Major General James B. McPherson Memorial
Backstory and Context
James Birdseye McPherson was born on November 14, 1828 in Hamer’s Corners (now Clyde) in Sandusky County, Ohio. At the age of thirteen, he left home to work as a store clerk in the nearby village of Green Springs. McPherson attended Norwalk Academy in Norwalk, Ohio before securing an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1853, he graduated first in a class that included fellow future Civil War commanders Philip Sheridan and John Bell Hood. After graduation, McPherson received a commission in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and taught engineering at West Point for a year. He then helped with improvements to New York Harbor, the construction of Fort Delaware, and fortifications on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.
When the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, McPherson requested a transfer east. After a brief stint on the staff of General Henry Halleck in Missouri, he became chief engineer for General Ulysses S. Grant in early 1862 and participated in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, the Battle of Shiloh (during which he had a horse shot out for beneath him), and the Battle of Corinth. Following the third engagement, McPherson received a promotion to the rank of major general of volunteers. In 1863, he commanded a corps in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee during the Vicksburg campaign. After Confederate forces defending the city surrendered in early July, McPherson received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general in the regular army. In March 1864, he took command of the Army of the Tennessee, which helped compose General Sherman’s right flank as he moved toward Atlanta beginning that May. Roughly two months later, on July 22, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood, McPherson’s old West Point classmate, launched an attack against the oncoming Union army. In the course of the engagement, a Confederate skirmisher shot and killed McPherson. He was the second-highest-ranking U.S. Army officer killed during the conflict.
Following the war, members of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee voted to erect a statue in the nation’s capital in honor of their fallen commander. The veterans’ organization ultimately raised a total of $23,500 for the project. In 1875, Congress appropriated $25,000 for a pedestal and donated captured Confederate cannons from Atlanta to be used in the casting of the statue. After its first choice of artist failed to produce an acceptable model, the society commissioned Italian-born, Cincinnati-based sculptor Louis Rebisso to design the sculpture. Dedicated on October 18, 1876 in Scott Square (later renamed McPherson Square), the bronze equestrian statue of McPherson sits on a rectangular granite pedestal ringed with reliefs of stars, wreaths, and cannonballs. Rebisso depicted the general sitting confidently atop his steed dressed in full military garb, surveying the battlefield. With his upper body turned slightly to his right, McPherson holds the reigns in his left hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. In attendance at the unveiling ceremony were President Rutherford B. Hayes, William Tecumseh Sherman, and John A. Logan.
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