Civil War Wiki
For the Civil War General of a similar name see James B. McPherson

James M. McPherson (born October 11, 1936) is an American Civil War historian, and is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, his most famous book. He was the president of the American Historical Association in 2003, and is a member of the editorial board of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Born in Valley City, North Dakota, he graduated from St. Peter High School, and he received his Bachelor of Arts at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, Minnesota) in 1958 (from which he graduated magna cum laude), and his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1963. Currently he resides in Princeton, New Jersey, and is married with one child.


McPherson's works include The Struggle for Equality, awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Award. In 1989, he published his Pulitzer-winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom. And in 1998 another book, For Cause and Comrades, received the Lincoln Prize. In 2002 he published both a scholarly book, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam 1862, and a history of the Civil War for children, Fields of Fury. Unlike many other historians, he has a reputation of trying to make history accessible to the public. Most of his works are marketed to popular audiences and his book Battle Cry of Freedom has long been a popular one-volume general history of the Civil War. In 2009, he was the co-winner of the Lincoln Prize for Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief.

McPherson was named the 2000 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities by the National Endowment for the Humanities (replacing the first selection, President Bill Clinton, who declined the honor in the face of criticism from scholars and political conservatives).[1] In making the announcement of McPherson's selection, NEH Chairman William R. Ferris said:

James M. McPherson has helped millions of Americans better understand the meaning and legacy of the American Civil War. By establishing the highest standards for scholarship and public education about the Civil War and by providing leadership in the movement to protect the nation's battlefields, he has made an exceptional contribution to historical awareness in America.[2]

In 2007, he was awarded the $100,000 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military history--the first person to be awarded the prize. [3]

One of his most recent books is This Mighty Scourge, a series of essays about the Civil War. One essay describes the huge difficulty of negotiation when regime change is a war aim on either side of a conflict. “For at least the past two centuries, nations have usually found it harder to end a war than to start one. Americans learned that bitter lesson in Vietnam, and apparently having forgotten it, we’re forced to learn it all over again in Iraq.” One of McPherson’s examples is the Civil War in which both the North and the South sought regime change. It took four years to end that conflict. [4]

Politics and advocacy[]

McPherson is known for his outspokenness on contemporary issues and his activism, such as his work on behalf of the preservation of Civil War battlefields. As president in 1993-1994 of Protect Historic America, he lobbied against the construction of a commercial theme park at the Manassas battlefield. He has also served on the boards of the Civil War Trust and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, and on the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee.

McPherson signed a May 18, 2009 petition asking President Obama not to lay a wreath at the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery. The petition stated:

The Arlington Confederate Monument is a denial of the wrong committed against African Americans by slave owners, Confederates, and neo-Confederates, through the monument’s denial of slavery as the cause of secession and its holding up of Confederates as heroes. This implies that the humanity of Africans and African Americans is of no significance.

Today, the monument gives encouragement to the modern neo-Confederate movement and provides a rallying point for them. The modern neo-Confederate movement interprets it as vindicating the Confederacy and the principles and ideas of the Confederacy and their neo-Confederate ideas. The presidential wreath enhances the prestige of these neo-Confederate events.[5]

Democracy Now interview & UDC boycott[]

McPherson's political views have led to charges of bias against him and at least one boycott of his books. In 1999 McPherson drew the ire of Confederate heritage groups when he and Ed Sebesta had an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on the left wing Pacifica Radio network's Democracy Now! program. The topic of the interview was then-candidate George W. Bush's financial support of the Museum of the Confederacy, and its Lone Star Ball fundraising event, as well as his views of the historical Confederacy. During the interview, guest Ed Sebesta discussed the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy, which Sebesta argued were created with the motive of celebrating the Confederacy, including the use of slavery in the Confederate economy, and white supremacy. The interview with McPherson followed in another segment, where McPherson stated:

"I think, I agree a 100% with Ed Sebesta about the motives or the hidden agenda, not too, not too deeply hidden I think of such groups as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They are dedicated to celebrating the Confederacy and rather thinly veiled support for white supremacy. And I think that also is the again not very deeply hidden agenda of the Confederate flag issue in several southern states."

In the same interview, McPherson clarified his position that the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia had changed its orientation, from its original purpose of celebrating the Confederacy:

"[O]ver time, and especially in the last decade or two, it has become a much more professional, research-oriented, professional exhibit-oriented facility."

He continued,

"I think the motives of people who fundraise money for the museum, and who attend balls in period costume and so on, probably range from celebratory to genuinely historical. So there is a dimension to that. But I do think that the Museum of Confederacy is now a research and professional museum in the same category as other highly regarded museums around the country."

McPherson said:"If I implied that all U.D.C. chapters or S.C.V. chapters or anyone who belongs to those is promoting a white-supremacist agenda, that's not what I meant to say," he said. "What I meant to say is that some of these people have a hidden agenda of white supremacy, (which) they might not even recognize they're involved in"

Members of the UDC were similarly offended by these comments. The Virginia UDC responded in their newsletter that "Far from apologizing for his baseless accusations of racism, (McPherson) has now added ignorance to the list of sins that we have committed." The group has not announced an end to their boycott.[1]



  • The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.
  • The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted During the War for the Union. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
  • Marching Toward Freedom: The Negro in the Civil War, 1861-1865. New York: Knopf, 1968.
  • The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975 (1st ed.); 1995 (2nd ed., with a new preface by the author).
  • Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: Knopf, 1982 (1st ed.); New York: McGraw-Hill, c1992 (2nd ed.); c2001 (3rd ed.), c2009 (4th ed.).
  • Lincoln and the Strategy of Unconditional Surrender. Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg College, 1984.
  • How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphors. Fort Wayne, IN: Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, 1985.
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 (1st ed.); 2003 (Illustrated ed.).
  • Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • What They Fought For, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1994.
  • Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Is Blood Thicker than Water?: Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World. Toronto: Vintage Canada, c1998.
  • Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • The Boys in Blue and Gray. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2002.
  • Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg. New York: Crown Journeys, 2003.
  • This Mighty Scourge. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • 'Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, 2008.
  • 'Abraham Lincoln. Oxford University Press, 2009.

As editor or contributor[]

  • Blacks in America: Bibliographical Essays, by James M. McPherson and others. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971.
  • Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, edited by J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Battle Chronicles of the Civil War, James McPherson, editor; Richard Gottlieb, managing editor. 6 vols. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co.; London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, c1989.
  • American Political Leaders: From Colonial Times to the Present, by Steven G. O'Brien; editor, Paula McGuire; consulting editors, James M. McPherson, Gary Gerstle. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, c1991.
  • Why the Confederacy Lost, edited by Gabor S. Boritt; essays by James M. McPherson et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Gettysburg: The Paintings of Mort Künstler, text by James M. McPherson. Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing, c1993.
  • The Atlas of the Civil War, edited by James M. McPherson. New York: Macmillan, c1994.
  • "We Cannot Escape History": Lincoln and the Last Best Hope of Earth, edited by James M. McPherson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
  • The American Heritage New History of the Civil War, narrated by Bruce Catton; edited and with a new introduction by James McPherson. New York: Viking, 1996.
  • Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant; with an introduction and notes by James M. McPherson. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
  • Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, edited by James M. McPherson. 3 vols. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, c2000.


  1. "National News Briefs; Clinton Declines Offer To Give Scholarly Talk," New York Times, September 22, 1999.
  2. NEH News Archive
  3. "Civil War Historian Wins $100,000 Prize for Lifetime Achievement" Chronicle of Higher Education July 17, 2007
  4. Nagy, Kim"Keeping Time - An Interview with James McPherson" "Wild River Review"November, 2007.
  5. Dear President Obama: Please Don't Honor the Arlington Confederate Monument By Edward Sebesta and James Loewen

External links[]

Template:AHA Presidents

de:James M. McPherson fr:James M. McPherson