In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln's election as the nation's first Republican President ignited Southern fears that the country's new balance of political power threatened the institution of slavery in America. Within months, eleven Southern states declared their secession from the Union, and the long-simmering dispute over slavery erupted into hostilities that became the Civil War.
As President Lincoln struggled to preserve the Union, he found an unexpected ally in Congressman John Logan, a young but influential Democrat from Lincoln's own state of Illinois. Logan's district at the southern tip of Illinois bordered the slave states of Kentucky and Missouri; and Logan, like his constituency, held Southern sympathies. But the South's secession left Logan in no doubt as to where his duty lay. Logan saw secession as treason, and he crossed party lines to pledge unwavering support to the President and the Union cause.
For Lincoln, John Logan's passionate commitment to the Union would become a powerful asset, first politically and then on the field of battle. On both roles, Logan would reveal a rare combination of charisma and courage.
Logan's initial contributions came at home. In a campaign to sway wavering Illinois, Logan's fiercely compelling oratory provided crucial leadership in securing his state's allegiance to the Union cause. Then, having raised a regiment, Logan resigned from Congress, became a soldier, and led the 31st Illinois Volunteers to war.
Though not a military professional, Logan soon showed superb capabilities as a battlefield commander. In early fighting, Logan's inspirational leadership won the respect of General Ulysses Grant, who would rise to command the full Union army. In a February 1863 dispatch to President Lincoln, using words of praise he employed only rarely, Grant recorded his esteem for Logan. Stressing the Union's need for leaders who could "add weight to our cause...and give renewed confidence to a large number of brave soldiers," Gran wrote:
"Conspicuous...is Brig. Gen. J.A. Logan. He has proven himself a most valuable officer and worthy of every confidence... There is not a more patriotic soldier, braver man, or one more deserving of promotion."
In July 1863, Grant's confidence in Logan was vindicated as Union forces captured Vicksburg, the South's stronghold on the Mississippi River. For leadership and courage in this conquest, which split the Confederacy and became a turning point in the war, Logan won the Union army's supreme award, a Medal of Honor. By then, Logan had gained heroic stature among the men he led.
In the year ahead Logan remained in the fore as Union troops waged a grueling campaign across the South. But by July 1864, as the war entered its fortieth month, its slow progress and heavy toll had weakened public support for the Union cause, casting doubt over Lincoln's prospect for re-election. Then came the battle of Atlanta. There, with valor that became legendary, Logan seized fallen Union colors, rallied retreating Union forces and led them on to the city's capture. Throughout the North, this epic victory galvanized public morale and helped deliver Lincoln's re-election in November 1864. Five months later, the South surrendered at Appomattox.
John Logan's service as politician and soldier in the war to save the Union places him in the pantheon of America's greatest patriots. Later, Logan built on this legacy as a Republican Senator. Elected three times, he advocated for the needs of the many thousands of veterans he had helped to lead and became a champion of millions of new American citizens he had helped emancipate.