2014 James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University
James McPherson is the dean of American historians of the Civil War era, the “gold standard” of research precision, narrative style and graceful public presence. Perhaps no American historian of any era or method has bridged the gap between academia and the broad reading public with as much success and impact as McPherson. At the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address at the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, a huge gathering on a blustery November 19, 2013, McPherson was the keynote speaker. Among his remarks was his challenge to the audience and to the nation today to imagine if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, to contemplate what kind of society we might have inherited and in which we would now live. It provided the most poignant moment in a somber and impressive ceremony, a very real sensibility of just what all the death at Gettysburg and other battlefields had meant.
McPherson’s books and lectures have reached perhaps the largest audiences of any American historian working today. His 1988 work Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which combined great scholarship with lucid writing, quickly became the new modern standard narrative history of the period, and garnered not only the Pulitzer Prize but over the years in excess of a million readers worldwide and in several languages. Among his other books are -- For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1998); Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (2002); Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2009); and his newest book, War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies (2012). Born in North Dakota, McPherson earned his PhD in 1963 at Johns Hopkins University under the mentorship of C. Vann Woodward. He has taught at Princeton since 1962.