Dr. James Lee McDonough’s latest book, “William Tecumseh Sherman: In The Service of My Country,” has been on the New York Times bestseller list. Tuesday night he was on campus to discuss Sherman and to sign copies of his book, his 10th on a Civil War subject. Some may measure his success by the number of his books sold, but when he was a student at David Lipscomb College his success was determined by how he played on the tennis court. He graduated from Lipscomb Academy in 1952 and from the university in 1956. After spending 21 years as a history professor at Lipscomb he moved to Pepperdine and then went on to Auburn University where he is a professor emeritus. After his talk he spent some time with Lipscombsports.com.
What years did you play at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
"I played tennis at the college from 1954 through 1956. My coach was Jennings Davis.”
In addition to teaching at the college you also coached the high school tennis team. What was that experience like?
“ `Fessor’ (Eugene) Boyce said there were several guys coming along in elementary school and high school and he wanted to get someone to coach the team that he felt would have a real interest in it. I was on the faculty at the college and an arrangement was made for me to drop one of the courses I would have been teaching to give me more time to work with the high school team in the afternoon. I coached for probably half a dozen years. It was fun.
“And, indeed, `Fessor’ was right. We had a lot of good players (Gary Dunn, Gary Jerkins and Roger Loyd). While I was coaching we won the state championship for two years which Lipscomb had never done before and to my knowledge has not been done since,”
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
"It is actually from when I was in high school at Lipscomb, both in terms of my playing on the high school basketball, and watching the college team play. At that time, my junior year in high school in 1950-51, Lipscomb undoubtedly had the best college team they have ever had. Of course, basketball was different then. I don't even compare it to the game today. I enjoyed playing pick-up games with some of those guys and I enjoyed watching them play."
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
“Jennings Davis was a great guy. I really enjoyed the time I spent with him.”
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
"Undoubtedly, the most influential person on my life at Lipscomb was Dr. Howard White.
“During spring quarter my freshman year, Howard White, who had earned his Ph.D. In history at Tulane, was on the faculty and I took the final quarter of Western Civilization with him. It was kind of a darkness to light experience for me as far as history was concerned.
“My first two quarters in Western Civilization I had made Cs. That spring quarter I made an A. He had a way about him. He was an excellent teacher. I never had a better teacher in any subject anywhere.
“I saw suddenly the study of history was invaluable to your overall education and it was also interesting. From that point on it didn’t make much difference who was teaching a course. I was just turned on to history.
“I also appreciated two teachers I had in high school – Sarah Whitten, who just died, and Vivian Collier who was my speech teacher my junior and senior years. She worked with us very effectively in the National Forensics League. We won the state championship my junior year. We had a great group of seniors and juniors. We weren’t as good the next year after those seniors left.”
When did you decide to focus much of your scholarship on the Civil War?
“It was really when I was in graduate school (Florida State) working on my Ph.D. that I developed a serious interest in the Civil War.
“My father had an interest in it. I was born and raised in Nashville. My father took me to Shiloh, Chattanooga and Franklin. But I didn’t grow up with an intense interest in the Civil War as a good many Civil War historians did.”
Where do you live now?
"Lewisburg, Tennessee. My wife grew up in Lewisburg. I always thought I would like to live somewhere south of Nashville when I retired.”
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
“I am retired from teaching. I taught at Lipscomb, Pepperdine and Auburn.
“I retired in 2000. The last time I taught a class was the summer of 2004 when I went back to Pepperdine to teach an accelerated course on the Civil War.
“I have continued to write books.” (Editor’s note: His book is on Sherman is available at the Lipscomb Bookstore, online at Amazon and at local bookstores).
“When I was in high school, if someone had told me I would major in history, let alone pursue a career in history, I would have had difficulty believing it. History was a topic in high school in which I had the least interest.
“I had taken math courses for four years. I conceived of maybe having a career in engineering or law, virtually anything but history.”
Tell us about your family.
“My wife’s name is Nancy. We have two daughters, Carla and Sharon. We have one son, David.”