James M. McPherson
McPherson in June 2011
|Born||October 11, 1936|
Valley City, North Dakota, U.S.
|Notable works||Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1997)|
James M. "Jim" 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: The Civil War Era. McPherson was the president of the American Historical Association in 2003.
Born in Valley City, North Dakota, McPherson 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 where he studied under C. Vann Woodward.
|Panel discussion hosted by the American Historical Association on the career of James McPherson, January 8, 2012, C-SPAN|
McPherson's works include The Struggle for Equality, awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Award in 1965. In 1988, he published his Pulitzer-winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom. His 1990 book, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution argues that the emancipation of slaves amounts to a second American Revolution. McPherson's 1998 book, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, 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.
McPherson published This Mighty Scourge in 2007, a series of essays about the American 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 American Civil War, in which both the Union and the Confederacy sought regime change. It took four years to end the war.
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
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. 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.
In 2007, he was awarded the $100,000 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military history and was the first recipient of the prize. In 2007, he was awarded the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize for lifetime achievement in military history given by the Society for Military History. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.
McPherson is known for his outspokenness on contemporary issues and for 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. 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.
Along with several other historians, McPherson signed a May 2009 petition asking U.S. President Barack 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.
President Obama himself never addressed the issue. Instead, Obama sent a wreath not only to the Confederate Memorial but also instituted a new tradition of sending a presidential wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. He also won the praise of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
|1994||Civil War Journal||Himself|
|2003||National Geographic: Beyond the Movie - The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King||Himself|
|2011||The Conspirator: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Lincoln||Himself|
|2015||The Gettysburg Address||Himself|