Black Jack John Logan Goes to War

Black Jack John Logan Goes to War

By Paul F. Bradley
2/1/2011 • HistoryNet

‘Black Jack’ at War:
Unlike most politicians, John Logan played a pivotal role on the battlefield

Gen. John Logan. Library of Congress.
Gen. John Logan. Library of Congress.
“Political general” conjures up the image of a bumbling leader, appointed to command solely because of his political influence. But one career politician clearly defied that stereotype during the Civil War: Major General John “Black Jack” Logan, who consistently de­livered solid results in the Western Theater.

Logan was a native of the West, born on February 9, 1826, in Murphysboro, Ill., in the triangle of land formed by the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, an area known as Egypt. His father, an Illinois physician and politician, was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the namesake of Logan County.

Logan volunteered as a second lieutenant in the Mexican War but saw no action. He came home to become an attorney, and was elected as a Democrat to the Illinois State House in 1852, where his fiery oratory soon gained him a spot on the stump alongside Stephen A. Douglas. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Logan distanced himself from his opponents with his attacks on the Republican Party. His pro-Southern proclivities were magnified with his election to House of Representatives in 1858. He endorsed popular sovereignty but believed that slavery would never expand into the west.

Logan’s hopes of a peaceful settlement of the secession crisis ended after Fort Sumter. He got his first taste of sectional combat while observing the Battle of Bull Run with other civilians. Dissatisfied with looking on, he picked up a discarded musket and fired it at advancing Rebels, later helping to transport wounded Federals. He then petitioned for a commission as a colonel of the 31st Illinois.

Logan assumed his new command later that month. He disciplined his troops whenever necessary, on one occasion forcing a group of malcontents to stack and unstack their weapons for 12 hours. On September 19, the 31st Illinois was mustered into service and brigaded with the 27th and 30th Illinois regiments in Brig. Gen. John A. McClernand’s 1st Brigade.

The Battle of Belmont would be the unit’s baptism of fire. McClernand’s brigade drove Confederates under Brig. Gen. Gideon Pillow from their position and sacked the enemy camp. When fresh Confederate troops arrived, the Union force was driven from the field in an inconclusive engagement where both sides claimed victory. Logan had been conspicuous throughout the fight, rallying his troops when their position was untenable. Both Ulysses Grant and McClernand cited his performance in their reports, with McClernand commenting that Logan “largely contributed to the success of the day.” By then Logan had also gained a nickname: His men began calling him “Black Jack” due to his dark complexion, hair and drooping mustache.

When Grant reorganized, he promoted McClernand to division command. Logan’s 31st Illinois became part of Colonel Richard Oglesby’s 1st Brigade in McClernand’s 1st Division. Moving in conjunction with Commodore Andrew Foote’s flotilla, Grant planned to invest Fort Henry, then move on Fort Donelson. His forces captured Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, after which Grant prepared to take Fort Donelson. Sloppy roads and damage to the flotilla delayed his approach. During the lull, Confederate General Albert S. Johnston reinforced Fort Don­elson, which now had more than 17,500 troops.

Grant’s force of over 27,500, which arrived on February 12, enveloped the fort, with Brig Gen. Charles F. Smith on the left, Brig. Gen. Lew Wallace in the center and McClernand on the right. Lo­gan’s men held the extreme right of the Union encirclement. Foote ar­rived with his flotilla on February 14 and commenced bombarding it at close range at 3 p.m. After Rebel gunners inflicted heavy damage to the Union fleet, Foote retreated and Grant prepared for a siege.

On February 15, Pillow launched an attack directly at Logan’s 31st Illinois. Shot through the left shoulder, Logan received medical aid but quickly returned to his men—only to be nicked again, in the right thigh. Grant ordered Smith’s division to attack the weakened Confederate right, rallying McClernand’s battered division and forcing Pillow to pull back. Logan’s regiment had suffered heavi­ly: 31 killed, 117 wounded and 28 missing.

Grant accepted the surrender of Fort Donelson the next day, writing to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton: “I particularly mention the names of John A. Logan, 31st Illinois Volunteers (among others), and have no hesitation in fully endorsing them as in every way qualified for the position of brigadier general, and think they have earned the position on the field of battle.” While the 31st Illinois garrisoned Fort Donelson, Logan returned home to rest.

He came back to his regiment in late March. On April 2, Logan formally resigned his House of Representatives seat, then rejoined Grant after the Battle of Shiloh. Promoted to brigadier general, Logan was reassigned command of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, XVII Army Corps. His brigade consisted of the 8th, 18th, 30th and 31st Illinois, plus the 12th Michigan regiments. By that time Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck had assumed command of the western Union forces, with General Grant reduced to second-in-command.

In August 1862, Logan again took leave. He managed to remain above the political fray while his Democratic peers were lambasting Lincoln’s direction of the war.

After taking Corinth, Miss., Halleck was promoted to general-in-chief and transferred to Washington. Grant was assigned to command the Department of Tennessee and 30,000 troops, and he targeted Vicksburg. He reorganized the Army of the Tennessee into corps under Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman (XV Corps), John A. McClernand (XIII Corps), and James B. McPherson (XVII). The IX Corps under Maj. Gen John Parke and detachments from the XVI Corps under Maj. General Cadwallader C. Washburn would later augment Grant’s force.

Grant gave Logan command of the 3rd Division of McPherson’s XVII Corps and promoted him to major general. Logan now commanded nearly 7,000 officers and men divided among three brigades led by Brig. Gens. John E. Smith, John D. Stevenson and Mortimer D. Leggett.

Grant’s army entered winter quarters along the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. For 1863 he planned a joint Army-Navy action against Vicksburg. He hoped to confuse Vicksburg commander General John Pemberton, ordering his cavalry to raid through Mississippi toward Baton Rouge. Grant’s men engaged in canal-building throughout April. When that failed, the Army of the Tennessee crossed the river and seized Port Gibson on May 1. The Fed­eral commander wanted to keep Pemberton isolated from General Joseph Johnston’s force in Jackson, Miss.; he chose to feint toward the capital to keep Johnston in place.

The Battle of Raymond would be fought entirely by Logan’s division. Confederate Brig. Gen. John Gregg, eager to strike a blow at the advancing Union column, struck on May 12 along Fourteen Mile Creek, unaware that he was facing Logan’s 3rd Division, with the entire XVII Corps nearby. Gregg’s attack initially seemed successful, but Logan—whose horse had just been shot from under him—exhorted his men, “For God’s sake men, don’t disgrace your country.” He launched a flank attack, forcing Gregg to retreat. The Rebel general lost 100 killed, 305 wounded and 415 captured, compared to Logan’s 68 killed, 341 wounded and 37 missing.

On May 16, Pemberton deployed his troops at Champion Hill. Grant’s men again won the day, but slow moving by McClernand and a determined Rebel rear-guard defense let Pemberton escape. Logan’s division suffered heavy casualties: 407 killed, wounded and missing.

Pemberton retreated into Vicksburg, and Grant settled into a siege, with a U-shaped pocket: Sherman to the North, McPherson in the center and McClernand to the South. The Union slowly tightened its iron grip around the city. McClernand conducted a bloody attack in an effort to lift the siege on May 22, following up with a congratulatory letter to his men, printed in newspapers. Displeased, Grant replaced him with Maj. Gen. Edward Ord on June 18.

Logan defied enemy sharpshooters, frequently walking and talking with his men close to the front line during the siege. Miners in his command developed a plan to construct and detonate a mine beneath the Confederates, which Logan endorsed. The project, carried out on June 24, proved disastrous, resulting in hundreds of casualties.

When Pemberton sent a flag of truce on July 3, Grant asked Logan to lead the Union troops into the city, naming him temporary commander. Logan appointed a com­mittee to distribute provisions and rebuild the city. He then received a furlough. During his convalescence at home he spoke out supporting the war, claiming the conflict could end within 90 days if the North stood united.

After Logan returned to Vicksburg in September, portions of his command were detached to combat Rebel raiders in Louisiana and irregulars in Mississippi. When Grant was elevated to lieutenant general and general-in-chief on March 3, 1864, Sherman succeeded him as commander in the West. McPherson received command of the Army of the Tennessee, with Logan as the XV Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge the XVI commander and Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair Jr. the XVII Corps commander. Logan’s XV Corps consisted of the divisions of Maj. Gens. Peter J. Osterhaus (1st Division), Morgan L. Smith (2nd), John E. Smith (3rd), and William Harrow (4th), with 16,973 men. The 3rd Division was dispatched to Alabama on garrison duty. Grant charged Sherman with destroying the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston, who had succeeded General Braxton Bragg. Sherman’s force consisted of the Army of the Tennessee under McPherson, the Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas and the Army of the Ohio under John M. Schofield.

McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee led Sherman’s advance through Georgia. With the XV Corps in the van, the Union army attempted to swing around Johnston’s left flank in a series of marches aimed at cutting Johnston’s communications and forcing the Rebels onto unfavorable ground. Logan’s corps shelled Resaca between May 10 and 13. On May 14, the XV Corps pushed the Confederates back, inflicting Southern losses of 1,500 killed and wounded. Logan’s XV Corps lost 102 killed, 502 wounded and 14 missing. Johnston was forced to retreat as the Union army extended around his left flank. Sherman continued to advance and drew battle at Adairsville (May 17) and New Hope Church (May 25-26), with Johnston retreating when the Federals threatened his supply lines.

Logan was slightly wounded at Dallas on May 28 when his position was attacked by Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s Corps. The XV and XVI Corps under Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge managed to hold the line against Hardee. Confederate losses in that struggle exceeded 2,000 men, while Logan’s corps lost 476 killed, wounded and captured.

On June 5, the Union cavalry occupied Allatoona Pass. With the infantry close behind, Johnston continued on toward Atlanta, entrenching around Marietta, Ga., on June 9. Sherman approached the Confederates and extended his line to envelope Johnston’s left flank. Johnston then withdrew to Kennesaw Mountain on June 18 and 19.

Sherman ordered the Army of the Tennessee to attack the Confederates on Kennesaw Mountain on June 20. After Logan commenced the charge at 8 a.m., the XV Corps faced a steep climb against a fortified position that was supported by artillery. They secured several rows of rifle pits near the bottom of the mountain, suffering heavy losses, including 80 killed, 506 wounded and 17 missing.

Sherman forced Johnston to abandon Marietta on July 3. Once Johnston was entrenched behind Peachtree Creek, Sherman ordered McPherson’s army from the Union right to the left. The Army of the Tennessee crossed the Chattahoochee River on July 15. Logan attacked the Georgia Railroad on July 18 and was within five miles of Atlanta on the 19th. Meanwhile Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, who attacked almost immediately but was repulsed by the Army of the Cumberland on July 20.

Hood then shifted his focus to the Army of the Tennessee, sending Hardee’s troops to at­tack the Union left flank. Har­dee attacked the XVI Corps, driving it back. As he rode forward to reconnoiter the enemy position, McPherson was shot and killed. Sherman then tapped Logan to assume command of the Army of the Tennessee.

Logan organized the troops, centering the defense on Bald Hill. When Hardee struck again, he couldn’t dislodge the stubborn Union defense led by Logan, who exhorted his men, “McPherson and revenge, boys, McPherson and revenge.” The corps launched a counterattack—chanting “Black Jack”—that won the day, though skirmishing continued through that evening. Logan later credited his men for that victory, writing, “The Confederates failed due to the lateness of the attack, but more than that to the splendid bravery and tenacity of the men and the skill of the officers of the Army of the Tennessee.”

Logan’s corps had been instrumental in the advance toward Atlanta, and had inflicted far more casualties than it had suffered. Several senior officers from Army of the Tennessee endorsed him for promotion. But Sherman, distrustful of political generals—and advised by Thomas not to elevate Logan—eventually settled on Maj. Gen. Oliver Howard to lead the Army of the Tennessee. Hooker, Sherman’s senior corps commander, resigned in disgust.

Sherman wrote in his memoirs, “I regarded Logan and Blair as volunteers that looked to personal fame and glory as auxiliary and secondary to their politi­cal ambition, and not as professional soldiers.” He also felt political generals were too prone to return home or to Washington. Logan, devastated, considered resigning, but decided his duty lay with the men of the XV Corps.

Hood struck again at Ezra Church on July 28. The XV Corps beat back five Confederate attacks, losing more than 550 men. Howard said of Logan, “The general commanding the XV Corps was indefatigable, and the success of the day is as much attributable to him as to any man.”

By that time the press had begun to lionize Logan. In a letter to his wife, he wrote, “Were I from West Point these two fights (Atlanta and Ezra Church) would make me more reputation than Sherman ever had before the campaign, but I do not expect it.”

Schofield’s Army of the Ohio was charged with cutting the railroad line between East Point and Atlanta. They crossed Utoy Creek on August 2 and assaulted the Confederate defenses on the 6th, but were repulsed with heavy losses. The two armies then settled into siege warfare.

Sherman decided to cut and hold the railroad lines, believing Hood would have to evacuate without supplies. On August 25, Sherman sent six infantry corps to attack the Macon & Western Railroad. Logan’s XV Corps, with the divisions under Osterhaus, Harrow and Maj. Gen. William Hazen, moved west and then south, attacking near Jonesboro on August 30. Hardee counterattacked with two corps on August 31, but failed to dislodge the overwhelming Union force. With his supply lines cut, Hood was forced to evacuate Atlanta on September 1.

On September 21, at the behest of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Congressman Elihu Washburne, Logan turned the XV Corps command over to Maj. Gen. Osterhaus and returned to Illinois to stump for Lincoln. His former enemies now praised his efforts to preserve the Union, but Logan excoriated all those who criticized the war as treasonous secessionists, saying, “I will act with no party who is not in favor of my country and must refuse to support the nominees of the Chicago convention [the George B. McClellan platform].”

Early in December Logan traveled to City Point, Va., to confer with Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant. At that point Hood had marched the Confederate Army of Tennessee through Tennessee and was besieging Nashville. Despite Grant’s pleas to attack, Thomas claimed that the wintry weather prohibited movement. After Grant dispatched Logan to relieve Thomas on December 13, Thomas finally went into action on December 15, chasing Hood’s army from the state over the next two days.

Logan telegraphed Grant on December 17, requesting permission to return to the XV Corps. His corps would partici­pate in Sherman’s March through the Carolinas, reaching Columbia on February 2. General Joseph Johnston’s amalgamated Confederate army started a fight at Bentonville on March 19. The Union army forced Johnston to retreat, after which Sherman turned north and was preparing to enter Virginia on April 5 when news came of Richmond’s capture. Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, and Johnston soon followed suit, surrendering to Sherman on April 26.

Finally named Army of the Tennessee commander on May 23, Logan was at its head during the Grand Review of the Army of the West on May 25. He did not resign from military service until July 28, following the birth of his son.

Logan returned to Congress in 1867 and the Senate in 1871. In 1884 he served as presidential candidate James G. Blaine’s running mate on the Republican ticket, losing to Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Hendricks.

As commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic Logan issued General Orders No. 11, helping to establish the celebration of Memorial Day: “The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for…decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion….”

John A. Logan had proved himself an extremely competent general, playing a pivotal role in all the war’s Western campaigns. After his death on December 12, 1886, he was buried in Washington, D.C.

Paul F. Bradley writes from Yardley, Pa. For additional reading, try: John A. Logan: Stalwart Republican From Illinois, by James Pickett Jones.

8 Responses to Black Jack John Logan Goes to War

  1. Chris Yoars says:


    You may be interested in this documentary I produced a couple years back about John A. Logan. I have it uploaded here:

    Hope you enjoy it!


  2. Pete Piotrowski says:

    Why do we not here about the other General from Southern Illinois? John B. Turchin who allowed the Rape of Athens Alabama and preached Total War on the south, before Generals Sheridan, Sherman and Grant. There was two sides to the War for Southern Independance. I have heard so many times that Fort Sumpter was fired upon and the Civil War started. They never talk about the 4 months of negoations before the fireing on fort Sumpter, or that Lincoln had sent reinforcements against the Govenor’s Order that it not be reinforced or that Mafor Robert Anderson moved his troops by cover of night from the main land to the island on which Fort Sumpter is located. The North invaded the South, with armed aggression. Lincoln declared war on the south without the consent of congress, and trampled all over Constitutional Rights. Freedom of Speech was denied, news papers North & South were shut down if they spoke out, citizens were banished form ther homes. I see no glory in the north winning the war, the southern’s were defending their homes. Not all southern’s were slave owners. The North didn’t want the Slaves, they had laws prohibiting them in there towns. Illinois had over 500 Sundown towns. After the war many former slaves stayed on the farms working for their former masters as share croppers. Slavery was on the way out, Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin which before was very labor intensive and the seeds had to be seperated by hand. There were many countries that had slavery and ended it without going to war. History books are written by the winners but, now, more and more of the truth about the war is being told, there are two sides to any argument.

    • natalie says:

      you r right Pete about the the north generals !! right now they are concentrating on the south !! that is not bad but we need more areas focus on !!!! all of the minor soldiers who did go home and who didnt with papers and documents 2 show the history AND what was later n their lifes! always very interesting !!

  3. E says:

    So Pete, if those negotiations were going so well, why would Southerners object to supplies being delivered to the fort? (under Lincoln’s order, no reinforcements/weapons were being sent–just provisions)

    Or, perhaps the North should just let the garrison starve/die of disease, and then the Confederates would take the fort?

    Or, should the siezure of Ft Sumter have been allowed when it still belonged to the Federal government, was paid for by the Federal government, and was built to protect the NATION from attack by foreign nations?

    Near as I can tell from your somewhat literate rant, you believe slavery should have been allowed to disappear slowly, under the watchful eyes of people who somehow found the practice to be perfectly normal and just under God’s law. North and South would have been just fine with the South’s unlawful siezure of Federal lands and material, and the current greatness of our nation could have been achieved by both??

    The South left Lincoln little option but to enact the restrictions he did, and frankly, total war, where every citizen has a part and sacrifice in conducting it, is the only way nations win wars–an ugly, but true thing. Our own history has proven this. Our failure to conduct total war has resulted in losing or stalemate in every war, or to be politically correct, “conflict”, we have engaged in since World War II. During WWII, I think you’d find FDR enacted many of the same tramplings of our Constitution so we could win that war. Thanks to our buddy Stalin, a shame it was largely for naught in the end.

    OK, somehow I’ve got myself into the Cold War, so I’ll stop now. Just try to recognize that regardless of who was right in starting the war, what is and should be glorified is the abolishment of slavery, and it was the North’s victory, the saving of the Union, that enabled the ending of this abhorent practice! Glory, Glory Hallelujah!

  4. Pete Piotrowski says:

    “The victors write the history, the lossers write the songs”. If the great oritor Mr Lincoln would have not rushed into war against his own people, and killed 620,000 citizens, black and white, and set this country back 40 years, and got us an income tax that we are still paying. Slavery has been around for a long time and is still going today. There is plenty of blame to go around for slavery, which started in 1619 in this country. Their own people sold them into slavery, The north had slaves, they sold them to the south. The war was not about slavery, it was about states rights to govern themselves, it was about economics and politics. Thomas Jefferson said “We have a Wolf by the ears and can’t let go” when he was talking about slavery. The northern factories worked women and children in factories for long hours unttil child labor laws had to be passed. Some Historians said if the North would have left the South alone, they would have been back in the union within a year. I am a vetern of two wars myself, and there is no glory in war only death and destruction. As far as the south seizure of Federal land, the south gave the land to the federal govenment to start with. Virginia turned over her lands to them and some of the others. The south was out numbered 2 to 1, even at that they killed 100,000 more men then the north, defending their homes. There is much more but I will close for now.

    • E says:

      Pete, I have no idea what you are trying to say…so I’ll try to dissect:

      How do you pin 620K deaths on just the North? If Southern political leaders wanted to peacefully secede, why did they prompt the first shots on Federal property? What the heck was so important about the fort, with its giant garrison of 70 or so people? Seems to me Lincoln, even if he was a war monger, would have had no pretence to build an army if they didn’t fire on it.

      How did the war set us back 40 years? Where does 40 years come from? 40 years after the civil war, those elitist Southerners that supposedly would have phased slavery out all by themselves were viciously discriminating against Black Americans. Frankly, Northerners were just as bad, but not to the violent levels of the South. So you think they really had the mindset to let them be free?

      What does Jefferson have to do with this?

      What does child labor have to do with this?

      There are many more historians who suggest far worse theories for what would have happened if the South was allowed to secede, but the ones you suggest are right? Even if they came back within a year, you are saying it is OK for states to leave and come back whenever it suits them?? And that’s good for the nation???

      Southern states gave their land to the Federal government, so that means they can take it back, regardless of federal mission or investment to that land, whenever they want? Are you serious????

      I am also a veteran, but only of “conflicts”, I suppose we call our first encounter with Saddam the Gulf War, but that’s only because people think we won something I’m sure. I know well of death and destruction, and war does not bring glory–we do agree on something! But it does, in the hands of intelligent statesmen, bring an end to unjust behavior. Too bad we’ve been lacking in the intelligent statesment department for so long, I’ve seen too many men & women in uniform (and their families) suffer as a result.

      And the fact the South killed more than the North means what???

      over to you…

  5. Harper Harris says:

    I enjoyed Paul F. Bradleys’ Black Jack At War. but thought it was a shame the most viewed likeness of Logan was not used in the article. I am speaking of the Atlanta Cyclorama. It is billed as the world’s largest hanging oil painting and the longest continuously running show in the United States. In 1883 U.S.Major General and Senator John A. Logan commissioned a panorama painting to depict the Battle of Atlanta from the American Panorama Studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He paid the enormous sum of $53,000,a huge amount in the 1880’s! Originally called “Logan’s Great Battle”, the painting was intended to promote Logan’s campaign for Vice Presidency in 1884. The General never saw the completed work, he died December 26,1886. Ralling the Union troops on a black charger he is the largest and most prominent figure in the enormous painting and has been viewed by millions of people over the years. The Cyclorama was painted by 11 German.Austrian and Polish artists taking 22 mouths to complete. One of the many large painting touring the country as a kind of 19th -century Imax, it is considerd to be the best of the 27 Cyclorama’s left in the world.

  6. […] the numerous Union camps along its banks in Louisiana. At Lake Providence, he spoke to men of Maj. Gen. John A. “Black Jack” Logan‘s Division, seeking to recruit men to serve as officers in the newly-forming black regiments. […]

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