John Alexander Logan was born in southern Illinois in 1826, a section of the state populated by immigrants from the South. a Democratic Party stronghold in the state. The region was nicknamed “Egypt” by farmers from northern Illinois who came there to purchase grain following a devastating winter in 1832. His formal schooling consisted of private tutors until he eventually studied law, attending Shiloh Academy, where he earned high marks in oratory, and was also a noted horse racer. When the Mexican-American War came, Logan joined the 1st Illinois Infantry as a second lieutenant. Following this service, Logan returned to civilian life, graduating from Louisville University’s Law Department, and practiced law for a time.Logan was a natural born orator, and his father and uncle were both Democratic politicians, with his father being acquainted with Abraham Lincon, so it’s not surprising that he went into politics, as a Douglas Democrat. He served in the State House of Representatives from 1853-1854, and led the crusade to create the state’s harsh black codes, earning him the sobriquet “Egypt’s spokesman”. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 1858, winning reelection in 1860, making quite a name for himself. He was outspokenly anti-abolitionist, but eventually revealed himself as staunchly loyal to the Union. During the First Battle of Manassas, he picked up a rifle and fired at southern troops while observing as a congressman. He returned to southern Illinois to give a famous speech for the Union, which was credited with keeping that part of the state in the Union fold.
Logan volunteered to serve in the Union’s army, and Lincoln authorized him to raise the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He soon obtained the nickname “Black Jack” for his dark hair, eyes. and swarthy complexion. His unit eventually joined the command of Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, in a brigade commanded by Logan’s fellow political soldier, John A. McClernand. The 31st served with Grant at the Battle of Belmont, his first real action as a general. They went on to participate in Grant’s bold assault on Fort Donelson; Logan earned great distinction here, suffering three severe bullet wounds but remaining on the field, fighting alone on two fronts for nearly an hour due to the retreat of McClernand’s division before withdrawing due to lack of ammunition. The regiment took exactly 50% casualties during the engagement, leading them to be dubbed “Logan’s Dirty-First Regiment”. Apparently Grant was impressed, as Logan was promoted to brigadier-general. Logan was forced to take some time off to recuperate from his wounds, but rejoined the Army of the Tennessee for the march on Corinth. Logan was eventually given a division to command.
When Grant re-assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee, Logan was assigned to lead a division in James McPherson’s XVII Corps. Logan served with great distinction during the Vicksburg Campaign, particularly at Champion Hill. Grant in his memoirs remarked that Logan ended the campaign fit to command an independent army. He was promoted to major general for his service in the campaign.
Logan continued to command his division until after the victory at Chattanooga and the Meridian Campaign, when Sherman assumed overall command in the west. James McPherson assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee, and Logan got command of XV Corps. The XV Corps’ badge was a cartridge box with forty rounds. This was brought about by a conversation between some of Logan’s men and some of Joe Hooker’s that was reported to Logan. The former XII and XI Corps men were bragging about their corps badges, to which a Irish soldier of Logan’s remarked that their badge was their cartridge box and forty rounds.
Logan continued providing excellent service through the Atlanta Campaign, particularly distinguishing himself at the Battle of Dallas. One of his greatest moments in the war came in the “Battle of Atlanta” itself, a major attack by Hood against McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee. McPherson accidentally rode into the rebel lines and was shot and killed during the battle. Logan took command during the crisis, and reforming his troops, led them forward personally, shouting “McPherson and revenge boys!”, to which his men responded by chanting “Black Jack, Black Jack!” as they advanced forward, throwing Hood’s forces back into Atlanta.
Following this engagement, Logan naturally expected to be made permanent commander of the Army of the Tennessee. Sherman however, appointed Oliver O. Howard, a former Army of the Potomac officer with an undistinguished record to the post. Joseph Hooker, furious at the elevation of a junior officer who he blamed for losing Chancellorsville over himself, promptly resigned. Logan made no formal protest but was found by a colleague in tears on the steps of Sherman’s headquarters. George Thomas, commander of nearly 2/3rds of Sherman’s forces, had claimed he couldn’t work with Logan, possibly contributing to the decision.
Logan returned to Illinois for a time during the 1864 elections to perform his role as spokesman for the Union, and returned to his XV Corps for Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign. Impatient with what seemed to be Thomas’ case of the slows at Nashville, Grant sent Logan with an equivocal order to relieve Thomas if he hadn’t fought a battle by the time Logan arrived. Logan stopped at Louisville when he heard Thomas had won a decisive victory at Nashville.
At the end of the war, Logan’s men were stationed outside Raleigh, North Carolina. At the news of Lincoln’s assassination, some of Logan’s men formed an angry mob intent on burning the city. Logan rode out in front of their cannons, and proclaimed they would have to fire through him to do so. The troops promptly dispersed, and Logan was honored by the citizens for saving the city. Perhaps realizing he had made a mistake in not giving Logan the command in the first place, Sherman gave Logan the Army of the Tennessee to lead in the Grand Review in Washington, to the delight of the troops, who loved Black Jack.
Logan returned to Congress as a Republican, having undergone a radical shift of political belief in the Civil War. He later became one of the leaders of the effort to impeach President Andrew Johnson. He also was a key figure in the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic, and is credited with creating Memorial Day. He was elected to the Senate twice, and was James G. Blaine’s running mate in 1884 against Grover Cleveland, who won by a very narrow margin. Due to complications from his Donelson wounds, Logan died suddenly in 1886, and was laid in state on the Rotunda of the US Capitol for a day, only the seventh person to be so honored at the time. His funeral service was held in the Senate chambers.