Biography

The Southern Illinois region which shaped Logan was nicknamed “Egypt” by farmers from northern Illinois who came south to purchase grain and seed after their crops were devastated by the harsh winter of 1832. These men likened themselves to the Hebrews of Genesis who had to go “down to Egypt to buy corn.”

 

The first settlers moving westward into Illinois had come predominantly to the southern part of the state. These people traveled fixed routes from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia through Tennessee and Kentucky to Illinois. They brought with them their slaves and their customs, making “southern” Illinois a cultural as well as geographic term. Logan’s mother, Elizabeth Jenkins, was of typical Southern Illinois ancestry.

Logan’s father, Dr. John Logan, was a Scot-Irish immigrant who, having acquired a fortune in Missouri, sold his slaves and moved to Jackson County, Illinois, in 1824. A staunch Jacksonian Democrat, he believed that “it is no odds how obscure a young man may be Brought up he may aspire even to the presidential chair . . . Man rises on Marrit and falls on Demarit . . .[sic].” Dr. Logan served three terms in the state legislature, was a friend to the young Abraham Lincoln, and the namesake of Logan County in central Illinois.

 

John A. Logan was raised in a home that was a political, educational, and social center of the day. In addition to his father’s political activities, his uncle, Alexander M. Jenkins, was a Democratic state legislator and lieutenant governor. Logan’s pioneer education was supplemented with private tutors and two years at Shiloh Academy in Randolph County, Illinois. At Shiloh, Logan earned high marks in oratory. The family farm featured a good stable and a race track. As a boy, Logan excelled at horse racing.

 

In 1847 Logan volunteered for the Mexican War. He was stationed at Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he served as adjutant of the post.  After the war he was elected Jackson County Clerk, but soon resigned to earn a law degree at Louisville University. Returning to politics, Logan was elected prosecuting attorney of the Third Judicial District. In 1852 Logan was elected as a Democrat to the Illinois House of Representatives. Here he fiercely led and won the crusade which created the state’s harsh Black Codes. His actions in Springfield represented his constituents’ concerns and earned him the title of “Egypt’s spokesman.”  In 1858 the region elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives. When the Civil War began, Logan was beginning his second term as a congressman.

 

With the war a reality, southern Illinoisans faced a grave decision. Their strong southern ties brought calls for anti-war and even secessionist activities, but no firm actions were taken as “Egypt” awaited Logan’s decision. Logan, like the region itself, was torn—pushed in one direction by regional racism and Southernism and in another by his loyalty to the Union. He eventually declared himself for the Union. While a congressman, Logan took part in the Battle of Bull Run. Returning home, he spoke on August 1861 at the Marion, Illinois, town square. This speech and Logan’s decision to fight for the North are credited with bringing southern Illinois to the Union cause.

 

Logan volunteered for the Union, and  President Abraham Lincoln authorized Logan to command a regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry. In August 1861 he began to assemble the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry. During the war, Logan fought in eight major campaigns. At Fort Donelson Logan and the 31st were part of a three-and-a-half mile Union line around the fort. When the Union right collapsed after three hours, the 31st remained on the field and fought alone on two fronts for nearly an hour. Logan was shot through the left shoulder; with the wound bandaged by doctors, he returned to battle streaming blood. Then a Confederate ball smashed his holstered pistol and drove splinters into his side, nearly breaking his ribs. Logan was shot once more through his right thigh. With his regiment out of ammunition and himself severely weakened by the loss of blood, Logan and his regiment left the field. By nightfall, Fort Donelson fell—the first major Union victory of the Civil War. The 31st lost 303 of 606 men. Journalists renamed them “Logan’s Dirty-First Regiment” and they are the celebrities of the Northern press. Logan was originally reported dead, but survives his many wounds. Logan received a battlefield promotion to brigadier general from General Grant.

 

After recovering from his wounds, Logan quickly returned to the front. After valiant fighting at Vicksburg, Logan was promoted to Major General. Logan showed his skill again during the Battle of Atlanta. When General McPherson was killed during the fighting, Logan quickly assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee. Riding among the men to reform his lines, Logan grabbed the flag, raised it high and shouted “McPherson and revenge boys!” The blue lines firmed. Chanting “Black Jack! Black Jack!” the Army of the Tennessee advanced against a hail of Rebel fire and retook all lost ground.

 

By the end of the war Logan’s troops were stationed outside the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. When word of Lincoln’s assassination arrived, the soldiers formed an angry mob bent on destroying the city. Logan rode into their midst and, in front of their cannons, proclaimed that they will have to fire through him. The crowd dispersed, and after the war Raleigh honored Logan for saving the city. Logan was made commander of the Army of the Tennessee again and led them into Washington, D.C.

 

After the war, Logan returned to U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican. There he was one of the leaders in the effort to impeach President Johnson. Logan also helped found the Grand Army of the Republic. As its commander in 1868, he issued General Order No. 11 which established the first Memorial Day. He was elected to the Senate twice and, in 1884, was James G. Blaine’s vice-presidential running mate on the Republican ticket. They lost, but Logan’s popularity with veterans contributed to the narrowness of the defeat.

 

John A. Logan died suddenly on December 26, 1886, in Washington, D.C. His death was due to long-standing complications from his Fort Donelson wounds. His body was laid in state under the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol for one day. At the time of his death, Logan was only the seventh person to be laid in state there, and he is one of only twenty-nine people to receive that honor to date. His funeral was held in the Senate chambers. Logan is buried in the United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

 

Further Reading:

 

Cottingham, Carl D., P. Michael Jones, and Gary W. Kent

1989 

General John A. Logan: His Life and Times. American Kestrel Books, Carbondale, Illinois.

 

Jones, James P.

1967

Black Jack: John A. Logan and Southern Illinois in the Civil War. Florida State University, Tallahassee. Reprint, 1995. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois.

 

1982 

John A. Logan, Stalwart Republican from Illinois.  Florida State University, Tallahassee. Reprint, 2001.  Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois.

 

Summers, Mark W.

2000 

Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

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