John McPherson was born on August 14, 1843, in New York, the son of Angus (b. 1817) and Angeline (b. 1820).
John’s parents were both born in New York and presumaby married there sometime before family moved from New York to Ohio sometime before 1842. The family settled in Michigan between 1842 and 1846. By 1850 John was living with his family in Otisco, Ionia County, where his father was working as a laborer, and by 1860 he was a farm laborer working for and/or living with Jeremiah Wright, a wealthy farmer in Walker, Kent County.
John stood 5’0” with hazel eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion and was 18 years old and possibly residing in Ottawa County (or perhaps in Walker) when he enlisted in Company B on May 13, 1861. He was taken prisoner on July 1, 1862, at White Oak Swamp, Virginia, and returned to the Regiment on August 6 at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia. In July of 1863 he was a Corporal and missing in action on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; in fact he was taken prisoner. He was returned (on paper) to the Regiment as a former prisoner-of-war, and on November 18 was at the parole camp in Annapolis, Maryland, where he had been since October 15. He remained absent sick in a general hospital from December of 1863 through March of 1864, and although reported missing in action at Brandy Station, Virginia in April, he was mustered out on June 20, 1864, at Detroit.
After he was discharged John returned to Michigan where he reentered the service in Company H, Twenty-first Michigan infantry on October 6, 1864, at Grand Rapids for 1 year, crediting Muskegon but listing Grand Rapids as his residence, and was mustered the same day. He joined the Regiment on October 18 at Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Twenty-first participated in the March to the Sea November 15-December 10 and the siege of Savannah December 10-21 and in the Campaign in the Carolinas January to April of 1865. It was also involved in the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina on March 19-21. John was killed in action on March 19, at the battle of Bentonville. On April 15, the Grand Rapids Eagle wrote that they
regret to learn that John McPherson, a brave, true and reliable soldier of the 21st Mich infantry, was instantly killed in battle at Aiken Run, some 20 miles from Goldsboro on the 19th of March last. Young McPherson went out from this city in 1861 with the gallant Third Michigan Infantry, serving in that command some three years. While a soldier in that Regiment he was in numerous battles, always fortunately escaping unharmed. He was twice a prisoner in the hands of the rebels suffering the horrors of ‘Libby’ and other prisons some three and five months each, one time being exchanged and the other time paroled. On the expiration of his service in the Third [infantry] he enlisted in the 21st Regiment, and in which command has been in camp, siege, through numerous battles and in its grand march under Gen. Sherman through Georgia and South Carolina. Would that this brave soldier, and others like him who have done so much to save freedom and the Union to generations yet to come, could have been spared to enjoy the fruits of their gallant labor and the glory that covers the army and navy of the Union. Young McPherson has left a mother, sister and brothers in this city, to mourn his loss. Peace to the ashes of the heroes in blue.
John was reportedly buried on the battlefield, although there is a memorial to him in the family lot at Greenwood cemetery in Grand Rapids: section C, lot 40.
In 1870 his mother applied for and received a pension (no. 146559). By the time she died four years later she was the last member of the McPherson family left alive.