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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 1989 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 1965. 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 American 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 American 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 2001Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanititites 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] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.[4]

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.[5]

There are all kinds of myths that a people has about itself, some positive, some negative, some healthy and some not healthy. I think that one job of the historian is to try to cut through some of those myths and get closer to some kind of reality. So that people can face their current situation realistically, rather than mythically. I guess that's my sense of what a historian ought to do.

— James M. McPherson, An exchange with a Civil War historian[6]

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 Disney theme park near Manassas battlefield.[7] He has also served on the boards of the Civil War Trust as well as the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, a predecessor to the Civil War Trust. From 1990 to 1993 he sat on the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission.[8]

McPherson signed a May 18, 2009 petition asking President Obama not to lay a wreath at the Confederate Monument Memorial 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.[9]

Obama put the wreath on the monument anyway, winning the praise of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.[10]



  • 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.), c2010 (4th ed.). ISBN 9780070458376 ISBN 9780070458383
  • 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.). ISBN 9780195168280
  • Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. ISBN 9780195076066 ISBN 9780195055429
  • What They Fought For, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1994. ISBN 9780807119044
  • Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780195096798
  • For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 9780195090239
  • Is Blood Thicker than Water?: Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World. Toronto: Vintage Canada, c1998. ISBN 9780679309284
  • Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 9780195135213 ISBN 9780195173307 ISBN 9780965461184
  • 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. ISBN 9780609610237
  • This Mighty Scourge. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780195313666
  • Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, 2008. ISBN 9780143143604
  • Abraham Lincoln. Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 9780195374520
  • War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. ISBN 9780807835883

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.
  • To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents, edited by James M. McPherson and David Rubel, 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. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter M". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  5. Nagy, Kim "Keeping Time - An Interview with James McPherson" "Wild River Review"November 2007.
  6. Walsh, David (June 19, 1995). "An exchange with a Civil War historian". 
  7. Historians Go To War Against Disney's Virginia Theme Park
  8. Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report. Forward.
  9. Edward Sebesta; James Loewen. "Dear President Obama: Please Don't Honor the Arlington Confederate Monument". Retrieved October 2, 2011. 

External links

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