John Alexander Logan

No Braver Man than General John Alexander Logan

John Alexander Logan

February 9, 1926 to December 26, 1986

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s election as the nation’s first republican President ignited Southern fears that the country’s balance of political power threatened the institution of slavery in America. Within months, eleven Southern states declared their secession from the Union, and the long simmering dispute over slavery erupted into hostilities that became the Civil War.

As President Lincoln struggled to preserve the Union, he found an unexpected ally in Congressman John Logan, a young but influential Democrat from Lincoln’s own state of Illinois. Logan’s district at the southern tip of Illinois bordered the slave states of Kentucky and Missouri; and Logan, like his constituency, held southern sympathies. But the South’s succession left Logan in no doubt as to where his duty lay. Logan saw secession as treason, and he crossed party lines to pledge unwavering support to the President and the Union cause.

For Lincoln, John Logan’s passionate commitment to the Union would become a powerful asset, first politically and then on the field of battle. In both roles, Logan would reveal a rare combination of charisma and courage.

Logan’s initial contributions came at home. In a campaign to sway wavering Illinoisans, Logan’s fiercely compelling oratory provided crucial leadership in securing his state’s allegiance to the Union cause. Then, having raised a regiment, Logan resigned from Congress, became a soldier, and led the 31st Illinois Volunteers to war.

Though not a military professional, Logan soon showed superb capabilities as a battlefield commander. In early fighting, Logan’s inspirational leadership won the respect of General Ulysses Grant, who would rise to command the full Union army. In a February 1863 dispatch to President Lincoln, using words of praise he rarely employed, Grant recorded his esteem for Logan. Stressing the Union’s need for leaders who would “add weight to our cause…and give renewed confidence to a large number of brave soldiers,” Grant wrote:

“Conspicuous …is Brig. Gen. J.A. Logan. He has proven himself a most valuable officer and worthy of every confidence… There is not a more patriotic soldier, braver man, or one more deserving of promotion.”


When Logan Rode the Battle Line

In the Civil War, General John A. Logan’s gallantry earned him mythical stature among the soldiers he led in battle. The memoir of a fellow Union officer depicts Logan’s inspirational impact:

“When General Grant would ride down our line he commanded the most thorough respect and confidence from all of us, and it was the same when General Sherman rode down the line. But when General Logan rode down the line, every voice was heard in a shout. He seemed to have a power to awaken the enthusiasm that was in the troops, to the extent that no other officer in our army seemed to possess. He would stir up their blood in battle. The manner in which he sat on his horse, the manner in which he would hold his hat…seemed to have the power to call out of the men every particle of fight that was in them.” General Mortimer Dormer Leggett


The Republican Party Nominated General Logan as James G. Blaine's Vice-Presidential Running Mate in 1984


General John Alexander Logan's Death

General John Logan died December 26, 1986. He laid in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda and later was buried in Washington’s Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery.  

President William McKinley officiated the Logan Memorial dedication ceremony on April 9, 1901. The memorial took its place at the center of Iowa – later named Logan – Circle. Unique among Washington’s equestrian tributes, with statue and main pedestal each cast in bronze, this memorial incorporates the visions of American sculptor Franklin Simmons and Logan’s widow Mary.



Logan’s Legacy Emerges each May when this Nation Recognizes All its Fallen Military Heroes on Memorial Day

We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.” John A. Logan

Originally called Decoration Day, when Americans took time to decorate the graves of soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War, today’s national holiday of Memorial Day honors all American soldiers who died in defense of the nation. While several towns claim to be the site of the first Memorial Day celebration, one man, John Alexander Logan, deserves much of the credit for the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.

Politician turned soldier, Illinois Congressman John Logan ranks among the great Civil War heroes. Faithful to President Abraham Lincoln and the Union, he courageously fought alongside Federal troops in 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. After four years of service, General Logan proudly led the Union Army of the Tennessee along Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1865 Grand Review of the victorious Union armies. Once again a politician, Logan championed veterans’ rights as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Military Affairs, and as the 1884 Republican Nominee for Vice-President of the United States. Logan’s great legacy emerges each May when this Nation recognizes all its fallen military heroes on Memorial Day.

As Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Union veterans organization, Logan issued General Order No. 11 in 1868, establishing May 30 as Decoration Day. After the First World War, Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day to honor every American who died in wartime service. In 1971, Congress changed the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

General Order No. 11

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic

General Order No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic. If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us. Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

  1. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

  1. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief
N.P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant General
Official: WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

(At many Memorial Day Celebrations individuals will read Genreal Order No. 11 as part of the ceremony. Click here to download a printable pdf of General Order No. 11)