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 [Biography] Nathaniel McPherson

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PostSubject: [Biography] Nathaniel McPherson   Mon Apr 13, 2015 9:07 am

McPherson Family History

Nathaniel was born on March 18, 1827 in Virginia. He is the second child and first son of Jakob and Anna Theresa McPherson, originally from South Carolina and Austria respectively, who owned a cotton plantation in the northern part of the "black belt region"in Greensville County near the border to North Carolina.

Jakob's ancestor Argyle McPherson, a poor but very headstrong farmer, had immigrated to America from Scotland in the middle of the 17th century. He left the ship in the city of New Amsterdam, a part of America that still was a Dutch colony back then, called New Netherlands. Years later this city became the city of New York. Argyle was restless and soon moved due south to the Carolinas and after settling and building a small farm he married a somewhat plain woman by the name of Sarah. It was a good but hard life for the McPhersons and luck was with them. Still war should take it's toll on the family in the coming generations.

One of Argyles grandsons - Stephen McPherson - fought alongside Colonel William Moultrie on Sullivan's Island defending the famous palmetto log fort against the attack of the British Navy during the American Revolutionary War. Two years later Stephen, holding the rank of Captain then, was mortally wounded during the doomed defense of Charleston against the British Army.

The years went by and while the eldest brother of Nathaniel's father took over the plantation Argyle had founded so many years ago Jakob tried his own luck in Virginia. Not long after his arrival he married Anna Theresa Novak, the daughter of an Austrian immigrant who had bought a small plantation in Greensville County near the border to North Carolina. After Anna's father suddenly died after getting very ill one day the young couple took over the farm that prospered under the able hands of the new owners.


Early life and career

The McPhersons where blessed with a daughter and a few years later Nathaniel was born. Nathaniel's father decided a military career for his son, but felt that the local education available to him would not be adequate preparation. At the age of nine, James was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Lexington, Virginia. Nate, as he was called by his friends, spent the next eight years on his uncle's little plantation just outside the city and learned everything about farming. Since his uncle had good relations with the head of the Lexington College Nate was able to attended classes over there as well to build up on his general education.


West Point (1844 to 1848)

In the 1844 his uncle and father were able to obtain an appointment for Nathaniel to the United States Military Academy at West Point (New York). While in West Point he met Robert Kirk, who was already in his second year. Despite Kirk being a senior they managed to get along rather well. Nate was a poor student academically and his inherited stubbornness brought along many disciplinary problems as he was almost in constant conflict with his superiors. If it wasn't for the aid of Cadet Kirk, who helped him with studying, he might have been forced to drop out of the academy.

Where he might have been unpopular with his teachers the more popular he was with his classmates. They played many pranks and did spend more than one night out drinking and sneaking back before reveille. Despite all this he somehow managed to get through the four school years, though he graduated ranking 54th out of 56 cadets in 1848.  After graduation Nathaniel was commissioned a brevet Second Lieutenant in the 8th U.S. Infantry and immediately was sent south to support the US Army in the Mexican-American War that had already been running for about 1 year.


The Mexican-American War (1847 to 1849)

Nathaniel was one of many West Point Graduates that went on the "Great Long Walk" down to the Rio Grande with General Zachary Taylor and served with distinction in the Mexican War with the 8th U.S. Infantry. He received brevet promotions for his valiant actions at Contreras (1848), Churubusco (1848) and Molino del Rey (1848) where he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors. The wounding put an end to this war for the young officer as he spend the remainder of it in treatment to get better. He was awarded the Mexican-American War Ribbon for his participation.

After the war and his recovery from the  Molino del Rey wound Nate - holding the brevet rank of Captain - continued to serve with the 8th US-Infantry posted on frontier duty in Texas. In the 1855 he was finally called back East to Virginia with the assignment to substitute for an ailing professor at the Virginia Military Institute.


1855 - Present

After three years teaching Infantry Tactics at the VMI Nathaniel send in an application to gain a field commission again. On April 5 of 1858 he received both a commission as Captain and an appointment as Company Commander with Company A of the 1st US Battalion of Regular Infantry that was assigned to the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division in the 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac. So he packed his belongings and traveled to the Washington D.C. area where his new unit was currently stationed to take command of the company.

On July 1858 Nathaniel was recommended for promoted to the rank of Major by President Alvin Sharper and assigned command of the 1st US Battalion of Regular Infantry, retaining command of his old Company A for the time being.

Nathaniel was the commanding officer of the 1st US Battalion during the infamous "Washington Riots" on August 1858. The riot - initiated by a group of radical abolitionists under the leadership of John Brown - was successfully quelled after President Alvin Sharper had authorized the intervention of the US Army. Major McPherson was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his valiant actions by the US Government.

On December 24th, as the eventful 1858 neared it's end, President Sharper gave his consent to the official formation of the 1st US Brigade and Nathaniel was thus promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Brigade Commander while retaining both his CO positions for the 1st US Battalion of Regular Infantry and of Company A in said Battalion.

The entire year of 1859 Nathaniel was busy leading the 1st US Brigade, supervising new officers and further restructuring the US Army in close cooperation with the US War Department. The workload Nate had to face became even greater when it was decided to disband the struggling Union Navy in September as all assets were transferred to the US Army.

On January 9, 1860 Nathaniel was promoted to Colonel - with rising duties as Brigade Commander and since the 1st US Battalion now was being commanded by Major James Kipler - he chose to relinquish command of his old Company A, 1st US Battalion.

When 11 States - among them Nate's home state Virginia - decided to secede from the United States on May 23rd 1861 Nathaniel officially resigned his officer's commission, thus ending his career in the US Army, as he didn't want to fight against his kin. He swore not to take up a weapon again, lest in defence of Virginia and the Confederate States. As it became clear that the United States wouldn't just idly stand by and recognize the newly born Confederate States Nathaniel offered his services to the CS Government.

On May 29th he received an officer's commission in the Confederate Army and was appointed as Brigadier General in the newly created "Army of Northern Virginia". At first he commanded a brigade in the newly founded Army of Northern Virginia and soon afterwards - due to the influx of new brigades, rallying to the cause - he was assigned to command the 1st CS Division.

Not long after - on July 5th 1861 - the Army of Northern Virginia saw the introduction of a a Corps-structure and Nathaniel was not only promoted to Lieutenant General but also was appointed as the commanding officer of the 1st CS Corps (which subsequently was christened "McPherson's Corps"). Nathaniel's old division was assigned to Brigadier General Kipler.




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Personal believes

Though Nathaniel was not really over enthusiastic about the ideas of Secession from the Union, especially since he had fought for it in the Mexican-American War. Still he had learned from his uncle and father about the doctrine of states' rights early in his life and had seen and later shared his families passion for it. He knew if Virginia and South Carolina would secede from the Union he would be forced to resign from the U.S. Army since he detested the idea of having to fight against his own people.

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