The first official Memorial Day in 1868 was held to honor fallen Civil War soldiers. The national day of remembrance, May 30, was declared by John A. Logan in his role as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a veterans' group for Union soldiers.
John A. Logan was born in Jackson County in southern Illinois. He fought in the Mexican-American War in 1847. He then earned a law degree and was elected first to the Illinois House of Representatives, then to the U.S. House. He left Congress to fight in the Civil War. He organized the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry for the Union. Through leadership at many important battles, Logan rose to the rank of general.
After the war, Logan returned to Congress and served in both the House and Senate for several terms. He was also a GAR leader for several years. He died in 1886. The area that now includes Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood was annexed to Chicago in 1889, and the neighborhood was named for John A. Logan.
To learn more about Logan's life and career, visit Special Collections. You can read Logan's own words through his writings and speeches:
You can also find a unique perspective in Reminiscences of A Soldier's Wife, the memoir of Mary Logan, longtime wife to John.
For more on the history of the 31st Illinois, check out History, 31st Regiment Illinois Volunteers.
For a brief overview of Logan's life and legacy, see General John A. Logan: His Life and Times, and for a more scholarly examination of his post-Civil War contributions to history, read John A. Logan, Stalwart Republican From Illinois.