James Lee McDonough has devoted much of his life to studying, teaching and writing about history, particularly the Civil War.
On Tuesday, March 7, the Lipscomb community will have a unique opportunity to hear from this New York Times best-selling author and Lipscomb alumnus in a discussion of his most recent book, William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country.
McDonough will share insights into Sherman’s life and leadership in the lecture that will take place at 7 p.m. in Doris Swang Chapel, located in the Ezell Center. The event is hosted by The Office of the Provost, the College of Arts & Sciences and the Department of History, Politics and Philosophy. This event is free and open to the public.
A Union general, Sherman is perhaps best known for his “March to the Sea,” leaving in his wake a 40 to 60 mile-wide path of destruction through the heartland of Georgia. He has been the subject of numerous books and articles. McDonough, who has written nine books about various Civil War battles and history, chose Sherman as the subject of his latest book, which hit the New York Times best-seller list last fall.
McDonough said several drew him to Sherman.
“No military man, except for General Ulysses S. Grant, had as much to do with winning the war for the Union as Sherman. I wanted to more fully examine and understand the man, his campaigns and his military qualities,” he said. “His wide ranging interests also made him an appealing subject. And his willingness, more so than any other high-ranking Civil War officer, to say what he thinks, was a factor. A big plus was that he wrote well, with a style that made me want to read more, and a massive number of his letters, both official and personal, have been preserved.”
As for leadership applications today, McDonough said Sherman was a man who strove to live honestly, and to make a contribution “in the service of my country” as he wrote when he was a cadet at the United States Military Academy.
“He earned the trust of the men he led by training them well, treating them fairly and commanding them competently,” said McDonough. “He was less inclined than many commanders to spill the blood of his own men. He knew the importance of being seen among his troops, whether near enemy lines, actually in battle or in a recreational situation, such as the theater, where he preferred to sit in the midst of his soldiers, even though offered a private box.
Many people today — politicians, military officers, business leaders — could benefit from reflecting on Sherman's leadership. Unfortunately, not many leaders possess the abilities that Sherman did.”
Learning about the Civil War is still important, today, McDonough believes.
“The Civil War impacted this nation profoundly, determining that it would continue to be one nation, as well as how that nation would develop,” he said. “The war was fought right here, where we live, not an ocean away. New generations cannot grow up in this country without knowing something, however little or inaccurate that something may be, about the war. Inevitably, with such a large national population, a lot of people desire to know more about the struggle that profoundly shaped their nation.”
McDonough, who graduated from Lipscomb Academy in 1952 and from the university in1956, was a history professor at Lipscomb for 20 years before finishing his career at Auburn University, where he is professor emeritus today. While at Lipscomb, McDonough became a nationally known Civil War historian for his publications in the 1970s and 80s, and was a mentor to many current faculty members.
McDonough said he developed an interest in history while a student at Lipscomb.
“Howard Ashley White, who began teaching history at Lipscomb the spring quarter of my freshman year in college, had a profound impact on me,” said McDonough. “Dr. White awakened me from having virtually no interest in history to understand and appreciate the significance of knowing about the past. I never had a better professor in any subject.”
William I. Hair, a professor at Florida State University, where McDonough earned his Ph.D. in history, also impacted his development as a historian.
“Dr. Hair, like White, was an excellent lecturer, although their styles were quite different,” he recalled. “Both men, in their own way, conveyed an enthusiasm for history. I do not mean that they tried to entertain their students. They did not. They projected an academic seriousness, in the best sense of that phrase, which was contagious — at least for me. And both men had time for students who were serious about studying history.”
The author of nine books, including Nashville: The Western Confederacy’s Final Gamble; Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin (with Thomas L. Connelly); Chattanooga: A Death Grip on the Confederacy; Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee; Shiloh: In Hell Before Night; and War in Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville, McDonough lives in Lewisburg, Tennessee.