Henry Grady McWhiney was born on July 15, 1928, in Shreveport, Louisiana. After attending school in that city, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in the last year of World War II. He met and married Sue Baca while in California in 1947, then returned home after the war. He graduated from Centenary College and earned his Master’s degree in history from the Louisiana State University, studying under the legendary Francis Butler Simkins. He continued his studies at Columbia University in New York, where he was one of the first graduate students to work with the highly respected David Donald. He received his Ph.D. in 1960.
McWhiney’s dissertation focused on the life and career of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, and he made his life’s work the study of the Civil War era in the United States, as well as of Southern history. He authored or contributed to dozens of books on these subjects. His most notable titles include the Civil War best seller Attack and Die that he co-authored with his doctoral student Perry Jamieson, and his narrative biography Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Vol. I, a work that was completed with Vol. II by Judith Lee Hallock.
His most path-breaking and provocative work was Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South. McWhiney also wrote hundreds of articles for scholarly journals and was a regular presenter at meetings of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Southern Historical Association. He was in great demand as a speaker for hundreds of Civil War enthusiasts’ groups and civic organizations across the country and abroad.
Grady McWhiney made an indelible mark on his profession and on the way that Americans, and Southerners in particular, view themselves. His life included an interesting mix of devotion, gentility, controversy, and dedication to his craft and to his students. He was also concerned that the study of history continue to be an important part of American education and society. As he put it, “history should be accessible.” With that mission in mind, he founded the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation, located in Abilene, Texas.
He lived a great life. He taught at such diverse colleges and universities as Troy State University, Milsaps College, the University of California at Berkeley, Northwestern University, the University of British Columbia, Wayne State University, the University of Alabama, Texas Christian University, and in retirement at Mississippi Southern University and McMurry University. In the course of his 44-year career, he trained 19 Ph.D.s — people who influence hundreds of thousands of lives and minds around the world through their work at colleges and universities and in other history-related professions.
Doc was fond of good conversation, excellent food and drink, Irish and Southern fiddle music, stylish cars, his friends, and his cats. Almost everyone who met him, though they may not have agreed with him, recognized him as the quintessential Southern gentleman from his chivalrous manners to his snappy attire.
Sue Baca McWhiney predeceased him in 2000. His last days were eased by the unflinching kindness of Hospice of the Big Country. He breathed his last on April 18, 2006. The McWhiney History Education Group continues his legacy of teaching and making history accessible to rising generations.