Important Grouping of Effects of Gen. James B. McPherson – KIA at Atlanta on July 22, 1864


Important Grouping of Effects of Gen. James B. McPherson – KIA at Atlanta on July 22, 1864 – Perry Adams Antiques became aware of the existence of this extremely important grouping over one year ago; we were finally able to obtain this grouping during the course of the recent Ohio Civil War show during a post-show visit to the owner’s farm, in rural Ohio. These important artifacts descended directly through the family of a resident of a rural Ohio town, in close proximity to Clyde, Ohio, the birthplace of McPherson; the patriarch of this family purchased the entire grouping directly from McPherson’s nephew, James Russell McPherson, in 1924. Gen. McPherson never married (tragically, he was to go on leave to marry his fiance’, just prior to his death; this leave was cancelled, at the last minute, as McPherson was considered indispensible, in July of 1864, during the Atlanta campaign) and therefore had no offspring. Upon his death, McPherson’s effects were transferred to his brother, Russell Bigelow McPherson. James (“Jimmy”) Russell McPherson, son of Russell McPherson and the General’s nephew, inherited these effects from his father, upon Russell’s death, in 1877. “Jimmy” McPherson, in desperate need of funds, just prior to the Depression, sold the entire grouping to the patriarch of the family from whom we obtained these highly significant artifacts. Perry Adams will provide a notarized affidavit or letter of provenance that confirms the aforementioned transition of events and transference of the artifacts.

The grouping, which once included McPherson’s frock coat (sold a number of years ago to a local antiques dealer) and his travel valise (now missing, as well), includes the following: McPherson’s Civil War travel or camp trunk, stenciled clearly, in three areas, with his name and rank; his M1851 Officer’s bullet struck, belt plate, accompanied by two very old, handwritten notes denoting McPherson’s wartime ownership, and the fact that this was the plate the general was wearing at the time of his death, as well as stating that the obvious damage to the plate was caused by the penetration of a Confederate bullet; a superior Confederate, cedar wood, drum canteen, with its original leather strap and roller buckle, exhibiting what appears to be a very nicely inscribed letter “M”, as well as more inscriptions that are not legible – these appear on the face of one side of the canteen; McPherson’s mother’s gold wedding band and one of her earrings; a postwar, leather card case; a compendium of poetry with McPherson’s mother’s name written on a flyleaf page.

The provenance of this grouping is impeccable and the original ownership is indisputable. All of the listed items in this grouping are in superior condition. These effects are amongst the most important of Civil War artifacts we have had the pleasure of offering.

Gen. McPherson retains the tragic distinction of being the highest ranking Union general to be killed in action during the war. His loss was considered to be a major blow, both strategically and emotionally to his superiors and his men. His death has been described in multiple, period accounts, and the site where he was killed (shot out of the saddle) was photographed shortly after the date of his death, on July 22, 1864.

General James Birdseye McPherson was the highest ranking Ohio soldier and highest ranking Union officer, to die in the American Civil War, in combat.

James McPherson was born on November 14, 1828, at Clyde, Ohio. In 1847, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1851. After teaching at West Point for one year, McPherson became an engineer in the army.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, McPherson was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served under Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Shiloh and was Grant’s head engineer. McPherson also proved himself to be an able leader on the battlefield. He attained the rank of brigadier general in the early summer of 1862 and given command of a force sent to assist General William Rosecrans and his army at Corinth, Mississippi. McPherson rose to the rank of major general in October 1862 and served under Grant in the Army of the Tennessee during the Vicksburg campaign.

In 1864, McPherson served with General William T. Sherman and participated in Sherman’s advance upon Atlanta. In a battle with John Bell Hood’s Confederate army on August 22, 1864, McPherson was killed. Upon hearing of McPherson’s death, General Grant stated, “In his death the army lost one of its ablest, purest and best generals.” Sherman echoed these sentiments when he stated, “I have seen [McPherson], in danger, in battle when every muscle and every tissue was in full action, when his heroic qualities shone out as a star in the darkest night.”


Death of McPherson

On July 21, 1864, Gen. William T. Sherman’s three armies were more or less separated. Better yet, Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler reported that as Gen. James B. McPherson’s army marched in on Atlanta from the east, it had its left flank “in the air” (Sherman had sent Kenner Garrard’s cavalry east to wreck the Georgia Railroad). This situation presented Gen. John Bell Hood with an opportunity to launch a flank attack, like the one made famous by Jackson at Chancellorsville. Hood planned for his forces to drop back from their outer lines north of the city into the main fortified perimeter around the city on the night of July 21-22; Gen. Alexander P. Stewart and Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham would hold the works. Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s corps would march through and out of the city, southeast then northeast toward Decateur, guided by Wheeler’s cavalry, and jump into McPherson’s left-rear while Wheeler attacked McPherson’s wagon trains.

It was an ambitious plan, calling for a 15-mile night march by Hardee’s troops and a dawn attack on the 22nd. But a late start, exhaustion of the men, a hot night, dusty roads, and poor service from the cavalry combined to bring the four assault divisions not nearly far enough into McPherson’s rear when Hardee, well behind schedule, decided to deploy. Then rough terrain added further delay—Confederate Maj. Gen. W.H.T. Walker was shot and killed getting his division into place. Hardee’s surprise attack did not begin till shortly after noon.

The Federals were blessed with a lot of good luck that day. By chance, a Union division under Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Sweeny happened to be in just the right position to meet Hardee’s opening assault. Instead of overrunning hospital tents and wagon trains in McPherson’s rear, Walker’s and Bate’s troops ran instead face-to-face into a division of veteran enemy infantry.

General McPherson, having left Sherman’s headquarters at the Augustus Hurt House (now Carter Center) just before the firing started, was on this part of the field watching Sweeny contend with the Rebels. Then he rode off to see how Frank Blair’s Seventeenth Corps was doing; by now it had been struck by Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s hard-hitting division. McPherson and his staff were riding down a wagon road when they unexpectedly rain into part of Cleburne’s line. “He came upon us suddenly,” remembered Capt. Richard Beard of the 5th Confederate:

“I threw up my sword as a signal for him to surrender. He checked his horse, raised his hat in salute, wheeled to the right and dashed off to the rear in a gallop. Corporal Coleman, standing near me, was ordered to fire, and it was his shot that brought General McPherson down.”

McPherson’s subordinates dashed off. One Union officer struck a tree in his flight; the blow smashed his pocket watch and froze the time of the general’s death—2:02 p.m. Confederate Captain Beard came up to the body and saw a bullet hole in the back, near the heart. He stayed only long enough to identify the fallen enemy officer as McPherson before continuing his advance. Later, one of McPherson’s staff officers led an ambulance back to the scene, retrieved the general’s corpse, and bore it to Sherman’s headquarters. Sherman was moved with grief for his friend, only the second Union army commander killed during the war.

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