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James Birdseye McPherson

James Birdseye McPherson

James B. McPherson was born in the town of Clyde, Sandusky County, Ohio on November 14, 1828, the eldest of four children. His father, William, was born and bred in Scotland. McPherson entered West Point in 1849 and graduated first in the class of 1853. Others in his class of fifty-two were men who would become high ranking officers in the Civil War: Sheridan, Hood, Sill, Scholfield and Tyler. At the time, Robert E. Lee was the superintendent of the academy and Jefferson Davis was the commencement speaker at his graduation. His roommate at West Point was John Bell Hood, who took command of the Confederate forces he was opposing five days before his death.

“At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a captain in the Corps of Engineers. He moved rapidly through the ranks and was soon on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant cited him for ‘conspicuous skill and personal bravery’ in the siege of Vicksburg and had him promoted to brigadier general.” McPherson was then put in command of the Army of the Tennessee and fought under General Sherman in the siege of Atlanta. On July 22, 1864, traveling only with his orderly, McPherson entered a grove of woods that separated two of his corps. “He had traveled only about 100 yards when a cry of ’halt’ rang out. He stopped for an instant and saw a line of gray skirmishers, wheeled his horse, raised his hand, and made a quick dash to his right. The skirmishers let go with a volley, McPherson staggered in the saddle for a short distance and then fell to the ground.”

It was said by his military peers that his death was “one of the heaviest individual losses ever suffered by the Union forces.” Many believed that had he lived he would have been elected President of the United States. Grant said of him that the “nation had more to expect from him than from almost anyone living.” He was only 35 years of age. He is buried in the McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio. A statue was unveiled at the cemetery in 1881 before a crowd of 15,000 people and there is also a statute to him in Washington, D.C. erected by the Army of Tennessee. McPherson Square is named in his honor as is both the city and county of McPherson, Kansas.



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