The Legacy of John A. Logan

General Logan

by Hannah Roesch

Tucked behind a white picket fence in the heart of Murphysboro, Illinois, sits a museum dedicated to one of the most colorful generals of the Civil War, John A. Logan. Since 1989 The General John A. Logan Museum, 1613 Edith St., has been committed to sharing Logan’s legacy.

Placed just 150 yards from Logan’s place of birth, the museum guides visitors through the timeline of Logan’s hearty history. Each room at the site contains different artifact from each chapter of the general’s life, allowing visitors to indulge in new, exciting history for hours.

As a lawyer, war general, senator, and father, Logan’s life, 1826-1886, was filled with stories worth remembering.

Political life

Logan began his political career at the mere age of 23, winning the office of clerk for Jackson County, Illinois, in November 1849.[1] Following in his father’s footsteps, Logan held stark Democratic views for many years to follow. During his early political life, Logan made his racist ideologies clear to the public.[2]

For years following, Logan made his way up the political ladder. First, elected in 1852, Logan won a seat in Illinois’ 18th General Assembly.[3] Next, he represented Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District in Congress. He was elected to a second term in 1860, again for Illinois’ southernmost congressional district.[4]

One year later, Logan announced his devotion to the Union, becoming a “War Democrat.”

After the Civil War, Logan returned to congress in 186, having undergone a change of heart. Many credit this change of mindset to the horrific impression left in Logan’s mind after witnessing the treatment of enslaved people in the south. He sat in the U.S. House as a Republican and voted for Constitutional amendments to abolish slavery and to grant citizenship and voting rights to African Americans.

Logan served a second term in the U.S. House before moving on to serve three terms in the U.S. Senate.[5] Throughout this time Logan continued to fight for civil rights for America’s former slaves and supported Women’s Suffrage.

For his next step in his political career, Logan ran on the 1884 Republican ticket as vice president with presidential candidate James Blaine.[6]  Logan died two years later in December 1886 and is buried at the United States Soldiers’ & Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, DC.[7]

Among those who mourned Logan’s death was Frederick Douglass, the leading African American leader at the time. Douglass called him “a brave man [who] spread around the Negro the network of the law.”[8] 

Memorial Day

One of Logan’s most notable triumphs lies in the celebration of Memorial Day as we know it. Although the true origin of the holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military, is unknown, many historians have granted the credit to Logan.

As the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest Union veterans’ organization, Logan issued General Order No. 11 on May 5, 1868, to establish Memorial Day as a national holiday. This order designated May 30, 1868, “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….”[9]

Logan’s wife, Mary, wrote about his inspiration for the holiday in her autobiography, saying

it was her visit to Petersburg, Virginia’s Blandford Cemetery in March 1868 that brought her husband to issue the famous order. “(I told my husband that) I had never been so touched as I was by seeing the little flags and the withered flowers that had been laid on these graves (of the Confederate dead),” she wrote.[10]

Logan replied, “that it was a beautiful revival of the custom of the ancients… and that he… would issue an order for the decoration of the graves of Union soldiers.”[11]

Because of this order, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson traveled to the Gettysburg Battlefield to commeorate the official proclamation of the nation’s first Memorial Day on May 5, 1866.[12]


As a powerful senator, a devoted advocate for African American Civil Rights and the founder of Memorial Day, Logan left a remarkable imprint on American history.

And although his museum is closed due to COVID-19, planning a trip to stop by next time you’re in Southern Illinois is something every history buff must do. Until then, be sure to visit the Logan Museum’s website to find in-depth information on his childhood, time in the war and ancestry.

As historian Gary Ecelbarger said, “John A. Logan may be the most noteworthy nineteenth century American to escape notice in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But if you look around, look more closely, there is evidence of Logan’s accomplishments in plain sight in many towns large, and small across the United States.”[13]


Hannah Roesch is an intern for Emerging Civil War. She is a writing student at St. Bonaventure University.


[1] “Political Life.” John A. Logan’s Museum, June 30, 2020.

[2] “John A. Logan.” American Battlefield Trust. Accessed June 18, 2021.

[3]  “Political Life.” John A. Logan’s Museum, June 30, 2020.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “General John A. Logan, Memorial Day Founder.” The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army. Accessed June 18, 2021.

[7] “General John A. Logan, Memorial Day Founder.” The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army. Accessed June 18, 2021.

[8] “Political Life.” John A. Logan’s Museum, June 30, 2020.

[9] “Today in History – May 30.” The Library of Congress. Accessed June 20, 2021.

[10] Reminiscences of a Soldier’s Wife (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997).

[11] Ibid, 242-243.

[12] “General John A. Logan, Memorial Day Founder.” The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army. Accessed June 18,


[13] “Legacy.” John A. Logan’s Museum, June 30, 2020.

7 Responses to The Legacy of John A. Logan

  1. Mother Mary Bickerdyke, the acclaimed Union Nurse of the Western Theatre, first made her appearance on the battlefield at Fort Donelson in February 1862. During the course of her service there, she encountered the wounded Colonel John Logan, changed his bandage… and may have saved his life. When asked years later about the war, Mother Bickerdyke admitted that her favorite Generals were Grant, Sherman and Logan.

  2. Sounds like a worthwhile visit. Now give me another reason to travel from NJ to Murphysboro!

  3. John “Black Jack” Logan was one of the best of the Union’s “political generals.” Not only was he competent, he was one of the North’s bravest general officers, regularly leading from the front during the fiercest moments of battle.

    His lack of a West Point education hurt his military career. He was belatedly promoted to permanent corps commander late in the war..

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