Dec. 20, 1862, of Holly Springs.

In the re-organization of Grant's army, in January, 1863, McPherson was assigned to the command of the 17th Army Corps. He endeavored, in February to March, to open a passage to the Mississippi below Vicksburg, by Lake Providence and Tensas Bayou, and then, in April, to get to the rear of Vicksburg by the Yazoo Pass and River, but physical difficulties defeated the success of both. Grant now saw that his end could only be attained by running the gauntlet of the rebel batteries lining the Mississippi, and then marching on Vicksburg from below. In the perilous operations which followed, McPherson displayed the boldest daring and skillful general­ship, which are best portrayed in General Grant's letter recommending McPherson (since Oct. 8, 1862, a Major-General of Volunteers) to the appointment of Brigadier-General, U. S. Army, in which he says:

"McPherson has been with me in every battle since the commencement of the Rebellion, except Belmont. At Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, and the Siege of Corinth, as a Staff Officer and Engineer, his services were conspicuous and highly meritorious. At the second Battle of Corinth his skill as a soldier was displayed in successfully carrying reinforcements to the besieged garrison when the enemy was between him and the point to be reached. In the advance through Central Mississippi, General McPherson commanded one wing of the army with all the ability possible to show, he having the lead in the advance, and the rear retiring.

"In the Campaign and Siege terminating with the fall of Vicksburg, General McPherson has filled a conspicuous part. At the Battle of Port Gibson, it was under his direction that the enemy was driven, late in the afternoon, from a position they had succeeded in holding all day against an obstinate attack. His Corps, the advance always under his immediate eye, were the pioneers in the movement from Port Gibson to Hawkinson's Ferry. From the North Fork of the Bayou Pierre to Black River it was a constant skirmish, the whole skillfully managed. The enemy was so closely pressed as to be unable to destroy their bridge of boats after them. From Hawkinson's Ferry to Jackson, the Seventeenth Army Corps marched on roads not traveled by other troops, fighting the entire Battle of Raymond alone, and the bulk of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Johnston's Army was fought by this Corps, entirely under the management of General McPherson. At Champion Hill, the Seventeenth Corps and General McPherson were conspicuous. All that could be termed a battle there was fought by the divisions of General McPherson's Corps and General Hovey's Division of the Thirteenth Corps. In the Assault of the 22d of May on the fortifications of Vicksburg, and during the entire siege, General McPherson and his command took unfading laurels. He is one of the ablest engineers, and most skillful generals. I would respectfully, but urgently recommend his promotion to the position of Brigadier-General in the Regular Army."

McPherson was awarded a Medal of Honor by the Officers of his Corps for the gallant manner in which he had led them during the Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg, and he was selected as one of the Commissioners to arrange the terms of capitulation of that place, and, after its surrender, was assigned to the Command of the City and District of Vicksburg, where he remained till Mar. 26, 1864, except in February, while on Sherman's Expedition to Meridian, Mis., resulting in great destruction  p518 and large captures of the enemy's resources. From Vicksburg he also directed important raids into Mississippi and Louisiana.

Grant, on leaving his Western army for his Eastern career, wrote to Sherman: "I want to express my thanks to you and to McPherson, as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success." Accordingly, Sherman was appointed to succeed Grant, and McPherson received the command of the Army of the Tennessee. Of these two "lieutenants of the rarest powers," says Colonel Chesney, of the British Royal Engineers, "it is hard to say whether Grant leant more on the calm courage and unfailing resources of Sherman, or the subtle genius and daring spirit of the lamented McPherson, a soldier of the very highest promise." This Army of the Tennessee, reduced to 23,000, much of it being detached on Red River, in Louisiana, and elsewhere, McPherson reorganized at Huntsville, Ala., and May 5, 1864, entered upon the great Atlanta Campaign.

The Confederates, under Gen. J. E. Johnston, occupied a strong position at Dalton, Ga., behind the almost inaccessible Rocky-faced Ridge. To dislodge them Sherman proposed, with the armies of the Cumberland and the Ohio, to make a strong demonstration in front, and sent the Army of the Tennessee to turn the enemy's left by Snake Creek Gap, through which McPherson passed unopposed, but found Resaca, upon which he emerged, too strongly fortified, in his opinion, to be assaulted. Sherman was much disappointed, but acknowledged that McPherson had acted strictly within the line of his instructions. To then accomplish his object, Sherman brought his entire forces, except Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Howard's Fourth Corps, to attack Resaca and cut the railroad. Much criticism has followed this affair, and many think McPherson lost the greatest opportunity in his life, but as he, on the spot, knew all the difficulties of the situation, and was a brave and tried commander and a skilled engineer, his course should be carefully considered before being condemned. The terrible struggle of an overwhelming force, a few days later, shows what McPherson, single-handed, might have had to encounter, with the probability of being defeated, or possibly crushed, by the rapid reinforcement of the garrison of Resaca by the railroad along the Confederate line of battle. It is unnecessary here to detail the operations of this well known campaign of bold flank movements and of almost daily conflict, in which McPherson bore a conspicuous part from Resaca to within sight of Atlanta.

On the morning of July 22, 1864, McPherson, in consultation with Sherman at the latter's headquarters, heard firing in the direction of our left rear, indicating Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood's turning our flank. Promptly riding towards the scene of danger, and hurrying up forces to strengthen his line of defense, McPherson, with a single orderly, entered a blind path, between the unconnected left of the 17th and right of the 16th Corps, which led directly into the Confederate position. Here he was met by a strong detachment of Claiborne'sº command, which halted him and demanded his surrender. Turning quickly to the thick woods to escape, he was fired upon, and the noble McPherson fell to rise no more. The brief, brave, and brilliant career of a true hero was thus ended, after a service of only eleven years, in which, by his sole merits, he rose from a Cadet to be a Major-General, and at the early age of thirty-five died in command of an army. The terrible revenge of his idolizing soldiers on that day's battle is recorded in the appalling carnage of over three thousand Confederate dead. Riding from the scene of slaughter, late that night, Sherman said to a staff officer, since a Senator: "The Army and the country have sustained a great loss by the death of McPherson. I had expected him to finish the war. Grant and I are likely to be killed or set aside after some failure to meet popular expectation, and McPherson  p519 would have come into chief command at the right time to end the war. He had no enemies."

General Grant, after McPherson's death, in a letter of condolence to his aged grandmother, says:—

"My dear Madam — Your very welcome letter of the 3d instant has reached me. I am glad to know the relatives of the lamented Major-General McPherson are aware of the more than friendship existing between him and myself. A nation grieves at the loss of one so dear to our nation's cause. It is a selfish grief, because the nation had more to expect from him than from almost any one living. I join in this selfish grief, and add the grief of personal love for the departed. He formed for some time one of my military family. I knew him well. To know was but to love him. It may be some consolation to you, his aged grandmother, to know that every officer and every soldier who served under your grandson felt the highest reverence for his patriotism, his zeal, his great, almost unequaled ability, his amiability, and all the manly virtues that can adorn a commander. Your bereavement is great, but cannot exceed mine."

In his "Personal Memoirs," Grant further says: "In the death of McPherson, the army lost one of its ablest, purest, and best generals."

The Army of the Tennessee, which McPherson had so gallantly led, and every member of which almost worshiped him for his personal character and military achievements, erected in one of the public squares of the Capital of the Nation a life-like equestrian statue of its beloved commander, which was unveiled, Oct. 18, 1876, with imposing ceremonies.

McPherson was a remarkable man physically, intellectually, and morally. Tall, symmetrical in form, and of commanding presence, he seemed fashioned for a hero. His face was pleasing, yet not handsome, but his smile was captivating and his large, soft eyes, full ordinarily of benignity, could fiercely flame with the fire of battle. His mind, scientifically trained, grasped the most extensive plans, yet lost sight of none of the details necessary to success. He took in at a glance the whole theatre of action, and steadily directed his attention to the key-point. It required no thunder of artillery, as with Massena, to clear his ideas, for his thoughts were ever clear, his judgment sound, his courage cool, and, like the lion, always measured his leap before essaying it. His purpose once decided, he was not swayed by ordinary obstacles or common danger, but, self-contained, he never rushed blindly over precipices, being guided by the conclusions of reason rather than by Hotspur impulse. Caution, consequently, was one of McPherson's dominant qualities, but with a quick perception surveying his ground, and mentally analyzing the possibilities of his problem, he deliberately and with firmness struck for victory. Even if foiled, he had an almost exhaustless reserve force within him to renew the contest while there was a reasonable hope of success, as repeatedly shown at Vicksburg. But his thoroughly balanced intellect knew when to abandon a minor for a greater good, and spare the unnecessary effusion of blood.

These military qualities of his masculine mind and practical brain were, if possible, eclipsed by his gentler virtues, his charming ingenuousness of character, his generous and confiding nature, and his sincere and affectionate disposition. "He was," says his classmate, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Vincent, "Pre-eminent in intellectual energy, unaffected simplicity, honesty of principles and purposes, intuitive penetration; and withal his large heart was ever open to all the refined and noble sensibilities. Never was he flushed with anger; instead, the crowning virtue of moderation, coupled with patience, was ever the director. The high injunction, 'Establish thy reign in truth, in sweetness, and in justice,' was ever before his eyes. His merit was measured by greatness of soul."

Thayer's Note:

a The writer is Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Cullum.

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