Moultonborough Historical Society

   

 General John A. Logan

 and

 Memorial Day

By: Bruce Garry

The man given credit for the founding of what has become Memorial Day, Major General John Alexander Logan, was a colorful figure of his time. He was born in Murphysboro, Jackson County, Illinois, February 9, 1826. This is in the southern part of Illinois where most of the people had come from southern states, a Democratic party stronghold that favored slavery and succession, even into 1860's after the war began. His early education was with local tutors and later studied the law. One report says he attended Louisville University in Kentucky.

John Logan was a great orator and had a knack for politics. His political connections and whatever his education was, he was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant of the Illinois volunteers going off to fight in the Mexican War in 1846, at the age of 20. When he returned he was appointed Clerk at Jackson County Court in 1849. Four years after the war, at age 26, he was elected to his first political office in the state legislature in 1852, the same year he was admitted the Bar as a lawyer. Logan was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856, and was reelected in 1858 and 1860. His political votes both in the state house and the U.S. House labeled Logan as a "Southern Sympathizer".

In the Spring of 1861, John Logan resigned his congressional seat to join the war effort for the Union. As a civilian volunteer, he marched with a Michigan regiment in the 1st Battle of Bull Run, in July 1861. After the battle he returned to Illinois and raised the 31st Illinois Infantry Regiment, in Jacksonville and mustered into federal service September 18, 1861, Logan appointed the regiment's colonel. He quickly earned a reputation as being an outstanding combat leader, and was wounded at the battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, February 15, 1862. For his actions he was commissioned Brigadier General of volunteers, March 21, 1862, and rose in command in the Army of the Tennessee.

November 29, 1862, he was promoted again to Major General of volunteers. When the commander of the Army of the Tennessee, MG James McPherson, was killed at the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864, Logan was put in command of the Army. MG William T. Sherman, who didn't care for politically appointed generals, like Logan, and questioned Logan's abilities to handle the logistics of a large command. Sherman is also said to have questioned Logan's loyalty to the Union, despite his battle record. President Lincoln, on General Sherman's request, relieved General Logan five days after taking command. The command was given to Gettysburg hero, and a West Point graduate from Maine, MG Oliver O. Howard. In May of 1865, General Logan was again given command of the Army of Tennessee until he resigned in August 1865 to return to politics.

In the years after the war he changed to a Republican, and was a member of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate for almost every year for the rest of his life. The years he lost election, he was appointed to political posts, such as Commissioner of Military Affairs, and he practice law. He was also the Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket in 1884, who lost the Grover Cleveland. General Logan was also very active in veteran activities. Like a number of politicians of the time, who were accused of using the war dead for political gain, he was identified as part of the "wave the bloody shirt" society. Logan was one of the founders of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee and the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).

The GAR grew to be the largest veteran's organization of the Civil War veterans, founded April 6, 1866. General John Logan was elected as the second Commander-in-Chief of the GAR in January 1868, and twice more in 1869 and 1870. General Logan is given credit as the father of Memorial Day, as the signer of GAR General Order No. 11, dated May 5, 1868, calling for an observance "year to year", starting May 30, 1868. General Logan then directed the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington Cemetery on May 30, 1868.

General John A. Logan, then a U.S. Senator, died at the age of 60, in Washington, D.C. He was buried in Soldiers Home National Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.