You know about President Abraham Lincoln and General U.S. Grant. But do you know who was probably the next most popular civil war hero from Illinois? He was from a prominent family of Democrats from Little Egypt, that southern part of Illinois to which northerners went to buy food after their crops failed in 1832. He was so highly regarded that, upon his death in 1886, his body was laid in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Earlier, when President Lincoln was assassinated, there was such outrage among the Union troops stationed at Raleigh, N.C., that they were prepared to destroy that city out of pure anger. However, this Union general rode his horse in front of the Union cannons and soldiers and declared they would have to shoot him first.
Those hotheaded soldiers knew this Union general well. They knew he lost half of his infantry division while leading them into battle at Fort Donelson early in 1862. They knew he had been shot three times in that battle; yet, he returned to the fight after each wound. They knew he received a battlefield promotion to Brigadier General by General Grant because of the leadership, wisdom and courage he displayed at Fort Donelson. They knew he rallied his troops at the battle of Atlanta, and helped turn what might have been a stinging defeat into a stunning victory. Yes, these union soldiers knew this battle-tested general was dead serious, and there were few men alive they respected more. So, their destructive impulses toward the city subsided, and Raleigh was spared.
This general would go on to become one of the founders of an organization of veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic; yet, he would never forget the thousands of brave men he had seen fall on the fields of battle. As a tribute to the memory of all those soldiers and sailors killed in action, he issued a statement, as commander-in-chief of the G.A.R., declaring May 30, 1868, as a day to remember those men by decorating their graves with flowers. This would become known to some as Decoration Day and to others as Memorial Day. Politically, he was a committed Democrat when the Civil War started, but he emerged from the war as a Lincoln Republican. This Union general would be elected twice to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. In many respects, the impact he made in this country in the late 19th century was a very significant one, but few today know much about this war hero from Murphysboro, Ill., named General John A. Logan. Today, you can see a statue of General Logan mounted on his horse in Chicagos Grant Park. Another statue of General Logan is found in Logan circle in Washington, D.C. For more about this Illinois hero, check out www.loganmuseum.org.
This article was provided by the Illinois State Rifle Association. For more information about the association, call 635-3198 or visit www.irsa.org.
From the Aug. 23-29, 2006, issue