Streetwise Professor

July 23, 2022

Black Jack and West Point

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 3:11 pm

Yesterday I posted a thread on Twitter on the anniversary of one of the most fascinating battles of the Civil War, Hood’s Second Sortie AKA the Battle of Atlanta.

As say in the thread, and as I wrote about here in 2010, the performance of the Union Army of the Tennessee was extraordinary. It was assailed from front, flank, and rear, yet gamely hung on and repelled everything thrown at it. In my opinion, in the summer of 1864 the Army of the Tennessee was the finest fighting force of its size in the world. It was battle tried but not battle wearied. It had a core of veterans who had experienced nothing but victory, and had not suffered the debilitating casualties (especially among officers) that had made the Army of the Potomac and even the Army of Northern Virginia shadows of their 1862-1863 selves.

The last tweet in my thread was about General John “Black Jack” Logan, commander of the Army of the Tennessee’s XV Corps, who rallied the shattered center of his line and drove the Confederates back to their lines in Atlanta. (The image in the first tweet in the thread is Don Troiani’s depiction of the culmination of the counterattack, with the 66th Illinois (“Birge’s Sharpshooters”) recapturing the 20 pounder Parrot rifles of DeGress’ Battery H, 1st Illinois Light Artillery.)

James McPherson, the commander of the Army of the Tennessee, was killed during the fighting on 22 July. Logan was named as his replacement–but this was temporary. W. T. Sherman (my Twitter avi :P) distrusted Logan because he was a politician, not a West Pointer. So he named Oliver O. Howard (known to some cynics as “Uh-oh Howard”) as McPherson’s permanent replacement.

Logan was understandably bitter. He had fought with distinction with the Army of the Tennessee or its antecedents from Belmont in November, 1861 through Shiloh, the Vicksburg Campaign (playing a vital role at Champion Hill and the Siege), and the entire Atlanta Campaign. Howard, on the other hand, was a stranger, having come from the Eastern Theater only in October, 1863, and then serving in the Army of the Cumberland. Moreover, he had accumulated a record of failure in the East, seeing his XI Corps routed at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

But if they had had USMA class rings back then, Howard could have knocked one, and consequently he got the nod over the man who was likely the most accomplished political general of the war.

Major General John A. Logan

In the years after the war, Logan resumed his political career, and was a prominent Senator from Illinois and was the VP candidate on the (failed) Republican ticket in 1884.

During his Senate career, Logan was an outspoken critic of West Point (and the Naval Academy as well). As the leader of volunteers during the Civil War, and as a civilian soldier himself, he was a fervent supporter of Union veterans (being the second commander of the GAR and the moving force behind Memorial Day) and the ideal of the citizen soldier. He believed passionately that an army and navy of–and led by–motivated, patriotic, and talented civilians was far superior to one led by careerists churned out of the service academies.

Near the end of his life, he summarized–if that’s the right word to apply to a 682 page book–his case against the professional military, and professional military education, in his The Volunteer Soldier of America. He made many criticisms of the service academies, but the gravamen of his criticism was that the appointment system (in which every aspiring cadet or midshipman had to secure an appointment from a member of Congress-as is true to this day) meant that the officer corps was selected on the basis of political considerations, rather than merit or military talent. As a result, the military was dominated by unimaginative, unimpressive people. You know, like O. O. Howard. He was also deeply offended by preferences shown to regular officers in terms of pay and retirement benefits.

When you think about it, these are rather remarkable criticisms for a career politician to make. But Logan was extremely serious about them. And his criticisms were thoughtful ones, and backed with not a little evidence. But the real foundation of Logan’s brief was his experience in the Civil War leading volunteers (and arguably the most exceptional group of volunteers 1861-1865) while under the command of West Pointers. He was obviously highly unimpressed.

And understandably outraged at the slight of being supplanted by a plodding professional after almost three years of exceptional service, most notably on 22 July, 1864.

Although deprived of the command of the Army of the Tennessee for the March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign, Sherman did give Logan the honor of leading the army during its triumphal procession during the Grand Review in Washington in May, 1865. There, the throng of spectators marveled at Logan’s westerners, and remarked at their height, hardy appearance, and long loping strides (in contrast to the crisp easterners of the Army of the Potomac who had marched the day before).

Logan is third from the right, on the light horse.

Here is the New York Times account:

Immediately following was Maj.-Gen. JOHN A. LOGAN, the successor of Gen. HOWARD, in the command of the Army of the Tennessee, mounted on a superbly dapple grey stallion, which careered and plunged just enough to show the General’s fine horsemanship. LOGAN, with his firm set features, deep black moustache, and military bearing was marked for the most vociferous applause from the very moment his prancing steed appeared on the avenue.

Soon comes the head of the Fifteenth Corps, led by the accomplished HAZEN, the hero of Fort McAllister, and now all eyes turn upon the bronzed veterans while move by with steady, sturdy step. The magnificent physique of the men at once elicits the admiration of all; tall, broad-shouldered, stalwart men, the peasantry of the West — the best material in the whole world for armies. The brigades move by with elastic, springing step, in excellent order, and fully equal to the marching of yesterday, save that the intervals between brigades and divisions were longer, though the regiments themselves were kept well closed up. At the head of each brigade was a battalion of black pioneers, the simon pure contraband, in the garments he wore on the plantation, with shovel and axe on the shoulder, marching with even front, sturdy step and lofty air. The badge of the Fifteenth Corps (for the Western armies have also adopted this insignia) is a cartridge-box, half encircled by the words, “forty rounds.” It is just forty rounds more than is now needed. 

(Two of my ancestors, one in the XV Corps, the other in the XIV Corps, participated in the Review.)

As one of its foes–Joseph E. Johnston–said,  “I made up my mind that there had been no such army since the days of Julius Caesar. And every man, and virtually all of the officers, was a volunteer. John Logan thought that it was men such as those, not drones trained on The Plain at West Point, to whom America should trust its defense.

PS. I wrote this post in response to a suggestion from my friend Ty Kelly, who said I should edit Logan’s Wikipedia page to fill out the story in my last tweet. I thought the subject deserved a fuller treatment, hence the post.

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  1. Glad you took the time to write it Prof! Logan is an interesting figure. Sherman’s trust in West Pointers is somewhat understandable, but how he entrusted the command to a proven fuck-up like Howard is hard to understand. Logan’s celebration of the volunteers is understandable too but he was a man with military talent surrounded by the best performing volunteers of the federal army. Other politician generals not so good, Banks’ Red River campaign comes to mind.

    Btw I never realized South did as well in Atlanta as you describe. Logan was really a hero & sounds like repelling Hood’s best shot rendered loss of Atlanta a certainty. The what-if is, could Johnston have held out till election? Fall of Atlanta was a big win for Lincoln.

    Comment by Ty Kelly — July 23, 2022 @ 3:45 pm

  2. Thanks Prof. Always enjoy your dives into Civil War history.

    Comment by Donald Wolfe — July 24, 2022 @ 6:08 am

  3. My father’s experience in the army in the Second German War was that all the best officers he met were from the reserves or “civvy-street”. He had a poor impression of the professionals.

    I wonder whether his view would have differed if he’d been in the navy or the air force.

    Comment by dearieme — July 24, 2022 @ 8:20 am

  4. P.S. “which careered and plunged”: when did Americans start to misspell “career” as “careen”, and who started the habit?

    Comment by dearieme — July 24, 2022 @ 8:21 am

  5. When Thomas was slow as Nashville, Grant had given Logan orders to assume command of the Army of the CUmberland and other elements. But by the time he reached the theatre the decisive battle had already been fought.

    One note, sometimes I think John Bell Hood’s command of the Army around Atlanta is not given the credit it is due. He had solid tactical plans to beat the Union army at Peach Tree Creek and the second Battle of Atlanta. With a little better luck and a little better execution by his subordinate commanders he might have won a major strategic victory in either strike.

    Comment by MARK — July 24, 2022 @ 6:48 pm

  6. A question: Was the Army of the Tennessee & Sherman truly responsible for the burning of Atlanta?

    I ask this question because I went to a newer museum at Richmond, and they had a picture of Lincoln’s visit after the Union captured it. Richmond was completely burned, but not by the Union troops. The Confederate Army burned the city in its retreat to prevent any presumed gain of advantage from what ever was left behind. Found it interesting and curious that they would do that give how hopeless their cause was at that time and the obvious economic devastation caused by such actions.

    So did the Confederates burn Atlanta also in their retreat or actions?

    I did buy Sherman’s memoirs but haven’t had the time to start reading.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — July 25, 2022 @ 11:20 am

  7. “understandably outraged at the slight of being supplanted by a plodding professional after almost three years of exceptional service”

    I have read something similar about the Commonwealth forces in WW2. In north-west Europe, career officers from home with no experience or in some cases aptitude were routinely favoured for company, battalion and brigade commands over ‘hostilities-only’ officers who were merely very good at their jobs. The rationale was that the competent men weren’t staying post-war, so the plodders needed the sought-after command jobs to burnish their career credentials. The effectiveness of the formation does not seem to have been a consideration very often at all.

    There is an argument that the 19th century system of promotion by commission purchase rather than merit had produced better results. The quality of British army officers, especially senior ones, was arguably higher under the purchase system than the merit system produced. One can think of lots of able army commanders before the 20th century but only one or two good ones thereafter: Slim, Auchinleck.

    One could say the same about the US army – I rate Ridgway, and Eisenhower was a great coalition manager, but I am a Patton sceptic and the rest seem an uninspiring bunch. This could be more down to the studied interwar neglect of the US Army (18th largest in the world in 1939 IIRC) than to how it ran itself, to be fair.

    Did the early, Independence-era US army do commission purchase?

    Comment by Green as Grass — July 28, 2022 @ 6:44 am

  8. Have you seen “The Art and Science of War versus the Art of Fighting” by Robert Goldthwaite Carter? Carter enlisted as a private soldier in the 22nd Mass Volunteer Infantry in 1862 and was in most of the major actions of the Army of the Potomac after that. He entered West Point in the summer of 1865 and upon graduation was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 4th Cavalry stationed on the Texas frontier where he earned the Medal of Honor. He wrote several books about his experiences, but “The Art and Science…” was specifically about his experiences at West Point comparing what he was taught there to what he experienced in combat. In short, he considered what he learned growing up in the street gangs on the waterfront in Portland, Maine more useful than the time he spent with Dennis Hart Mahan.
    The book is available on line at
    A brief biography is available at Wikipedia at

    Comment by Paul Kenworthy — August 2, 2022 @ 7:27 pm

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