War changes people. John Alexander Logan was no exception.
Logan was born in Jackson County, southern Illinois on February 9, 1826. His father was a Democrat and a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. Elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1836, 1838, 1840, and again in 1846, the elder Logan’s involvement in Illinois politics profoundly influenced his son’s political thinking.
Like his Southern Illinois supporters, Logan was an anti-abolitionist, a Jacksonian Democrat, and a strong supporter of runaway slave laws. Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1858, the son gave a fiery pro-slavery speech that earned him the nickname “Dirty work” Logan.
“Every fugitive slave that was arrested in Illinois, or any of the western states – and I call Illinois a western state, for I am ashamed any longer to call it a northern state, Logan thundered, “was made by the Democrats. In Illinois, the Democrats have all that work to do. You call it the dirty work of the Democratic Party to catch slaves for the people of the South. We are ready to do this dirty work. I don’t consider it shameful to do work, dirty or not dirty, that is in accordance with the laws of the land and the Constitution of the land.
Logan did nothing to cover up his racism. In fact, he proclaimed it.
A member of the 18th Illinois General Assembly, in 1852 he introduced a bill that would keep free blacks out of Illinois. The bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by the General Assembly, imposed a fine for free blacks entering Illinois and a 10-day jail term.
In his drive to create legislation to persecute free blacks and encourage support for southern slavery, Logan ignored the growing polarization of northern and southern states over slavery.
Logan announced his wholehearted support for the famous Douglas “Compromise of 1850” provided the northern states actually enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, writes Benjamin Joyner in “Dirty Work: The Political Life of John A. Logan.”
Logan’s concerns seem to stem more from a concern for upholding and enforcing the law rather than supporting slavery as an institution. Despite this caveat, Logan’s views on Negroes cannot be ignored. It is very clear from his writings, speeches, and mannerisms that he viewed blacks as inferior to whites in every way, a belief held by most in his day, including many abolitionists.
However, when fire-eaters in the south started talking about secession, Logan drew the line. Logan would disagree with his fellow Democrats; the Union must be preserved.
Joyner wrote that despite Logan’s hatred for Northern Republicans, he sternly warned his Southern colleagues, “Mr. Lincoln’s election, deplorable as it is, furnishes no justification or excuse for overthrowing the republic. (We) cannot stand idly by while the joint action of extremists drags us down to ruin.
Logan’s message was clear, secession was outlawed and an act of treason.
According to the National Park Service, on July 21, 1861, Logan joined others from the nation’s capital who brought picnic baskets and wine to Manassas Junction, Virginia. They came out to witness what was to be a quick victory for the Army of the North in the first large-scale engagement of the war. Instead, it was a crushing and bloody defeat, with over 2,800 Union casualties. Unable to sit and watch the Union Army take a beating, Logan ran into the battlefield as a freelance volunteer for a regiment in Michigan.
While many historians claim that Logan volunteered for military service, fighting with the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the First Battle of Bull Run (Battle of Manassas), no mention of his enlistment can be found in the official record of the regiment.
After witnessing the devastating defeat at Bull Run, Logan returned to Jackson County and organized the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, of which he became colonel. The regiment was commissioned on September 18, 1861. Logan’s regiment was assigned to Brig’s brigade. Gen. John A. McClernand, but he eventually reported to Brig. General Ulysses Grant.
Logan led his regiment in the battles of Belmont and Forts Henry and Donelson, was himself promoted to brigadier general and assigned to command a brigade in the 17th Corps of the Army of Tennessee. Promoted to major general a year later, Logan served with distinction during the Vicksburg, Mississippi campaign.
The American Battlefield Trust states that unlike many other “politician-generals”, “BlackJack” Logan excelled in the military. In March 1863, Logan was a major general commanding a division according to the American Battlefield Trust. He continued to lead with distinction during the campaign to capture Vicksburg, notably during the assault after a mine explosion. After Vicksburg, Logan was given command of Fifteenth Corps on October 27, 1863, and continued to be recognized for his leadership in the Atlanta Campaign the following spring and summer.
As 1864 was an election year, Logan returned in the fall to his home district, where he campaigned not as a Democrat but as a Republican for Abraham Lincoln. The war changed something in Logan.
Logan had been a strong supporter of radical Democrat Stephen A. Douglass and, like Douglass, Logan initially blamed abolitionists for the problems in America and preached Lincoln as their “puppet.” Logan, however, had very little personal knowledge of slavery or African Americans. That was until June 1862, when Logan led the capture of the southern railroad center of Jackson, Tennessee, according to P. Michael Jones for the Southern newspaper published Dec. 2, 2012.
It was here that Logan began to see with his own eyes the treatment of slaves in the South – the conditions in which slaves were forced to live by those who waged war to hold them back; what they were fed; where they were quartered; how they were bought and sold. In the fall of 1864 he campaigned hard for Lincoln’s re-election.
Logan also began to see firsthand the courage and discipline of the colored regiments now fighting in the Union Army.
In 1865, he spoke out in Louisville, Kentucky, in favor of ratifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery in the United States, according to the Virtual Museum at the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University. . Blaming the Civil War on slavery, Logan asked how “every mortal man (could) desire to see such a cause of sorrow and suffering, of hurt and infamy, of hypocrisy and hatred” perpetuated in the United States, imploring them “strike immediately and deal (slavery) a mortal blow” freedom be proclaimed “to the end of the earth”.
In 1867, Logan argued for black suffrage. In speeches across Ohio supporting black suffrage, he challenged opponents of “give a reason why the nigger shouldn’t vote”, indicating, “I don’t care if a man is black, red, blue or white” he has the right to choose the men who “control the government”. The 15th Amendment, which prohibits denying a citizen the right to vote on the basis of “race, color or previous condition of servitude” was ratified in 1870.
At the end of the war, Logan commanded the Union Army of Tennessee. During the first week of August 1865, he returned to politics at his home in Illinois. But he did not forget the things he had seen, either the fate of the slaves or the death of the men he commanded.
During his service, Logan had seen the battlefields crowded with the dead of the Union army, who had given their lives to preserve the Union and free the men.
Returning to his political career after the war, Logan did not forget his fellow veterans – nor those who had fallen.
In addition to his political work, Logan was a founding member of the Grand Army of the Republic, America’s first national veterans organization, according to the National Park Service. It is in this role that he formalized “Decoration Day” by issuing General Order Number 11 in 1868. The order designated May 30 as an annual national holiday “for the purpose of sprinkling with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country”. It is believed that May 30 was chosen because flowers would be in bloom across the country.
Logan helped form the GAR with former Union Army soldiers and served as its second elected national commander; General Stephen Hurlburt was the first Commander-in-Chief of the GAR. On March 3, 1868, Logan issued General Order No. 11, which called for a national day of remembrance for the Civil War dead. This order served as the basis for what became the national holiday of Memorial Day.
As commander of the GAR and representative of the household, Logan transformed the GAR into a political pressure group and used his strength, military influence and political power to organize a multi-regional ceremony for the decoration of soldiers’ graves a times a year. After World War I, Memorial Day became a day to honor the dead of all of America’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a holiday by Congress and moved to the last Monday in May.
— American Battlefield Trust (no author credited), Biography: “John A. Logan.” https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/john-logan
—Jones, Michael P. “Gen. Logan’s Change on Slave Rights. South. December 2, 2012. https://thesouthern.com/news/local/article_115f60c0-3c44-11e2-b8eb-001a4bcf887a.html (site requires subscription).
— Joyner, Benjamin “Dirty Work: The Political Life of John A Logan.”Eastern Illinois University Department of History, “History Vol. 21″ (2012). Story. 19. http://thekeep.eiu.edu/historia/19
– National Park Service (no author credited), “John Logan: War Hero, Public Servant, Founder of Memorial Day. https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/john-logan-war-hero-public-servant-founder-of-memorial-day.htm
— Tap, Bruce “John Alexander Logan: Democrat, General, and Radical Republican.” Historical research and storytelling. https://www.lib.niu.edu/2007/iht14020736.html
– Southern Illinois University Morris Library Virtual Museum, “John Alexander Logan, 1826-1886.” https://scrcexhibits.omeka.net/exhibits/show/sihistory/poststatehood/logan.
Graham Jaehnig can be reached at 906-483-2202 or [email protected]