Most Americans won't be thinking about Gen. John Alexander Logan on Memorial Day.
They may listen to speeches, enjoy a long weekend, perhaps lay wreaths. Some holiday drivers may even cruise the circle that bears Logan's name in Northwest Washington, but the general probably won't top anyone's list of heroes.
Pretty shoddy treatment for the guy who ordered the first Memorial Day observance.
The national custom of honoring all war dead began during the Civil War, according to the National Geographic Society. Southern women had apparently decorated the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers killed in battle, and Yankees were so impressed by the custom that they continued it.
Enter Logan, an Illinois farmboy who was elected to the House of Representatives, fought for the Union and became commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans.
After the war ended, Logan issued Order No. 11 from GAR headquarters on May 5, 1868. The order set May 30 as an annual date for "strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades . . . whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard of the land." The proclamation concluded: "Let no ravages of time testify to coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided Republic."
Two future presidents attended the first official observance of what was then called Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery: Ulysses S. Grant and James A. Garfield, who delivered the address.
Logan remained active in politics, returning to the House and later to the Senate. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1884, but won the No. 2 spot on the ticket with James G. Blaine, who lost to Grover Cleveland. Logan was a U.S. senator when he died in Washington the day after Christmas 1886.
A statue of Logan atop his horse was commissioned by act of Congress in 1889, and erected on Logan Circle two years later.
But if you want to honor the man who got you a day off this week, you won't find Logan at Logan Circle, Arlington or Congressional Cemetery. Nor is he resting in Rock Creek Cemetery, where the history books have him buried. (Sgt. William Reeve of Fort Myer says Logan was interred there once, but only temporarily.) No, his family footed the bill and erected the only mausoleum on the grounds of the Soldiers' and Airmen's National Cemetery in the District for him. His remains rest there today.