John A. Logan was the son of Dr. John Logan, an Irish immigrent who arrived in the US in about 1861. His son was born near what is now Murphysboro, Jackson County, Illinois. He had no schooling until age 14; he then studied for three years at Shiloh College, served in the Mexican-American War as a second lieutenant in the 1st Illinois Infantry, studied law in the office of an uncle, graduated from the Law Department of the University of Louisville in 1851, and practiced law with success.
Logan entered politics as a Douglas Democrat, was elected county clerk in 1849, served in the State House of Representatives from 1853 to 1854 and in 1857; and for a time, during the interval, was prosecuting attorney of the Third Judicial District of Illinois. In 1858 and 1860, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Logan served in the Western Theater and was present at the Battle of Belmont, where his horse was killed, and at Fort Donelson, where he was wounded. He was promoted to brigadier general, as of March 21, 1862 and was promoted to major general in November of that year.
After the war, he resumed his political career, now as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives, in which he served from 1867 to 1871, and of the United States Senate from 1871 until 1877 and again from 1879 until his death in 1886. Logan was a staunch partisan who was identified with the radical wing of the Republican Party and was one of the managers in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.
Memorial Day was begun as a way to honor America's Civil War dead and was only recognized as a federal holiday in 1971. The day has its origins in the south where family members and veterans groups practiced of decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers.
In 1868, Logan proclaimed a national "Day of Memory" to be held at Arlington National Cemetery. At the first ceremony, the general said the practice of commemorating grave sites was a way of "preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and Marines who united to suppress the late rebellion. What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic," he said.
His war record and his great personal following, especially in the Grand Army of the Republic, contributed to his nomination for Vice President in 1884 on the ticket with James G. Blaine, but they were not elected. For this campaign, he commissioned the painting of the Atlanta Cyclorama, which emphasized his heroism in the Battle of Atlanta.
When he died in 1886, his body lay in state in the United States Capitol. He was buried at United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery. In or about 1885, Logan, who lived in a rented property at 1114 G Street NW, purchased a mansion in what is now Mount Pleasant neighborhood. The property had been built by sculptor and engraver named William J. Stone in 1835. Prior to that the property had been the center of the prominent Peter family’s thousand-acre estate here. During the Civil War, the house served as a hospital. In 1881 Senator John Sherman bought 121 acres, then laid out a subdivision between 11th and 14th Streets. The Logan’s followed, purchased the Stone mansion and renamed it Calumet Place on what is now Logan's Circle (Not Logan Circle, Originally called "Iowa Circle," Logan was renamed by Congress in 1930, one of the homes on Logan circle belonged to Ulysses S. Grant.)
When Logan died, his wife Mary, an editor of the "Home Magazine," published in Washington, was unable to make payments on the estate. Logan’s friends in Chicago voluntarily raised enough money to pay off the estate. Later, Mary rented the property too Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.
Logan Circle, with its equestrian statue of the general (another stands in Chicago's Grant Park.) was named in his honor.