James McPherson: Called greatest living historian of the Civil War

Historians in the News

You won't find James McPherson's name on a biography of Abraham Lincoln per se, but when the University of Illinois History Department was thinking of speakers to kick off a bicentennial celebration of the 16th president's birth, McPherson was at the top of the list.

The Civil War scholar and author – UI history Professor Bruce Levine calls him "the most sophisticated interpreter of Lincoln's presidency around" – will give the Lincoln Bicentennial Lecture, the first of a series of events spreading into next year, at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 S. Lincoln Ave., U.


The event, sponsored by the UI History Department, is free and open to the public.

McPherson, a Princeton history professor emeritus, is the author of a dozen books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War History "Battle Cry of Freedom: the Civil War Era," "Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution" and "Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg."

His UI lecture is titled "Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief."

"He is the greatest living authority on the Civil War," Levine said. "This is the guy who's at the apex of the pyramid. I think everybody would agree with that. He's that good."

Levine said McPherson also is distinguished by a manner of presentation, in print and speaking, aimed at a wide audience well beyond the halls of academia.

"He talks ... in clear language and he takes great pride in this," the UI professor said.

UI history Professor Vernon Burton said he took "Battle Cry of Freedom" as a model for his own literary, accessible "The Age of Lincoln." That book, released last year, views the former Illinois lawyer as a key – perhaps the key – figure in setting the course that led to the forging of modern America, whose handiwork affects us still today....

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