- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2011

Maj. Gen. John Alexander “Black Jack” Logan, the father of Memorial Day, was also the father of a hero. Gen. Logan was a noted Union officer in the Civil War, and after the conflict served in Congress from Illinois and led the veteran’s organization the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). In the spring of 1868, his wife accompanied Gen. William T. Sherman on a tour of southern battlefields, and she noted that the Confederate graves were decorated with flowers. She suggested to her husband that Union soldiers who won the war deserved no less consideration, and Gen. Logan issued GAR General Order No. 11, which designated May 30 as Decoration Day, for “the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.” Congress formalized this observance as Memorial Day in 1871. 

Black Jack’s only son, John A. Logan Jr., wanted to follow in his father’s illustrious footsteps. Young Jack was born shortly after the Civil War ended and grew up playing with the children of his father’s politically influential circle of war heroes. Jack was a favorite of his father’s former commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and rode in the presidential carriage during Grant’s second presidential inauguration. Gen. Logan, after 1871 a senator, secured Jack an appointment to West Point in the Class of 1887, but Jack did not adjust well to the rigors of the academy and resigned after two years. In 1887, Jack married a young coal heiress, Miss Edith Andrews of Youngstown, Ohio. Together they raised three children, and Jack settled down to a life of privilege, breeding horses, traveling and hobnobbing with politicians and other influential family friends. 

Gen. Logan had died in 1886 at the age of 60, and young Jack never forgot his father’s desire for him to serve his country in uniform. He got his chance in 1898 when the United States went to war with Spain. Jack volunteered for service and was commissioned a captain on the staff of Gen. John C. Bates. He fought in the pivotal Battle of El Caney in Cuba, and was promoted to major for gallantry. Like many, he was afflicted with malaria during the war and spent months afterwards convalescing. 

It seemed as though Jack had done what he had set out to do, and his wife and mother hoped that he would return to civilian life. However, in the summer of 1899, when the Philippine Insurrection broke out in resistance to U.S. control of the archipelago that resulted from America’s victory against Spain, Jack returned to the colors as a major with the 33rd Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The unit sailed to the Philippines that fall. Upon arriving in Manila, Jack met Maj. Gen. Loyd Wheaton, who had served under his father in the Civil War. Wheaton attached the 33rd regiment to his command for his campaign against insurrectos led by rebel leader and putative Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo. 

On Nov. 11, 1899, American forces approached the Filipino army at the town of San Jacinto in northwest Luzon. Maj. Logan asked Gen. Wheaton to let the 33rd Infantry lead the attack, and the general assented. The regiment moved up a muddy road bisecting fields broken by irrigation ditches and rice paddies. Ahead of them were 1,200 entrenched Filipino troops. Maj. Logan was at the front leading his troops into enemy fire. As they neared the Filipino emplacements, the Americans began to take flanking fire from snipers hidden in the tops of coconut trees. A sergeant next to Jack was shot down. Maj. Logan bent over the man to render assistance and was felled by another sniper’s bullet. 

Gen. Wheaton went on to win a significant victory at San Jacinto, destroying Aguinaldo’s regular forces and forcing him to resort to guerilla warfare that would grind on for years. Sadly, though, the war was over for John A. Logan Jr. He was taken to a field hospital, where after hours of suffering, he succumbed to his wounds.  

Jack Logan’s remains were brought home to Youngstown where he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. His distraught young wife never remarried. President William McKinley, himself a combat veteran, said in a telegram to Edith that Jack’s “splendid qualities as a soldier, and high courage on the fighting line, have given him a place among the heroic men of the war, and it will be some consolation to you to know that he died for his country on the field of honor.” 

On May 3, 1902, John A. Logan Jr. was posthumously given the country’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. The citation read, “For most distinguished gallantry in leading his battalion upon the entrenchments of the enemy, on which occasion he fell mortally wounded.” Young Jack Logan grew up in the midst of heroes whose deeds were written high on the wall of fame. He could well have stayed on his Ohio horse farm with his family living a comfortable life, but as his mother wrote, he was determined to “add to the glory of the name he bore.” President McKinley told Mrs. Logan that “in that brief moment he immortalized himself more than he could have done had he lived fifty years.” And now every year, a flag marks Jack’s grave on the holiday that was his father’s solemn gift to America.