Saturday, December 22, 2018

Jim McGhee

I know this is a downer amidst the season of joy, but it's also a time to give thanks for the good people in our lives and I just wanted to say a few words about the recent passing of a person who meant a lot of me over the years. I'd known for quite some time that Jim McGhee, one of those individuals who was a lawyer by profession and Civil War historian by the grace of God, was in declining health. I feared the worst when my last email to him went unanswered and learned from his wife last week that he'd passed away back in November.

I don't recall our very first conversation, but Jim and I corresponded over our shared interests in all things Civil War Missouri on a semi-regular basis for what was probably fifteen years or more. John Waugh's biography of Ed Bearss is titled "History's Pied Piper," and I personally regard Jim in the same manner when it comes to promoting Missouri's Civil War. Jim authored numerous books and articles that made him a major figure in the modern chronicling of Missouri's Civil War history. His edited works put many obscure firsthand accounts and other primary source materials in the hands of readers for the first time. Many of his titles were put out in tiny print runs through now-defunct regional publishers, so you'll have to employ great effort in seeking them out yourself because they will never find you on their own.

An acknowledged expert on the Missouri State Guard and Missouri's Confederate soldiers, Jim's co-authorship (and it was more than that) of Sterling Price's Lieutenants (Two Trails Pub, rev. 2007) and his creation of the equally indispensable Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 (Univ of Ark Press, 2008) are arguably his two greatest contributions. But he was also very generous when it came to sharing his knowledge and research with others. Jim helped me enormously on more occasions than I can count, and if you read any book that touches upon Civil War Missouri you'll more than likely find Jim's name prominently mentioned in the acknowledgments section.

Stubbornly unwarranted modesty about his writing ability probably kept Jim from publishing even more. For example, even though I thought it publishable with very few needed changes, I couldn't convince him to convert his excellent master's thesis on the MSG's First Division (M. Jeff Thompson's outfit that operated in the Bootheel of Missouri) into a book. Rereading our 2008 CWBA interview just now [you can find it here], I also realized that I had completely forgotten about (and he never mentioned it since) his unfinished "A Missouri State Guard Reader" project. We'll just treasure what we do have, and it's indeed a great deal.

Rest in Peace, Jim.


  1. Jim was indeed one of the best. I knew him for many years (we live in close proximity), and he was certainly a mentor to me regarding Civil War study. I also wish he had published more. He always told me "But I can't write!" That was about the only thing on which we disagreed! He'll definitely be missed in the Missouri Civil War community.

    Andy Papen

  2. Hi Drew, Indeed this is a loss for the TM community, and beyond.

    If there is any interest by his widow to see something completed, I would be more than happy to assist if at all possible. His work was outstanding, and I lament he did not leave more behind.

  3. Jim McGhee was a wellspring of information on anything regarding the Civil War in Missouri. His voluminous research sources and his willingness to share them benefitted many of us who have delved into writing about Civil War Missouri and the Trans-Mississippi. Jim was a valued friend and colleague and he will be sorely missed by all of us in the Trans-Mississippi Civil War community of researchers.
    I remember when he first contacted me to read the first draft of his "Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865." I was blown away by the breath and depth of effort he put into that invaluable guide. He didn't think it was worthy of publication, but that concern was quickly dismissed when I suggested he send the manuscript to the University of Arkansas Press. Recognizing the scholarship Jim put into that guide, UA Press accepted it immediately.

    Rest in peace Jim, and enjoy the opportunity to speak with many of those Missouri Confederates you were so passionate about.

    Bill Gurley

    1. Hi Bill,
      Yes, his house was undoubtedly one of the best research libraries in the state.


***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.