General John A. Logan was almost Vice President of the United States. He was the running mate of James G. Blaine in the very close election of 1884. (See the article “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion – The Election of 1884”) John Alexander Logan was born in Brownsville, Illinois on February 9, 1826. He was the son of Dr. John Logan, a prominent Democratic leader and member of the Illinois legislature. Logan County (Illinois) was named for Dr. John Logan in 1839. The suggestion to name the county for Dr. John Logan came from another rising politician and close friend, Abraham Lincoln.
John A. Logan grew up on the family farm in comfortable conditions. His father’s farm income was augmented by his medical practice. John was not fond of school, and often took advantage of opportunities to miss school to work on the farm. Such opportunities became more frequent after his father’s election to the legislature. At 16, John was enrolled in the Shiloh Academy, where he was known as a good student who excelled at oratory.
In the Mexican War, Logan was named a second lieutenant in the army. He did not get the combat assignment he wanted with troops in Mexico, but was sent instead to the fort at Santa Fe. He was noted as an energetic and efficient officer and, in spite of his youth and inexperience, was named adjutant general of the fort at Santa Fe. After the war ended, he returned to Illinois, and became active in politics. Logan had grown up in “Egypt,” a triangular area in southern Illinois bounded by Altoona and Vandalia in the north and Cairo in the south. The region was much more southern than northern, especially in its attitudes towards slavery and the Democratic Party.
He studied law, and received his license to practice in February 1851. He immediately announced his candidacy for county prosecuting attorney. Surprisingly, he won. He resigned several months later to run for the Illinois legislature. Popular and fun loving, and a good public speaker, Logan made an appealing candidate. Given his father’s political experience and contacts, Logan was successful.
Taking his seat in the legislature, Logan well represented his southern-leaning district. He was known for his bitter anti-Negro position. He even sponsored a bill to exclude all free Negroes from the state. His efforts attracted much state-wide attention and made him even more popular back in “Egypt.” Logan did succeed in passing a law imposing a fine on anyone bringing free blacks into the state. Oddly enough, Logan’s “swarthy complexition and raven hair” earned him the nickname “Black Jack” Logan.
After a term in the legislature which gained Logan much attention and notoriety, he decided that running for prosecuting attorney, the position he had resigned the year before in order to run for the legislature, would be a good political move. He again won the election, and in 1854 began riding the circuit with the other attorneys. This brought him into contact with the rising politician Stephen Douglas, and the two became close friends.
In 1856, Logan again changed his mind and decided he would rather be in the legislature. The voters did not seem to mind his constant changes of mind, and he won the election with a large majority. The constant traveling of the judicial circuit and his absences while serving in the legislature put a strain on his marriage. His wife wrote complaining letters, once writing that “politics, if you will allow, can destroy our happiness together.” But she remained a loyal wife, and wrote a “strikingly laudatory” book about him after his death.
In 1858, Logan ran for Congress. That was the same year of the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and Logan appeared with Douglas at three of the seven debates. A fight between Senator Douglas and President Buchanan in Washington had split the Democratic Party in a number of states, including Illinois, and Logan sided with the Douglas wing of the party. There was never much doubt about Logan’s contest for Congress, and he won the election with just over 83% of the vote.
Logan already had an image as a harsh and ruthless politician. This increased once he got to Congress. He had a fight with another Illinois Congressman, which was broken up but not before Logan supposedly pulled a pistol. Logan also made some strong comments on the desirability of the Fugitive Slave Act, defending the capture and return of fugitive slaves, and criticizing those who called it “dirty work.” Many newspapers in the North gave Logan the nickname “Dirty Work Logan.” He condemned John Brown and issued many wild charges and warnings about future violence. In every opportunity to speak, he took a strongly pro-Southern stance.
After his re-election to Congress in 1860, Logan had another issue to face, that of secession. Although he opposed secession, he also felt the North had no right to use force to prevent it. He was one of those political leaders who encouraged the South to wait and see what Lincoln would do, rather than rush into any irreversible action, and favored compromise of any sort that would satisfy the South and keep it in the Union. Even the firing on Fort Sumter did not drive him into the Union camp. For the rest of the war, there would be accusations that Logan had considered seeking a commission in the Southern army. Letters were produced during later political races supposedly proving that he had encouraged people to join the Southern army. There is a blank period in the very detailed Logan papers from this time, suggesting that his protective wife may have destroyed such incriminating documents while preparing her book after his death. Logan continued to denounce all those who called for strong action against the South to suppress the rebellion. Unionists in Illinois called him a traitor and one newspaper ran a story announcing that a military commander had decided to arrest him and called on Logan to resign from Congress. It was not until June that Logan definitively sided with the North in a strongly pro-Union speech in Congress calling for enlistments in the Northern army which surprised observers.
Logan’s conversion to the Union was so complete that he even sought a military commission. Lincoln asked Logan to remain in Congress for the time being, but Logan got permission to accompany the troops to Bull Run. While there, he took the musket of a fallen soldier and fired off a number of shots at the enemy before being forced to retreat. After that, Logan was obsessed with obtaining a military commission, saying “the stain upon our family must be wiped out.” He was referring to the charges of disloyalty which had been lodged against him by political opponents and newspapers.
Now, we shall review his very successful military career during the Civil War, and his political career afterwards. He served in both houses of Congress and was a founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, and started the tradition that led to Memorial Day as a national holiday.
John A. Logan’s military record during the Civil War was a series of successful engagements and promotions. He was recognized early for his ability and bravery. Commissioned a colonel in the 31st Illinois on September 18, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general on March 21, 1862. On November 29 of that year, he was promoted to major general. His first fight was the Battle of Belmont where his courage verged on recklessness. At Fort Donelson, Logan’s command was credited with plugging a dangerous breach in the line. At this battle, he was wounded twice, in the shoulder and ribs, and seriously injured.
Logan recovered and returned to the army in time for the Battle of Champion’s Hill during the Vicksburg campaign. Again, Logan distinguished himself with his ability and courage. After the surrender of Vicksburg, Logan took an extended leave, granted by Lincoln personally, to campaign for Republican candidates. He returned to the army in time for General Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. He then left the army again to campaign for Republican candidates, again with Lincoln’s blessing.
During the fighting around Atlanta, Logan was promoted to the command of the 15th Corps, and temporarily took command of the Army of the Tennessee when General McPherson was killed. He was later given permanent command of that army. He resigned his commission on August 17, 1865 and returned to politics as a Republican.
Logan declined offers to be minister to Mexico in 1865 and Japan and Brazil in 1866. He was one of the organizers of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal order of veterans, and served as the group’s president three times. In 1866, Logan, who really wanted to be elected to the U.S. Senate, ran for a seat as the Illinois Congressman-at-large. He won by a large majority.
As a member of the House of Representatives, he was one of the seven congressmen to draw op the articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson. He strongly supported his former commander Ulysses S. Grant for President in 1868, and declined to run for governor of Illinois that year in spite of strong urgings from leaders of his party. He still wanted to run for the Senate, and feared being elected governor might hurt his chances since the seat he was planning to run for would be contested half-way through his four-year term.
In 1870, Logan ran for the Senate seat from Illinois. His position as three-time president of the Grand Army of the Republic was a great help to his campaign. Interestingly enough, it was as president of the G.A.R. that he made his most lasting contribution when he established May 30 as a day to commemorate the war dead. That day would later be adopted as a national holiday, Memorial Day. He ran two campaigns simultaneously, one for the Senate seat, and the other for re-election to his seat in the House of Representatives. In November, he won re-election to the House and in January he won election to the Senate.
Logan continued to be involved in controversy. He was almost involved in the famous Credit Mobilier scandal. He accepted ten shares of the stock without paying for it. When he received a dividend, he became concerned and returned both the stock and the dividend. This action saved him when the scandal broke.
In 1876, he was defeated for re-election to the Senate in a protracted session of the state legislature. (State legislatures elected U.S. Senators until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913.) Two years later, he was elected to the other Senate seat from his state. Two years out of national office had not changed his growing ambition for the Presidency. He began to prepare for the 1884 election. In the 1884 Republican convention, he had little support outside his own state, and during the third ballot wired his supporters to vote for James G. Blaine who got the nomination on the next ballot. Blaine then offered the Vice Presidential spot to Logan. The two had been close personal friends and political allies for a number of years.
The campaign was close and acrimonious. Logan advised Blaine not to attend the banquet given in his honor by the wealthy businessmen of New York City. The next day, the famous cartoon by Thomas Nast, “Belshazzar’s Feast” appeared, very effectively criticizing Blaine for the conspicuous consumption during hard times. Blaine lost New York, and therefore the election, by a very slim margin. This mistake has been credited with costing him, and Logan, the election.
Later the same year, Logan had to run for re-election to his Senate seat. The legislature was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The legislature fought over the election from February until May. Only after the death of three members, and the selection of their replacements in special elections, could a winner be decided. Logan barely won another six-year term in the Senate. After a short illness in December 1886, Logan died the day after Christmas.
Logan’s wife continued to live in Washington, and was a leader of Washington society for many years. She was a close confidant of First Ladies Caroline Harrison and Ida McKinley, and wrote a book about her husband’s life that many said was severely edited by her to protect his reputation. Logan made a number of changes during his career, including parties, loyalties, and position on major issues such as slavery and civil rights. While his enemies tried to take political advantage of such changes, Logan ignored such problems and the voters seemed to agree with him. His work with the Grand Army of the Republic and his creation of Memorial Day outweigh his political contributions in Congress. One thing is certain; he was a genuine war hero, and the best of the political generals in the Civil War.