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Jackson County, Illinois, Memorial Day Sesquicentennial
Monday, May 28, 2018
Who was John A. Logan
Because it is proud to be the birthplace of Major General John A. Logan, Jackson County, Illinois is planning a grand Memorial Day Sesquicentennial event for May 28, 2018.
Many people wonder who Logan was. This is not surprising, as his biographer, Gary Ecelbarger, believes Logan “may be the most noteworthy nineteenth century American to go unnoticed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”
So, who was John A. Logan?
First, he’s the person who created the national Memorial Day holiday. To be clear, Logan never claimed to have observed the first Memorial Day or to have conceived the idea, but only to have created the national Memorial Day holiday which he considered his greatest legacy.
He did this on May 5, 1868 by issuing “General Order No. 11” also referred to as “Logan’s Memorial Day Order” designating the 30th day of May “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country….” as commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Memorial Day was held on May 30 from 1868 until 1970 when Congress moved it to the last Monday in May.
“Logan’s Memorial Day Order” is read at most Memorial Day observations. It is honored with bronze plaques in Capitols, Court Houses, and National Cemeteries spanning the nation. Despite this, James Schwartz wrote in the May 26, 1986, Washington Post that, “Most Americans won’t be thinking about Gen. John A. Logan on Memorial Day” concluding that this was “Pretty shoddy treatment for the guy who ordered the first Memorial Day.”
John Alexander Logan was born in 1826 in Southern Illinois then derisively called “Egypt”. Northerners denigrated the region’s inhabitants as being, according to an 1853 the Boston Liberator, “mostly poor whites from the Southern States; too poor to own slaves themselves but too ignorant to know any better than to indulge the prejudices and ape the conduct of those who did.”
Growing up, Logan absorbed these prejudices. He entered politics and was elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1853, where he succeeded in passing severe “Black Codes” prohibiting blacks from entering Illinois.
In 1858, he was elected U.S. Representative with almost 80% of the vote. Congressman Logan supported the Fugitive Slave Act and won reelection in 1860.
It was two months after the Civil War began before Logan declared support for the Union. In August 1861 he raised a Union regiment but promised his men that if Lincoln freed the slaves he would bring back home. Logan rose from colonel to major general and participated in most of the major battles in the West. Over time Logan’s racist attitudes faded and he accepted emancipation and the enlistment of African American soldiers bringing Lincoln to absolve him “for all of the wrong he ever did….”
After the war Logan returned to politics as a Republican Congressman, Senator, and unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate. During this time Logan supported the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and worked for equal rights for America’s newest citizens. An 1867 Wilmington, North Carolina newspaper said of the man who once supported the Fugitive Slave Act, “Gen John A. Logan favors the election of negroes to Congress and is not opposed to having a negro for President.”
He died on December 26, 1886 in Washington D.C.
The above image is the Memorial Day plaque on the grounds of the state capitol in Denver, Colorado.