McClernand, John A.

Born: 1812-05-30 Breckinridge County, Kentucky

Died: 1900-09-20 Springfield, Illinois

In 1813, McClernand's parents moved the family to Shawneetown, Illinois Territory. He attended schools as a boy, and in 1829, McClernand began studying law with Shawneetown attorney Henry Eddy. In 1832, he became Eddy's law partner. That year, he volunteered in the Illinois militia fighting the Black Hawk War. Upon his return to Shawneetown, McClernand went into business as a trader along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In 1835, McClernand started a pro-Jackson newspaper called the Shawneetown Democrat and, the following year, he won election as a Democrat to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served until 1837. There he met Whig Party leader Abraham Lincoln, who became a lifelong friend.

Governor Thomas Carlin appointed McClernand commissioner and treasurer of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. McClernand served two more terms in the Illinois House of Representatives, from 1840 to 1843. In 1843, voters elected him to Congress, and he won reelection three times. In 1851, he left Congress and returned to his law practice and, after moving to Jacksonville, he went into business as a land speculator. McClernand became a leader in the Illinois Democratic Party but had a dispute with Stephen A. Douglas over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1855, he was chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and, that year, he moved to Springfield. There, McClernand formed a law partnership with Elliott B. Herndon. Throughout his law career, but especially after moving to Springfield, McClernand participated in many cases both with and against Abraham Lincoln. In 1857, McClernand rejoined the Douglas wing of the Democratic Party, and he supported Douglas against Lincoln for the Senate in 1858 and for the Presidency in 1860. In November 1859, McClernand was elected again to the U.S. Congress, and he won reelection in 1860.

Following the secession crisis, McClernand resigned from Congress to raise the "McClernand Brigade" in Illinois, and he received a commission as a brigadier general. McClernand spent the first year of the war under Ulysses S. Grant's command and participated in the capture of Fort Donelson. He was promoted to major general in 1862 and commanded a division at the Battle of Shiloh. In late 1862, McClernand traveled to Washington, D.C. and requested an independent command to move against Vicksburg, which Edwin M. Stanton granted. This irritated Grant, who was leading his own troops against Vicksburg, and he purposefully united his forces with McClernand's in early 1863 to assume ultimate command. McClernand remained under Grant's command throughout the campaign, although he frequently tried to use his political connections to have Grant removed. Grant eventually relieved McClernand during the siege of Vicksburg. Lincoln returned McClernand to command in 1864, although his role remained limited due to poor health. McClernand resigned from the army near the end of 1864.

Richard L. Kiper, Major General John A. McClernand: Politician in Uniform (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1999); Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1470; Gravestone, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL; For cases involving Lincoln and McClernand, search Participant, "McClernand, John A.," Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.