John Alexander Logan was born February 6, 1826, on the large farm of his prominent family at what is now the location of Murphysboro, Illinois. He was the first of nine children born to Dr. James Logan and Elizabeth Jenkins Logan. Logan’s mother was the sister of future Illinois Lieutenant Governor A. M. Jenkins. Logan’s father served as a surgeon during the Black Hawk War (1812) and later as a member of the Illinois State Legislature. Logan County, in central Illinois, was named in honor of Dr. Logan.
Instruction from private tutors enhanced young Logan’s early education in local schools. In 1840, he enrolled at Shiloh Academy, at Shiloh Hill, Illinois, to complete his education.
During the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), Logan volunteered for service and he received a commission as a lieutenant with the First Illinois Regiment. Logan served as his unit’s adjutant in New Mexico, but he saw no combat.
Lawyer and Politician
After being mustered out in 1848, Logan returned to Illinois, where he served as Jackson County Clerk. He subsequently studied law, graduating from Louisville University in 1851 and then entering the legal profession. In 1852, voters elected Logan to fill his father’s seat in the state legislature.
Three years later, Logan met Mary Cunningham, the daughter of Captain John M. Cunningham, with whom Logan had served in the Mexican-American War. Following a short courtship, the couple wed on November 27, 1855. Their marriage, which lasted thirty-one years, produced three children, two of whom survived to adulthood.
Shortly after his marriage, Logan and his bride moved to Benton in south-central Illinois, where Logan served as prosecuting attorney for the third judicial district, which embraced sixteen counties. One year later, in 1856, voters elected Logan to a second term in the state legislature. As a member of the Democratic Party, Logan’s views closely aligned with Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas.
In 1858, voters elected Logan to serve the first of two consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of the 36th and 37th Congresses, Logan endorsed the concept of popular sovereignty, supported the Fugitive Slave Act, and opposed abolition.
When the Civil War erupted, Logan erased any doubts regarding alleged pro-Southern sympathies by serving as a civilian volunteer with a Michigan regiment during the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). Logan then returned to Illinois, where he delivered a stirring speech supporting the Union and announced his intention to raise a volunteer unit to fight for the country’s reunification.
After recruiting the 31st Illinois Infantry Regiment, which mustered into service on September 18, 1861, the enlisted men elected Logan was elected as their colonel. Army officials ordered Logan and his men to join forces commanded by Ulysses S. Grant. They fought at the Battle of Belmont (November 7, 1861), the Battle of Fort Henry (February 6, 1862), and the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11, 1862–February 16, 1862). During the battle of Fort Donelson, enemy soldiers shot Logan through his left shoulder and his right thigh. After the battle, officials promoted him to brigadier general, effective March 21, 1862.
Battle of Shiloh
On April 2, 1862, Logan resigned his seat in Congress to concentrate on his military duties. He recovered from his wounds in time to lead the 32nd Illinois Infantry Regiment during the Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862).
Siege of Corinth
During the Siege of Corinth (April 29 to May 30, 1862), Logan commanded the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the Army of the Tennessee until May 2, 1862. He also temporarily commanded the division briefly during the operation.
In the spring of 1863, Union officials promoted Logan to major general, effective November 29, 1862. During the Vicksburg Campaign (December 26, 1862–July 4, 1863), Logan commanded the 3rd Division of the 17th Corps of the Army of Tennessee. When the Mississippi River stronghold fell on July 4, 1863, Logan’s division was the first to enter the city. General Grant then appointed Logan as the military governor of Vicksburg. Logan held the position long enough to oversee the initial distribution of food and other relief to the city’s residents. He then returned to Illinois on leave to drum up support for the war.
15th Corps Commander
Shortly after Logan returned to active duty in September, he benefited from a shakeup in the Union army’s chain-of-command in the West. On October 16, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders Number 337, naming Ulysses S. Grant to command the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi, encompassing the Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee—nearly all Union forces between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. On October 19, Grant issued General Orders No. 2, naming William T. Sherman to succeed him as commander of the Department and Army of the Tennessee. Logan assumed Sherman’s command of the 15th Corps on October 27, 1863.
Logan commanded the 15th Corps throughout most of the Atlanta Campaign (May 7-September 2, 1864). He temporarily assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee for six days (July 22-27, 1864) after his superior officer, Major General John A. McClernand, died during the Battle of Atlanta (July 22, 1863). To Logan’s disappointment, Sherman appointed Major General Oliver O. Howard as McClernand’s long-term replacement on July 26. Howard replaced Logan as head of the army on the next day.
March to the Sea
During Sherman’s March to the Sea (November 15, 1864–December 21, 1864), Logan was back in Illinois stumping for President Lincoln’s reelection. He returned to the 15th Corps in time to lead his men during Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign (February–April 1865).
Commander of the Army of the Tennessee
When President Andrew Johnson selected Howard as the Freedmen’s Bureau’s first and only commissioner, the War Department issued General Orders No. 96, naming Logan as commander of the Army of the Tennessee on May 19, 1865. On May 24, 1865, Logan had the honor of leading the Army of the Tennessee on the Grand Review through the streets of the nation’s capital. During the next two months, Logan oversaw mustering the Army of Tennessee out of volunteer service.
During his four years of military service, Logan fought in many of the major campaigns of the Western Theater of the Civil War. Often referred to as “Black Jack” by his men, Logan was unquestionably one of the more able of the army’s political general officers who did not attend the U.S. Military Academy.
Return to the House of Representatives
Following the Civil War, Logan returned to Illinois and resumed his political career as a member of the Republican Party. In the autumn of 1866, Illinois voters elected Logan to an at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Logan served in the 40th Congress (March 4, 1867 to March 4, 1869) and the 41st Congress (March 4, 1869 to March 4, 1871). During his first term, Logan served as one of the House managers of President Johnson’s impeachment trial.
Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic
In 1868, Union veterans elected Logan as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a post that he held until 1871. During his term, he helped to establish of Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) as a national holiday dedicated to honoring, “comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion. . . .”
In 1870, the Illinois legislature selected Logan for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He served in the 42nd through 44th Congresses (March 4, 1871–March 4, 1877), but political maneuvering by Governor Richard J. Oglesby denied him a second consecutive term. The legislature re-elected Logan to the U.S. Senate in 1878 and he served in the 46th through the 49th Congresses (March 4, 1879 to March 4, 1877) until his death in 1886. In 1884, Logan was the Republican running-mate of Senator James G. Blaine, who lost the U.S. presidential election to Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland.
In mid-December 1886, Logan suffered an acute attack of rheumatism. He died at his home in Washington, D.C. on December 26, from “congestion of the brain” related to his rheumatoid condition. After his body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, Logan was entombed at the U.S. Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery, now known as the U. S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.