John Alexander McClernand

John Alexander McClernand, as much underestimated for his role as a politician and sustainer of the Union as he has veen vilified for his ineptness and intriguing as a military commander, was born in the Kentucky backwoods near Hardinsburg on May 30, 1812, but the family moved to Shawneetown, Illinois, when he was quite young. His career in many respects resembled that of Lincoln: he was largely self-educated, was admitted to the bar in 1832, took part in the Black Hawk War, was an Illinois assemblyman, and served a number of terms in Congress. During his years in Congress, his bombastic oratory, adherence to Jacksonian principles, and dislike of abolitionists made him the favorite of his constituents, many of whom, like himself, were natives of slave-holding states. In 1860 he was defeated for the speakership of the House of Representatives by a coalition which opposed his moderate sentiments on slavery and disunion. At this juncture as Civil War became a reality, McClernand, whose only previous military service had been that of a private from June to August, 1832, against Chief Black Hawk, became a brigadier general of volunteers, ranking from May 17, 1861a political selection by President Lincoln dictated by the need of holding southern Illinois Democrats to the Union cause. McClernand's chief failing as a troop commander, aside from inexperience, was his fatal proclivity to display the fruits of victory, no matter how garnered, upon his own standards. A major general from March 21, 1862, he played a subversive role in the army, seeking to supplant George B. McClellan in the East and criticizing U. S. Grant's maneuvers in the West. After conducting an expedition which reduced the Post of Arkansas in January, 1863, he commanded the XIII Corps in the operations against Vicksburg, and after a disastrous assault on the Confederate works there, he "furnished the press with a congratulatory order, extolling his men as the heroes of the campaign." This effusion broke the camel's back, and he was sent home by Grant, to the relief of the other corps commanders, W. T. Sherman and James B. McPherson. The following year, however, McClernand again commanded the XIII Corps by then widely dispersed in Louisiana and Texas. He retained this command until his resignation from the army on November 30, 1864. He resided in Springfield after the war. He retained his allegiance to the Democratic party and in 1876 served as chairman of the national convention which nominated Samuel J. Tilden. General McClernand died in Springfield, September 20, 1890, and was buried there.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.