“History tells us of but few who so blended the grace and gentleness of the friend, with the dignity, courage, faith and manliness of the soldier”. These are the words written on July 23, 1864 by General William Tecumseh Sherman to General Lorenzo Thomas. He is writing to him of the death of General James B. McPherson, shot during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864.
Even in just this one sentence of these eloquently strung together words, we know that Sherman must have been deeply affected by the death of one of his best Generals who led the Army of the Tennessee.
In researching about the Battle of Atlanta, I came to realize the death of General McPherson was felt near and far. Judging not just by Cump’s words but others as well. I felt that it warranted not just tweets, but a couple of blog posts.
Just who was General James B. McPherson? Allow me to tell you a little of this gentleman who was respected by his peers from both North and South…
James Birdseye McPherson was born in Clyde, Ohio on November 14, 1828. After attending the Norwalk Academy in Norwalk, Ohio, he went onto (surprise, surprise!) West Point. In 1853, he graduated first in his class! Like so many other generals from the Civil War, he was in the same class as a few others who would grow to become prominent figures in the looming conflict. These included General Philip Sheridan and General John M. Schofield, both of whom would fight for the Union in the Civil War. His other classmate (and winner of the permanent frown award) was John Bell Hood, who would go onto to fight in the Confederate Army during the war, and subsequently against Sherman, Schofield and McPherson during the Atlanta Campaign.
Upon graduation, McPherson decided to make a career of being in the Army and was commissioned into the Corp of Engineers. From 1854 until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the talented McPherson was involved with such projects as improvements to the New York Harbor, the construction of Fort Delaware, as well as the (and this is cool!) the construction of the fortifications on Alcatraz Island in San Fransisco Bay.
It was while he was in San Francisco from 1857 until 1861, that he met a lady named Emily Hoffman. She hailed from a prominent Baltimore, Maryland family but was in San Fransisco to help care for her sister’s children. Falling in love quickly, they soon became engaged but, like so many other couples, their wedding was sadly put off because of the Civil War.
Once the war had broken out, McPherson requested a transfer back east. He knew he would fight for the Union and states his reasons why in this letter:
My mind is perfectly made up, and I can see that I have but one duty to perform, and that is, to stand by the Union and the support of the General Government. I left home when I was quite young, was educated at the expense of the Government, received my commission and have drawn my pay from the same source to the present time, and I think it would be traitorous for me, now that the Government is really in danger, to decline to serve and resign my commission. Not that I expect any service of mine can avail much; but such as it is it shall be wielded in behalf of the Union, whether James Buchanan or Abraham Lincoln is in the Presidential chair.
Once back east, he served under General Henry Halleck. McPherson managed to rise through the ranks and in November of 1861, he was promoted to the command of the Department of the West. He was chosen to be an aide-de-camp to General Halleck but also received a promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel.
Not long after this, he was transferred to the command of one of my union Rock Stars, General Ulysses S. Grant. McPherson served as Chief Engineer to Grant during the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson. He was involved in many key battles of the Civil War, including Shiloh, the Siege of Corinth, as well as the Vicksburg Campaign. It was at Vicksburg where he commanded the 17th Corps in the Army of the Tennessee. He displayed incredible talent throughout all of this, rising through the ranks and eventually, on August 1, 1863 was made Brigadier General in the regular army.
In March of 1864, he rose even further, taking command of the Army of the Tennessee. And why did this happen? Well, this was when my favorite guy, General Sherman, was promoted to command all armies in the West. It was not long after this that Sherman began to move upon Atlanta, in what would be come known as his Atlanta Campaign and would culminate with Sherman being able to state, and most likely quite proudly, “Atlanta is ours and fairly won”.
But there would be a huge loss before this to not just the Army of the Tennessee but to a lady named Emily Hoffman, who was waiting for the war to be over so that she could marry her fiancee, James B. McPherson. Although McPherson had requested and been granted temporary leave so he could go to Baltimore to marry Emily, Sherman had quickly rescinded the order, stating McPherson was very much needed on the Atlanta Campaign. No doubt McPherson and Emily were both extremely disappointed. Sensing this, Sherman did write to Emily, explaining why he needed her fiancee. Writing quite eloquently to her on June 9, 1864, the letter is worth a read in it’s entirety:
My Dear Young Lady,
I hardly feel that I should apologize for intrusion, for I can claim an old acquaintance with your Brother and Sister in California, and feel almost that I know you through them, and others of your honored family. It has come to my knowledge that you are affianced to another close friend and associate of mine Maj General McPherson, and I fear that weighing mighty matters of State but lightly in the Realm of Love, you feel that he gives too much of his time to his Country and too little to you.
His rise in his profession has been rapid, steady and well earned. Not a link unbroken. Not a thing omitted. Each step in his progress however has imposed on him fresh duties that as a man and a soldier, and still more as a Patriot, he could not avoid.
I did hope as he returned from Meridian, when his Corps the 17th was entitled to go home on furlough, that he too could steal a month to obey the promptings of his heart, to hasten to Baltimore and I so instructed, but by the changes incident to General Grant’s elevation, McPherson succeeded to the Command of a separate Army and Department, and could not leave.
There is no rest for us in this war till you and all can look about you and feel there is Reason and Safety in the Land. God purifies the atmosphere with tempests and storms which fall alike upon the just and unjust, and in like manner he appeases the jarring elements of political discord by wars and famine. Heretofore as a nation we have escaped his wrath, but now with the vehemence of anhundred years accumulation we are in the storm, and would you have us shrink?
But I will not discuss so plain a point with one who bears the honored name of Hoffman, rather tell you of him whose every action I know fills your waking and sleeping thoughts, him so young but so prominent, whose cause is among the gallant and brave, who fight not for oppression and wrong but that the Government bequeathed to us by your ancestors shall not perish in ignominy and insult: but which shall survive in honor and glory, with a power to protect the weak and shelter the helpless from the terrible disasters of a fratricidal war.
I know McPherson well, as a young man, handsome and noble soldier, activated by motives as pure as those of Washington, and I know that in making my testimony to his high and noble character, I will not offend the Girl he loves.
Be patient and I know that when the happy day comes for him to stand by your side as one Being identical in heart and human existence you will regard him with a high respect and honor that will convert simple love into something sublime and beautiful.
Yours with respect
W. T. Sherman
I found the letter on a blog post on Civil War Women Blog about Emily Hoffman and you can view the post here. It’s well worth checking out.
That, my awesome readers, is where I shall leave you today. Part 2 will be posted next week on the anniversary of the Battle of the Atlanta. I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about General McPherson. I know I certainly enjoyed researching about him.
Until next time,
- Sherman’s Memoirs
- Selected Correspondance of Sherman
- “Fierece Patriot” by Robert L. O’Connell
- Ohio Civil War Central https://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=118