Sesquicentennial Scholar:
James McPherson ’58

Distinguished Gustavus alum, Dr. James McPherson ’58, is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and acclaimed for taking history out of academic circles and placing it into the public sphere for all to enjoy.

After graduating magna cum laude from Gustavus in 1958, McPherson went on to earn his Ph.D. in 1963 from Johns Hopkins University. He eventually earned the title of George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University, where he taught for 42 years. Upon his retirement, he was granted professor emeritus status.

While he wrote and published seven books from 1964 to 1985 on topics including the abolition of slavery and Abraham Lincoln, he is best known for his 1988 book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. The book broke ground in combining the complexities of the war while maintaining the narrative that made it appealing to the American public. It helped launch an unprecedented national renaissance of interest in the Civil War and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989.

Several of McPherson’s other works have received special recognition as well. His book The Struggle for Equality won the Anisfield-Wolf Award in 1965. He has received the Lincoln Prize twice in his career – in 1998 with For Cause and Comrades and in 2009 for Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. In 2007, he received the first-ever $100,000 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military history.

McPherson’s current book project is titled, War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865, and will be published in the summer or fall of this year. The book addresses the crucial but underappreciated impact the Union and Confederate navies had on the outcome of the Civil War.