McPherson, James M. 1936- (James Munro McPherson)
McPherson, James M. 1936- (James Munro McPherson)
Born October 11, 1936, in Valley City, ND; son of James Munro (a high school teacher and administrator) and Miriam (an elementary school teacher) McPherson; married Patricia A. Rasche (an editor), December 28, 1957; children: Joanna. Education: Gustavus Adolphus College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1958; Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D. (with highest distinction), 1963. Politics: Democratic. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, bicycling, sailing, reading mystery and adventure novels, playing with his granddaughter.
Historian, writer, editor, educator, preservationist, consultant, and educator. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, instructor, 1962-65, assistant professor, 1965-68, associate professor, 1968-72, professor of history, 1972-82, Edwards Professor of American History, 1982-91, George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History, beginning 1991, professor emeritus, 2004—; Commonwealth Fund Lecturer, University College, London, England, 1982. Fellow, Behavioral Sciences Center, Stanford University, 1982-83. Consultant on the film Gettysburg, Turner Pictures, 1993; on the television documentary The Civil War by Ken Burns, Public Broadcasting System, 1999; and on the television documentary Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided, Public Broadcasting System, 2001; also consultant, Social Science program, Educational Research Council, Cleveland, OH. President, Protect Historic America, 1993-94; Society of American Historians, 2000-01; and American Historical Association, 2003. Member of board of directors, Civil War Trust and Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now the Civil War Preservation Trust), 1991-93; member of Civil War Sites Advisory Committee, a committee created by the U.S. Congress, 1991-93. Member of advisory board, George Tyler Moore College of the Study of the Civil War, Shepherdstown, WV. Member of board of advisors, Lincoln Forum. Member of editorial board of magazine Civil War History.
McPherson provided the narration for the video Abraham Lincoln, Atlas Video, 1990, and is interviewed in the documentary Smithsonian's Great Battles of theCivil War, Volume 1, Mastervision Studio, 1992, on the videos The Civil War Legends: Robert E. Lee and The Civil War Legends: Abraham Lincoln (both from Acorn Video), and on the audio cassette American Heritage's Great Minds of History, Simon & Schuster, 1999. He also provided the audio commentary on the DVD of the film Gettysburg, Turner Home Entertainment, 2000.
Organization of American Historians, Society of American Historians, American Philosophical Society, American Historical Association (president, 2003-04), Southern Historical Association, Phi Beta Kappa.
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, 1958; Danforth fellow, 1958-62; Proctor & Gamble faculty fellowship; Anisfield Wolff Award in Race Relations, Cleveland Foundation, 1965, for The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction; Guggenheim fellow, 1967-68; Huntington fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1977-78; Huntington Seaver fellow, 1987-88; National Book Award nomination, 1988, National Book Critics Circle nomination, 1988, Pulitzer Prize in history, 1989, Distinguished Book Award, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, 1989, and citation, 100 Best English-Language Books of the 20th Century, Board of the Modern Library, 1999, all for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era; Lincoln Prize, 1998, for For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought the Civil War; Michael Award, New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame, 1989; Gustavus Adolphus College Alumni Award, Gustavus Alumni Association, 1990; R. Stanton Avery fellow, Huntington Library, 1995-96; Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize in Naval History, 1998, with wife, Patricia McPherson, for Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S. Navy; Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2000; Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement, 2002; recipient of honorary degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College, Gettysburg College, Muhlenberg College, Lehigh University, Bowdoin College, and Monmouth University.
FOR CHILDREN; NONFICTION
(With Joyce Oldham Appleby and Alan Brinkley) The American Journey (textbook; student edition), National Geographic Society/Glencoe/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1998, also published as The American Journey: Building a Nation, teacher's wraparound edition, National Geographic Society/Glencoe/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2000, student edition reprint, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2003.
Fields of Fury: The American Civil War, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Appleby, Brinkley, Albert S. Broussard, and Donald A. Ritchie) The American Vision (textbook), National Geographic Society/Glencoe/McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2003.
Into the West, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2006.
FOR ADULTS; NONFICTION
The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1964, 2nd edition with new preface by the author, 1995.
The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted in the War for the Union, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1965, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1982, published as The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted during the War for the Union, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1991, reprinted, Vintage Books, 2003.
The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1975, 2nd edition, with a new preface by the author, 1995.
Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2001, published as The Civil War (reprint of the second part of Ordeal by Fire), Knopf (New York, NY), 1982, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1982, published as two separate volumes, Ordeal by Fire: The Coming of War and Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1993, 3rd edition, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2001.
Images of the Civil War, paintings by Mort Künstler, Gramercy Books (New York, NY), 1982.
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1988, published as collector's edition, Easton Press (Norwalk, CT), 2002.
Gettysburg (companion volume to film of the same name), paintings by Mort Künstler, Turner Publishing (Atlanta, GA), 1993, Rutledge Hill Press (Nashville, TN), 1998.
What They Fought For, 1861-1865, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1994.
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Hallowed Ground: A Walk in Gettysburg, Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
(Author of introduction) Bruce Catton, The Civil War, Houghton Mifflin Co. (Boston, MA), 2005.
This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2007.
ESSAYS AND LECTURES
Lincoln and the Strategy of Unconditional Surrender, Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA), 1984.
How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphor, Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum (Fort Wayne, IN), 1985.
Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990, published as collector's edition, Easton Press (Norwalk, CT), 1991.
Why the Confederacy Lost, edited by Gabor S. Boritt, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Is Blood Thicker than Water? Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World, Vintage Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Douglas J. Wilson) Accepting the Prize: Two Historians Speak, Lincoln and Soldiers Institute (Gettysburg, PA), 2000.
"For a Vast Future Also": Lincoln and the Millennium, National Endowment for the Humanities (Washington, DC), 2000.
(With others) Blacks in America: Bibliographical Essays, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1971.
(With Corner Vann Woodward and J. Morgan Kousser) Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
Battle Chronicles of the Civil War, six volumes, Grey Castle Press (Lakeville, CT), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
(Consulting editor) Steve O'Brien and others, editors, American Political Leaders: From Colonial Times to the Present, ABC-CLIO (Santa Barbara, CA), 1991.
The Atlas of the Civil War, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
"We Cannot Escape History": Lincoln and the Last Best Hope on Earth, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1995.
(With Bruce Catton) The American Heritage New History of the Civil War, Viking (New York, NY), 1996, revised edition, with contributing editor Noah Andre Trudeau, MetroBooks (New York, NY), 2001.
(With wife, Patricia R. McPherson) Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S. Navy, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
(With William J. Cooper) Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1998.
"To the Best of My Ability": The American Presidents, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 2000, revised edition, 2001.
Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, Sharpe Reference (Armonk, NY), 2000.
(Editor and contributor, with Alan Brinkley and David Rubel) Days of Destiny: Crossroads in American History; America's Greatest Historians Examine Thirty-one Uncelebrated Days That Changed the Course of History, DK Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.
The Civil War Reader, 1862, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
The Most Fearful Ordeal: Original Coverage of the Civil War by the New York Times, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of How Abolitionists Fought On after the Civil War, Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), a reprint in book form of an article from the quarterly magazine University, 1968-69; White Liberals and Black Power in Negro Education, 1865-1915, 1969; First Black Power Bid in U.S. Education, Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), from University, 1970; and Who Freedthe Slaves? Lincoln and Emancipation, Lincoln Memorial Association (Redlands, CA), 1993. McPherson's works have been translated into other languages, including French, German, and Spanish. Contributor to books, including The Anti-slavery Vanguard: New Essays on Abolitionism, edited by Martin M. Duberman, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1965; Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History, edited by Barton J. Bernstein, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1968; and How I Met Lincoln: Some Distinguished Enthusiasts Reveal Just How They Fell under His Spell, compiled by Harold Holzer, American Heritage (New York, NY), 1999. Contributor of forewords and afterwords to books, including Brother against Brother, edited by Diane Stine Thomas, Silver Burdett Press (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1990; Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1999; and The Birth of the Grand Old Republican Party: The Republicans' First Generation, edited by Robert F. Engs and Randall M. Miller, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2002. Contributor to periodicals, including American Historical Review, Caribbean Studies, Journal of American History, Journal of Negro History, Mid-America, Phylon, and others.
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era was released on audio tape by Books on Tape, 1989; Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution was released on audio tape by Books on Tape, 1992; Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam was released as an audio CD by Oxford University Press, 2002.
An American author of nonfiction for children and adults, James M. McPherson generally is considered the preeminent living expert on the American Civil War. The war, which took place from 1861 to 1865, pitted the Union Army from the northern United States against the Confederate Army from the southern United States. More than six hundred thousand soldiers died in the Civil War—more than in any other war involving Americans. A prolific writer, McPherson has written and edited numerous books about the Civil War and its aftermath, the Reconstruction, and of President Abraham Lincoln. McPherson is noted for his coverage of African Americans during the mid-nineteenth century, especially their service as soldiers and their efforts to secure their freedom from slavery, and of the abolitionists who worked to obtain equal rights for the freed slaves. He is also a preservationist, working to protect Civil War battlefields and other important sites as well as resource materials in libraries and other places. Finally, McPherson is credited with helping to initiate a resurgence of interest in the Civil War among the American public. Several of his books have been bestsellers and are considered to have paved the way for the success of the films Glory and Gettysburg and the television documentary The Civil War by Ken Burns. McPherson wrote the text for a book of paintings by Mort Künstler that was issued as a companion to the motion picture Gettsyburg and also provided narration on the DVD of the film; in addition, McPherson served as a consultant in the making of the Ken Burns documentary.
McPherson perhaps is best known for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, an informational book for adults that was published in 1988 and won the Pulitzer Prize for history the next year. Often acknowledged as the best single-volume study of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom offers readers a reassessment of the war and its outcome. McPherson theorizes that the victory of the Union Army was not inevitable; in addition, he calls the Civil War a turning point in American history, a revolutionary event that brought sweeping changes to society, such as the end of slavery and a new emphasis on industrialization. A professor of history at Princeton University for more than forty years, McPherson directs most of his works to readers at the college level and above; however, several of his books, especially Battle Cry of Freedom, have appeal for young people and are used as supplemental reading in high schools. As an author for children, McPherson has written informational books about the Civil War and its soldiers, both black and white; he also is the coauthor of textbooks on the history of America for students in middle school.
Thematically, McPherson emphasizes the moral and ideological aspects of war. He is noted for being empathic in his treatment of the soldiers who fought on both sides of the Civil War and for writing works that stress the human dimension of this event. In several of his books, McPherson draws upon letters and diaries, many of which are unpublished, and he also includes little-known facts about his subjects. As a literary stylist, McPherson characteristically uses a narrative approach rather than the topical or thematic approaches that historians often favor. He is credited for the thoroughness of his research and for writing with authority, balance, eloquence, and clarity. In addition, McPherson has been commended for his ability to satisfy both scholars and general readers with his works, which are praised for providing accurate facts and insightful opinions in an accessible, engaging manner.
McPherson occasionally is accused of not offering many new revelations about the Civil War and for not making clear whose side he is on in the controversies surrounding it. However, he usually is viewed as an exceptional historian as well as a writer of integrity and literary skill whose works demonstrate his respect for both his subject and his audience. Writing in Salon, Kathleen Whittamore stated, "As anyone who reads James McPherson knows, the broadest topics deliver the gold. This Princeton historian is an expert silversmith with detail, but a true artist when he solders the big questions." Whittamore went on to write: "Other writers in the Civil War may be better at emotive drama (Shelby Foote) or crackling narrative (Bruce Catton), but if you want the most astute synthesis possible, McPherson's the man." Calling McPherson "a remarkable and admirable figure," David Walsh of the World Socialist Web site projected: "When, in the future, historians consider the ideological landscape of our time, in all its general dreariness and moral and political renegacy, it seems certain that some consideration will be given to James McPherson as a contradictory figure of the period itself. And it will be noted—with approval and appreciation, one trusts—that he contributed to an intellectual ferment with far-reaching consequences." In his assessment of McPherson in America, Tom O'Brien concluded that his "whole corpus displays patriotism, not as the last refuge of a scoundrel, but as the civic-mindedness of a first-class mind and first-class person. Would American history suffer if there were even more of him?"
Born in Valley City, North Dakota, McPherson grew up in a small town in Minnesota. He is the son of James Munro McPherson, a high school teacher and administrator, and Miriam Osborn McPherson, an elementary school teacher who went back to get her degree after her children were grown. The author told Joseph Deitch of Publishers Weekly that having two teachers as parents "clearly had an influence on me. I see them as role models." Some of McPherson's siblings also became educators: both of his sisters have taught in elementary schools and one of his brothers was a teacher at the university level. McPherson's interest in the Civil War perhaps also has roots in his family background: his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather both fought in the Union Army, a fact of which McPherson was unaware until he became a historian. McPherson was first inspired to study the past by a history teacher at his high school, a man who had fought in World War II. The author told Joseph Deitch of Publishers Weekly that he and his classmates "got a lot of personal reminiscences about the war that aroused my interest in the historical dimensions and in the war itself." After high school, McPherson went to Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota. McPherson once told CA, "I became fascinated with American history while in college, and it was natural that I should combine my interest in teaching and history to become a teacher of history and a writer of books about American history that I hope have been useful in teaching and learning."
While attending Gustavus Adolphus College, McPherson married Patricia A. Rasche. With her husband, Patricia McPherson served as the coeditor of a collection of letters by Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, one of the most talented naval officers of the Civil War. After graduating from college, James McPherson decided to attend graduate school to acquire his doctorate in history. At the time, the civil rights movement was beginning to take place in the South. McPherson told David Walsh of the World Socialist Web site, "This was in the late '50s, at the time of the Little Rock school desegregation crisis and the Montgomery bus boycott. I was just becoming conscious of what was going on in the world at this time, so I thought, ‘This is a strange place, this South.’ So I decided that maybe I'd like to find out more about it, study Southern history." McPherson decided to attend graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He told Walsh, "I really went to Hopkins because C. Vann Woodward [a specialist on Southern history and on segregation] was there." The author went on to note: "I was suddenly struck by the parallels between the times in which I was living and what had happened exactly, I mean exactly in some cases, 100 years earlier."
As a northerner, McPherson became fascinated by the role that the North had played in trying to change race relations in the South. He studied eighteenth-century abolitionists and wrote about their role during and after the Civil War in trying to obtain equal rights, equal justice, and education for the freed slaves. In an interview with William R. Ferris in Humanities, McPherson recalled: "I did my Ph.D. dissertation on people that I called—perhaps with a little bit of exaggeration—the civil rights activists of the 1860s, the abolitionists, both black and white." He told Amy Lifson on the National Endowment for the Humanities Web site: "I was struck by all of these parallels between what was a freedom crusade of the 1860s and a freedom crusade of the 1960s. My first entrée into Civil War scholarship focused on that very theme." While attending Johns Hopkins, McPherson participated in civil rights activities in the Baltimore area. In 1962, he moved to Princeton, New Jersey, to work as an instructor of history at Princeton University. The next year, McPherson received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins. His doctoral dissertation became his first book, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, a volume published in 1964. On the National Endowment for the Humanities Web site, McPherson called this work "a study of the continuing activities of abolitionists on behalf of civil rights and education for freed slaves after the abolition of slavery." He added, "The challenges and excitement of discovery in this research really launched my career as a historian."
Three years after the publication of The Struggle for Equality, McPherson produced The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted in the War for the Union (later published as The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted during the War for the Union). With Marching toward Freedom: The Negro in the Civil War (later published as Marching toward Freedom: Blacks in the Civil War), McPherson adapted material from The Negro's Civil War for a young audience. In this work, which was published in 1968, McPherson presents children with a history of how African Americans served in the Civil War, first in supporting roles and then, after they were allowed to enlist, as effective soldiers. The author supplements his story with passages from diaries, letters, speeches, newspapers, and songs as well as prints and photographs from the period. Writing in the New York Times Book Review about McPherson's accomplishment in Marching toward Freedom, Mel Watkins commented: "Using numerous quotes from politicians, slaves, and freedmen, he shows that military and political expediency, not idealism, dictated the Union's altered stance." A writer in Commonweal dubbed Marching toward Freedom a "well-documented account" and "an impressive study" before noting, "Its brevity is an additional asset." Writing in Book World, Paul M. Angle commented that "Mr. McPherson brings a fresh approach. Half of the text, perhaps more, consists of quotations from what the historians call first-hand sources." Angle went on to write: "Skillfully used by the author, these sources give the book an unusual degree of directness (read ‘punch’) and realism. The story—and the facts—give more credit to the black man than to the white." A critic in Booklist wrote: "Numerous excerpts … add authenticity and conviction to McPherson's telling portrayal of Negro attitudes and experiences, including impressive performances on the battlefield." McPherson told CA, "I enjoyed the experience of writing Marching toward Freedom. My two youngest brothers were then in junior high and high school, and I tried out the book on them as I was writing it in order to see whether it would appeal to a high-school age audience. They liked it, and I hope that other students who have read it have also liked it."
In addition to his academic career, McPherson has continued to write and edit books on the Civil War and its key players. Asked by C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter to contribute a volume to the "Oxford History of the United States," a multivolume collection of individual books by historians that was published by Oxford University Press, he began to write about the period 1848 to 1865. In 1988, McPherson produced Battle Cry of Freedom, the book that established him as perhaps the best historian ever to have written about the War between the States. In this work, which takes its title from a song adopted by both the North and the South, the author outlines the history of the period by incorporating its most relevant political, social, economic, and military aspects. In addition, he combines scholarship on the subject with his own research and interpretations and tells the story of the Civil War as if he were writing fiction, with plot, conflict, character development, and other literary characteristics.
Battle Cry of Freedom was a best seller in both hardcover and paperback. In addition, critical commentary on the volume was almost unanimously laudatory. McPherson was praised for his ability to synthesize a wealth of information—material that previous writers had taken from three to eight volumes to decipher—and place it into a single, cohesive, well-written volume. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Hugh Brogan noted: "This is the best one-volume treatment of a subject I have ever come across. It may actually be the best ever published. It is comprehensive and succinct, scholarly without being pedantic, eloquent but unrhetorical. It is compellingly readable. I was swept away, feeling as if I had never heard the saga before. It is most welcome." Brogan went on to call Battle Cry of Freedom "a deeply satisfying book." Huston Horn of the Los Angeles Times Book Review wrote: "Deftly coordinated, gracefully composed, charitably argued, and suspensefully laid out, McPherson's book is just the compass of the tumultuous middle years of the 18th century it was intended to be, and as narrative history, it is surpassing. Bright with details and fresh quotations, sold with carefully-arrived-at conclusions, it must surely be, of the 50,000 books written on the Civil War, the finest compression of that national paroxysm ever fitted between two covers." Martin Flagg of the TimesEducational Supplement called McPherson's book "a miracle of lucidity, proportion, and ripe judgment. It is also, for a one-volume chronicle, marvelously inclusive, and one cannot imagine a more telling or compelling account of this, the most tragic episode (and enduring trauma) of American history." Writing in School Library Journal, Audrey B. Eaglon dubbed Battle Cry of Freedom "probably the best one-volume history of the Civil War ever written; it reads like a suspense novel, pulling readers into the story of a nation riven by conflict."
In 1991, McPherson became the George Henry Davis '86 Professor American History at Princeton. In the same year, the United States Senate appointed McPherson to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, which was responsible for determining the major battle sites of the war, evaluating their condition, and recommending proposals for their preservation. As a teacher, he has taken his students on regular tours of Civil War battlefields; for example, they go to Pennsylvania every spring to visit Gettysburg. At the battlefields, McPherson often is asked by his students why the soldiers were willing to fight—and to stay in the war—when they knew that they may not be coming home. These questions prompted For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, a title published in 1997. In order to create this work, McPherson studied the diaries and letters of over a thousand enlistees from both the Union and Confederate armies. He concluded that the soldiers were motivated by courage, self-respect, and group cohesion and were sustained by duty, faith, personal honor, patriotism, and ideology, especially the preservation of liberty. Writing about For Cause and Comrades in Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, Raymond L. Puffer commented: "A good scholar can always be depended upon to come up with an interesting new approach to a worked-over subject. In this title, Princeton historian McPherson shows again why he deserves to be called the dean of Civil War scholars." Puffer went to call For Cause and Comrades a "legitimate and readable antidote to the romanticized motives so often cited in other works," adding: "This book also packs a visceral punch; it is full of fascinating quotations and first-person recollections, making it an often vivid experience for the reader. This is ‘living history’ indeed." Calling For Cause and Comrades "one of the most comprehensive and valuable analyses of the Civil War ever written," Daniel Baracskay of Presidential Studies Quarterly commended the author's "painstaking detail and incredible insight" before concluding that McPherson "has provided a tremendous contribution to the study of the Civil War, and the disciplines of history and political science." Baracskay added: "McPherson has set a new standard for research for times to come." Roland Green of Booklist observed that, in For Cause and Comrades, McPherson "has written more eloquently than almost any Civil War historian since Bruce Catton. The result is an invaluable book, though a saddening one." For Cause and Comrades was awarded the Lincoln Prize in 1998.
In 2002, McPherson produced Fields of Fury: The American Civil War, a history of the war for children that spans events from the initial Confederate attack at Fort Sumter to the triumph of the Union at Appomattox. McPherson defines major battles; provides eyewitness accounts, many by children; profiles historical luminaries; gives personal anecdotes from the soldiers; and addresses such issues as slavery, the roles of women and African Americans, health care on the battlefield, treatment of prisoners of war, and the effects of Reconstruction. McPherson also includes sidebars of information; a timeline; and many photographs, drawings, and maps. With this volume, the author is credited for doing for a young audience what he did for adults with Battle Cry of Freedom. Writing in School Library Journal, Starr E. Smith commented: "A distinguished historian has used his formidable talents to produce a concise, accessible, and appealing history in an attractive format." Smith went on to write: "McPherson summarizes the major facts of the war and relates anecdotes that bring to life the conflict's participants," adding that it is "a good pick for researchers and browsers alike." Noting that there is always a need for another good overview on the Civil War, a critic in Kirkus Reviews wrote that Fields of Fury "fills that need." The reviewer called the work a "thoughtfully and clearly constructed offering that will appeal to history buffs, young and old, and a must for any Civil War history collection." Carolyn Phelan of Booklist stated noted: "McPherson writes with authority, offering a broad overview as well as many details and anecdotes that give his account a human dimension."
McPherson continues to write and edit books on his specialties, to teach at Princeton, to serve as a consultant and on committees, and to act as a crusader for the preservation of the major battle sites of the Civil War. He has argued publicly against the exploitation of these sites by commercial vendors; in addition, he guides both new students and the general public through battlefields and other locations that are relevant to the war. In his interview with William R. Ferris of Humanities, McPherson suggested why he thinks that the Civil War has an enduring fascination: "One reason is the continu- ing salience of many of the issues over which the war was fought. Even though the War resolved the issues of Union and slavery, it didn't entirely resolve the issues that underlay those two questions. The relationships between the national government and regions, race relations, the role of government in trying to bring about change in race relations—these issues are still important in American society today." The author went on: "The continuing relevance of these issues, I think, is one reason for the continuing fascination with the Civil War." When asked why writers in academia do not create more books for general readers, McPherson noted: "Look at the large membership in the history book club, the interest in the History Channel on television, and the interest in documentaries by Ken Burns and by other historical filmmakers. There is a real hunger out there which is not always reached by academic historians. I think they ought to reach out more than they do, and that is what I try to do." He concluded, "I think it's possible to break new ground or offer new interpretations or to write a narrative work of history in such a way as it can appeal to a general audience, but also have something for a more academic and specialized audience. It has something to do with being convinced that history is a story of change over time, with a beginning, a development, a climax of consequences, and writing that story in such a way as it will retain the interest of a broad audience, but also have something new and interesting in the way of insight or interpretation for the specialist as well. It is not easy to explain. I just try to do it, and sometimes I think I've succeeded."
McPherson has also served as editor of numerous books about the Civil War, including Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand, which the author edited with William J. Cooper. In their book, the editors provide a collection of essays that consider Civil War Scholarship over the last part of the twentieth century. "The collection has numerous strengths," wrote Robert D. Sawrey in History: Review of New Books. "Not only do the authors demonstrate the depth and breadth of their knowledge of the literature; they also make clear that historians still disagree on many issues."
As editor of "To the Best of My Ability": The American Presidents, McPherson presents a wide variety of essays on all of the American presidents up to the time of the book's publication. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "this estimable book draws on ideas that are shaping American political historiography and popular memory." McPherson is also coeditor with Alan Brinkley and David Rubel of Days of Destiny: Crossroads in American History; America's Greatest Historians Examine Thirty-one Uncelebrated Days That Changed the Course of History. As the title suggests, the book's essays focus on largely forgotten important historical dates in American history from colonial America through the twentieth century. Charles K. Piehl, writing in the Library Journal, called Days of Destiny "a fine book intended for a wide readership."
In his book Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, McPherson focuses on the pivotal Civil War battle of Antietam, which took place in Sharpsburg, Maryland, in 1862. "Of course, there are scads of previous books on Antietam, but none comes close to matching the breadth and depth of McPherson's description and analysis of the myriad social, political, and diplomatic events that both preceded and resulted from the battle," wrote T. Michael Parrish in the Journal of Southern History. McPherson's comprehensive approach includes analysis of military strategy and tactics, as well as an in-depth look at the battles and casualties. The author also examines several important aspects of the battle that could have swung the tide in the Confederate Army's favor. In a review of Crossroads of Freedom in the Economist, a contributor noted that the author's "judgments of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the rival generals is as interesting as his account of the battle itself." A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly wrote that the author "convincingly establishes the Battle of Antietam as the conflict's pivotal moment militarily, politically and morally."
The author uses his experience of conducting private tours of the Gettysburg battlefield for twenty years to examine the pivotal battle that gave the Union the upper hand in the Civil War in his book Hallowed Ground: A Walk in Gettysburg. McPherson discusses the various regiments that fought in the battle and outlines both the heroism and mistakes that occurred during the fight. Hugh McAloon, writing in the School Library Journal, called Hallowed Ground "concise, sprightly, and full of personality—both McPherson's and the participants'" in the battle. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "The author's knack for knocking myths on the head without jargon or insult is on display throughout." The reviewer went on to call Hallowed Ground "a very good thing in a remarkably small package."
As editor of the 2004 book The Most Fearful Ordeal: Original Coverage of the Civil War by the New York Times, McPherson presents a collection of Civil Warera New York Times articles reporting on seminal events concerning the Civil War, from the raid on Harper's Ferry by John Brown to Lincoln's assassination. In a review in Booklist, Roland Green noted that the author's "annotations again confirm his ability to throw light on any aspect of the war."
McPherson's 2006 book for younger readers, Into the West, details the Reconstruction days following the Civil War as the United States expansion into the West begins in earnest. "As a boy I watched dozens of western movies starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, which were filled with myths," writes McPherson in the book. "When I grew up and became a historian, it was surprising to learn the realities of the West, which I have tried to present to you in this book." In his book, the author discusses various issues concerned with America's expansion, including politics, the Homestead Act, and carpetbaggers. "Like good newspaper stories, McPherson's chapters convey big ideas with the details of people's lives, national trends with local notes," wrote Robert Sullivan in the New York Times Book Review. School Library Journal contributor Mary Mueller commented that the author "writes objectively and well."
This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, published in 2007, is a collection of sixteen essays by the author, most of them previously published in periodicals such as the New York Review of Books. The essays focus on seminal questions concerning the Civil War, including: Why did the war start? And why did the South lose? A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the essays were re-edited for the book and that they "read like chapters in a smooth narrative." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews commented that the author "brings a critical intelligence to central questions concerning the war." Several reviewers also commented on the author's contrarian view concerning the war. For example, Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, noted that the author "writes with a sharp, succinct style and displays a willingness to challenge current orthodoxies."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
McPherson, James M. Into the West, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2006.
America, September 16, 2002, Tom O'Brien, "A Qualified Victory," p. 23.
American Heritage, May 1, 1996, review of Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War, p. 113; October 1, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, p. 14.
American Historical Review, October 1, 1995, Michael Barton, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 1300; April 1, 1997, John Y. Simon, review of "We Cannot Escape History": Lincoln and the Last Best Hope of Earth, p. 524; April 1, 1997, review of We Cannot Escape History, p. 524; February 1, 2000, Alan Nolan, review of Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand, p. 171.
American History, June 1, 1995, review of The Atlas of the Civil War, p. 28.
American History Illustrated, November 1, 1982, Edward G. Longacre, review of Ordeal by Fire, p. 9.
American Spectator, July 1, 1996, Joseph Shattan, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 73.
Army, March 1, 2007, "A Master Historian Revisits America's Bloodiest War," p. 126.
Atlantic Monthly, October 1, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 141; October 1, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 141.
Booklist, October 1, 1968, review of Marching toward Freedom: The Negro in the Civil War, 1861-1865, pp. 189-190; November 1, 1992, Gilbert Taylor, review of Images of the Civil War: The Paintings of Mort Kunstler, p. 486; May 1, 1995, review of The Atlas of the Civil War, p. 1592; December 15, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of "We Cannot Escape History," p. 685; December 15, 1995, review of "We Cannot Escape History," p. 685; March 1, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 1119; February 1, 1997, Roland Green, review of For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, p. 924; September 1, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of Lamson of the Gettysburg: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, U.S. Navy, p. 54; May 15, 2000, review of Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, p. 1782; August 1, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of "To the Best of My Ability": The American Presidents, p. 2107; November 1, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of "To the Best of My Ability," p. 499; November 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Fields of Fury: The American Civil War, p. 586; March 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, p. 1138; May 15, 2004, Roland Green, review of The Most Fearful Ordeal: Original Coverage of the Civil War, p. 1595; September 1, 2006, John Peters, review of Into the West: From Reconstruction to the Final Days of the American Frontier, p. 123; February 1, 2007, Jay Freeman, review of This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 20.
Books & Culture, July 1, 2003, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 24.
Books in Canada, June 1, 1998, review of Is Blood Thicker than Water? Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World, p. 27.
Book World, May 5, 1968, Paul M. Angle, review of Marching toward Freedom: The Negro in the Civil War, 1861-65, p. 30; February 11, 2007, "A Bracing New Collection of Essays from a Great Civil War Historian," p. 15.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March 1, 2007, Elizabeth Bush, review of Into the West, p. 303.
Business Week, March 29, 1982, review of Ordeal by Fire, p. 16.
Canadian Speeches, March 1, 1998, review of Is Blood Thicker than Water?, p. 61.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September 1, 1995, M.A. Cavanaugh, review of The Atlas of the Civil War, p. 75; June 1, 2000, L. Kincaid, review of Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, p. 1797.
Christian Century, January 1, 1997, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 25.
Christian Science Monitor, September 12, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 17; November 21, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 14; June 5, 2003, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 16; November 25, 2003, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 4.
Chronicle of Higher Education, April 13, 1994, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 12.
Civil War History, September 1, 1992, Frank L. Byrne, review of Battle Chronicles of the Civil War, p. 243; March, 1997, Mark E. Neely, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 70; June 1, 1998, Kurt Hackemer, review of Lamson of the Gettysburg, p. 158; March 1, 2000, Brooks D. Simpson, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 53; September 1, 2003, George C. Rable, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 290; June 1, 2004, Gregory J.W. Urwin, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 193.
Civil War Times, October 1, 2004, Eric Ethier, review of The Most Fearful Ordeal: Original Coverage of the Civil War by Writers and Reporters of the New York Times, p. 64; June 1, 2007, Chuck Leddy, review of This Mighty Scourge, p. 64; June 1, 2007, "The Lincoln Legacy: A Civil War Times Interview," p. 30.
Commonweal, May 24, 1968, review of Marching toward Freedom, p. 302.
Contemporary Review, May 1, 1998, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 276.
Economist, August 24, 2002, "It Led to Total War; American Civil War," review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 364.
Forbes, May 6, 1996, Steve Forbes, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 24.
Historian, January 1, 1998, Kenneth W. Noe, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 394; summer, 2004, Steven E. Woodworth, review of Crossroads of Freedom.
History: Review of New Books, summer 1999, Robert D. Sawrey, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 152.
History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October 1, 2000, Brian Holden Reid, review of Lamson of the Gettysburg, p. 673.
Humanities, May-June, 2000, William R. Ferris, "‘The War That Never Goes Away’: A Conversation with Civil War Historian James M. McPherson."
Journal of American History, December 1, 1982, James C. Mohr, review of Ordeal by Fire, p. 705; March 1, 1991, Norman C. Delaney, review of Battle Chronicles of the Civil War, p. 1480; June 1, 1995, Peter Knupfer, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 253; June 1, 1997, Thomas A. Desjardin, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 240; March 1, 2000, J. Matthew Gallman, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 1740; December 1, 2003, Edward G. Longacre, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 1031.
Journal of American Studies, August 1, 1995, Brain Holden Reid, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 294.
Journal of Military History, October 1, 1994, Edward J. Hagerty, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 747; April 1, 2004, Richard L. DiNardo, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 607.
Journal of Negro History, spring, 1997, Osceola L. Fletcher, review of Drawn with the Sword.
Journal of Southern History, November 1, 1995, Charles P. Roland, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 812; May 1, 1997, David E. Long, review of "We Cannot Escape," p. 411; August 1, 1997, Elizabeth R. Varon, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 674; August 1, 1999, John M. Coski, review of Lamson of the Gettysburg, p. 645; May 1, 2000, Charles P. Roland, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 414; February 1, 2004, T. Michael Parrish, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 160.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Fields of Fury, p. 1315; March 15, 2003, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 445; September 1, 2006, review of Into the West, p. 908; November 15, 2006, review of This Mighty Scourge, p. 1163.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, January, 1999, Raymond L. Puffer, review of For Cause and Comrades, p. 31.
Law Institute Journal, December 1, 1996, Chris Hurley, review of Drawn from the Sword, p. 59.
Library Journal, February 15, 1982, review of Ordeal by Fire, p. 456; February 1, 1994, Randall M. Miller, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 98; April 15, 1995, review of The Atlas of the Civil War, p. 37; October 15, 1995, review of The Abolitionist Legacy: From Reconstruction to the NAACP, p. 96; March 15, 1996, W. Walter Wicker, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 82; October 15, 1997, W. Walter Wicker, review of Lamson of the Gettysburg, p. 74; March 1, 2000, Randall M. Miller, review of Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, p. 74; July 1, 2000, Thomas J. Baldino, review of "To the Best of My Ability," p. 116; July 1, 2000, review of "To the Best of My Ability," p. 116; September 1, 2001, review of Ordeal by Fire, p. 62; September 1, 2001, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 62; November 15, 2001, Charles K. Piehl, review of Days of Destiny: Crossroads in American History, p. 79; March 15, 2003, Elizabeth Morris, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 97; December 1, 2006, John Carver Edwards, review of This Mighty Scourge, p. 140.
Library Media Connection, January 1, 2007, Esther Keller, review of Into the West, p. 84.
Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 6; December 8, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 19; July 6, 2003, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 20, 1988, Huston Horn, review of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, p. 10.
Mississippi Quarterly, fall, 1999, Richard M. Mcmurry, review of Writing the Civil War.
National Review, May 2, 1994, Matthew Berke, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 65.
New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1968, Mel Watkins, review of Marching toward Freedom, p. 49; February 14, 1988, Hugh Brogan, review of Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 1; June 12, 1994, Hal Goodman, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 22; June 15, 2003, Raye Snover, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 14; December 17, 2006, Robert Sullivan, "Children's Books," review of Into the West, p. 19.
Parameters, winter, 2003, Samuel Watson, review of Crossroads of Freedom.
People, June 16, 2003, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 66.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, summer, 1994, James M. McPherson, review of What They Fought For, 1861-65; summer, 1997, Daniel Baracskay, review of For Cause and Comrades, p. 612.
Publishers Weekly, January 1, 1982, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Ordeal by Fire, p. 40; January 18, 1991, Joseph Deitch, "James M. McPherson: The Civil War Historian Continues to Find New Material about That Profoundly Influential Conflict," p. 40; January 17, 1994, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 380; March 13, 1995, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 67; February 26, 1996, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 92; September 1, 1997, review of Lamson of the Gettysbury, p. 86; July 31, 2000, review of "To the Best of My Ability," p. 86; July 1, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 49; March 3, 2003, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 61; December 18, 2006, review of This Mighty Scourge, p. 58.
Reference & Research Book News, April 1, 1990, review of Battle Chronicles of the Civil War, p. 8; December 1, 1995, review of The Atlas of the Civil War, p. 20; May 1, 2000, review of Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, p. 41.
Reviews in American History, December 1, 1994, Albert Castel, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 596; September 1, 1999, William Blair, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 421.
School Library Journal, March, 1989, Audrey B. Eaglon, "Beautiful Losers," p. 131; May 1, 1993, Peggy H. Mooney, review of Images of the Civil War, p. 145; May 1, 2000, Patricia Ann Owens, review of Encyclopedia of Civil War Biographies, p. 88; October, 2002, Starr E. Smith, review of Fields of Fury, p. 188; August 1, 2003, Hugh McAloon, review of Hallowed Ground, p. 189; October 1, 2006, Mary Mueller, review of Into the West, p. 180.
Sewanee Review, summer, 1995, Clayton Lewis, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865.
Times Educational Supplement, March 13, 1992, Martin Flagg, review of Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 28.
Times Literary Supplement, June 9, 1995, David Herbert Donald, review of What They Fought For, 1861-1865, p. 11; April 30, 1999, Peter J. Parish, review of Writing the Civil War, p. 3; March 7, 2003, "The Bloodiest Day," p. 33.
Tribune Books, August 25, 2002, review of Crossroads of Freedom, p. 2.
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, spring 1998, Benjamin H. Trask, review of Lamson of the Gettysburg; summer, 1999, William L. Barney, review of Writing the Civil War.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1996, review of We Cannot Escape History; September 22, 1996, review of Drawn with the Sword, p. 116.
Wall Street Journal Western Edition, September 17, 2002, "It Changed the Course of War—and History," p. 8.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 1997, Wilfred M. McClay, review of For Cause and Comrades.
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (July 7, 2007), Jack D. Crispin, Jr., review of Hallowed Ground; Paul Morton, "An Interview with James M. McPherson."
History News Network,http://hnn.us/ (February 5, 2006), "History Doyens: James M. McPherson."
National Endowment for the Humanities Web site,http://www.neh.fed.us/ (March 22, 2003), Amy Lifson, "Meet James McPherson."
National Humanities Alliance Web site,http://www.nhalliance.org/ (April 18, 1991), "James M. McPherson, 18 April 1991."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (September 17, 2002), Katherine Whittamore, review of Crossroads of Freedom; (March 22, 2003), Katherine Whittamore, review of Drawn with the Sword.
World Socialist Web site,http://www.wsws.org/ (May 19, 1999), David Walsh, "Historian James M. McPherson and the Cause of Intellectual Integrity."