John Logan: Founder of Memorial Day

General John Logan. image courtesy of the Library of Congress

General John Logan (Courtesy of the Library of Congress).

One of the notable personalities buried in the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery is General John A. Logan (1826-1886). He is known for both a long career in politics, and distinguished accomplishments during the Civil War, serving in the Western Theater of the war under General Ulysses Grant. After the war, he was very active in Union veteran’s organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic, and was highly influential in the creation of Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day. He also served as a Congressman and Senator from Illinois. After his death in 1886, Logan lay in state at the Capitol before his burial at the Soldier’s Home National Cemetery.

General Logan's tomb in the Soldier' Home cemetery. image courtesy of the Library of Congress

General Logan’s tomb in the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery (Courtesy of the Library of Congress).

George Francis Dawson’s 1887 biography of General Logan, Life and Services of General John A. Logan: As Soldier and Statesman, describes the procession as it made its way to the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery. “At last the procession reached Rock Creek Church-yard…the casket, covered and surrounded by the beautiful floral tributes of the dead General’s friends, was left to the charge of a military guard furnished from the Veterans of the Soldiers’ Home.”

The area around the Soldiers’ Home, a place of sanctuary for President Lincoln, continued to have meaning for veterans well after the war was over. A year after Logan’s death, M.H. Devey wrote a memorial poem to General Logan, expressing the opinions of many who knew and admired General Logan. The poem, published by the Republican Print, of Chester, Pennsylvania recounts both his military and political career. Devery writes of Logan “A living monument he reared, Though hard his task, he never feared, Honored duty it to do, His life’s work it will last and live, A louder voice to us will give, Than stone memorials true.”

Though perhaps not the best poetry, Devey’s tribute nonetheless touches upon the purpose of the cemetery as a place to remember the dead through their sacrifices and accomplishments in life. Devey makes the point that although memorials to him are fitting, the “big ideas” he had in life and the services he performed on behalf of Union veterans, are more important.

In many ways, Lincoln’s legacy can be viewed in a similar manner. Although memorials to him abound across the country and indeed the world, it is Lincoln’s ideas and the decisions he made in life that make him worth remembering.


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