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