List of United States Presidents by military rank

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The United States Constitution names the President of the United States the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces. Many Presidents, however, also served in the military before taking office.

Table of United States Presidents by military rank[edit]

General of the Armies[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
1General of the Armies of the United StatesVirginia militia, Continental Army, United States ArmyGeorge Washington[1][2]French and Indian War, Revolutionary WarServed in the Virginia militia (1752–1758), attaining the rank of colonel; served as commander in chief of the Continental Army (1775–1783) during the Revolutionary War, with the rank of "General and Commander in Chief." Washington was a Lieutenant General in the United States Army at his death. In 1976, as part of the Bicentennial, then-president Gerald R. Ford posthumously appointed Washington as General of the Armies of the United States and specified that he would forever rank above all officers of the Army, past, present and future. The rank of General of the Armies is considered senior to General of the Army, and has been bestowed on only two officers in history, John J. Pershing, in 1919 for his services in World War I, and George Washington for his service as the first Commanding General of the United States Army. (An equivalent rank, Admiral of the Navy, was given to George Dewey.)

General of the Army[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
2General of the ArmyUnited States Army (Regular army)Dwight D. EisenhowerSupreme Commander of the Allied Invasion of Europe, primarily the Battles for Normandy, France and Germany World War II.Graduated West Point; served 1915–1952. Served stateside during World War I and as Supreme Allied Commander during World War II.


Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
3General of the ArmyUnited States Army (Regular Army)Ulysses S. GrantMexican-American War and Civil WarGraduated West Point; first Lieutenant General since Washington, appointed as four-star General of the Army in 1866.

Major general[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
4Major GeneralNorth Carolina Militia, Tennessee Militia, United States ArmyAndrew JacksonRevolutionary War, Creek War, War of 1812, First Seminole War.Served at age 13 as a militia messenger during the Revolutionary War; was captured, becoming the only President to have been held as a prisoner of war (Washington had surrendered in the French and Indian War but was immediately paroled); served in the War of 1812, attaining the rank of major general and became a national hero after his success at the Battle of New Orleans.
United States ArmyWilliam H. HarrisonNorthwest Indian War, War of 1812Dates of service: 1791–1798, 1812–1814. Became national hero after success at the Battle of the Thames.
Zachary TaylorWar of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, and Mexican-American War,Became a national hero because of his achievements in the Mexican-American War.
Brevet Major General of VolunteersUnited States Army (volunteers)Rutherford B. HayesCivil WarSuccessful leadership in Virginia/West Virginia region; wounded at the Battle of South Mountain
Major General of VolunteersJames A. GarfieldHis heroic ride at the Battle of Chickamauga later helped him to be elected President.

Brigadier general[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
9Brigadier General of VolunteersUnited States Army (State militia, New Hampshire)Franklin PierceMexican-American WarServed in New Hampshire Militia from 1831 to 1847 and attained the rank of Colonel. Appointed to command 9th Infantry Regiment during Army expansion for Mexican-American War. Subsequently promoted to Brigadier General and command of a brigade.
9Brigadier General of VolunteersUnited States ArmyAndrew JohnsonAppointed Military Governor of Tennessee during Civil War with rank of Brigadier General.Served in the 90th Regiment of Tennessee Militia in 1830s. Later appointed Colonel.
9Quartermaster General, Inspector GeneralNew York State MilitiaChester A. ArthurNon-combatant service during Civil WarDates of service: 1857–1863. Joined militia as Judge Advocate of 2nd Brigade. Appointed Quartermaster General on Governor's staff, and later appointed Inspector General. Offered command of brigade raised in New York City, but Governor declined to allow him to leave state service. Left service in 1863 after new Governor appointed a successor.
9Brevet Brigadier General of VolunteersUnited States Army (State militia, Indiana)Benjamin HarrisonCivil WarBattle of Perryville
Atlanta Campaign
Battle of Nashville


Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
13ColonelVirginia militia, Albemarle CountyThomas JeffersonNoneLike other Virginia gentlemen, he had militia duties, and did administrative work
Virginia militia, Orange CountyJames MadisonNone, served between 1775-1781 during the Revolutionary War. Also see Service Notes.Left militia to enter Virginia legislature. (Some sources claim Madison briefly assumed command of an artillery battery during the British assault on Washington during the War of 1812. If true, he would join Washington (Whiskey Rebellion) as having seen military service as commander-in-chief.)
State militia, TennesseeJames K. PolkNo war serviceCaptain in a cavalry unit beginning in 1821. Subsequently appointed Colonel on staff of Governor William Carroll.
United States Army (State militia, New York National Guard, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment aka the Rough Riders).Theodore RooseveltSpanish American WarCommissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the New York National Guard's 8th Regiment in 1882. Company commander with rank of Captain when he resigned in 1886. Famous for charge up San Juan Hill. Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. As ex-president, volunteered for service in World War I, but President Wilson declined.
United States Army (National Army)Harry S. TrumanWorld War IServed 1905–1911, then in World War I, 129th Field Artillery (1917–1919), Army Reserves (1919–1953)[3]


Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
18CommanderUnited States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve)Lyndon B. JohnsonWorld War IIAwarded Silver Star medal by General Douglas MacArthur for his role as an observer on a B-26 bomber mission.[4][5] (Controversial.).[6][7]
18CommanderUnited States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve)Richard NixonWorld War IIServed 1942–1945 on various islands in the South Pacific and Commanded SCAT units in the South Pacific.[8]

Major / lieutenant commander[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
20MajorContinental Army, Virginia State TroopsJames MonroeRevolutionary WarDates of service: 1776–1779. Crossed the Delaware River with Washington (he is holding the flag in the famous painting); wounded in the Battle of Trenton. As Secretary of State during the War of 1812, scouted and deployed troops during the British invasion of Washington.
20Brevet Major of VolunteersUnited States Army (Volunteers)William McKinleyCivil WarServed in the Army of the Potomac, originally with the 23rd Ohio Infantry same as President Rutherford B. Hayes. First major engagement in West Virginia in 1861 and was present at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
20Lieutenant CommanderUnited States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve)Gerald FordWorld War IIYears of service: 1942–1946. Served on USS Monterey. Earned 10 battle stars.[9][10]
20Major47th Brigade, New York Militia, Union Continentals (home guard)Millard FillmoreNone, Mexican-American War, Civil WarYears of service: 1820s-1830s, 1860s-1870s

Captain / lieutenant[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
24CaptainState militia, Virginia.John TylerWar of 1812Raised a company for the defense of Richmond in 1813
24LieutenantUnited States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve)John F. KennedyWorld War IICommanded a PT boat. Earned Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in the PT-109 Incident.[11]
24LieutenantUnited States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve)Jimmy Carter[12][13]None, USNA Midshipman during World War II, served during Korean War, but never sent to KoreaYears of service: 1946–1953. Graduated 59th in class of 1946 out of 820, United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Submarine service (Nuclear Specialist)
24CaptainUnited States Army (U.S. Army Reserve)Ronald ReaganNone, served during World War IIServed as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve; served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, attaining the rank of captain. Was barred from combat because of poor eyesight. Narrated pre-flight training films under the Army Air Forces Motion Picture Unit.

First lieutenant / lieutenant, junior grade[edit]

Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
29Lieutenant, Junior GradeUnited States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve)George H. W. Bush[14]World War IISecond[15] youngest pilot in the United States Navy during World War II (Three days before turning 19).[14] Earned Distinguished Flying Cross.
29First LieutenantTexas Air National GuardGeorge W. BushNone, served during the Vietnam War but never sent to South VietnamHe performed Air National Guard duty as an F-102 pilot through April 1972, logging 336 hours, when he lost his authorization to be a pilot for failing to meet attendance and physical examination requirements.[16] He was later discharged eight months short of his six-year service requirement.[17]


Rank orderHighest rankBranchPresidentCombat experienceService notes
31PrivateUnited States Army (State militia, Pennsylvania)James BuchananWar of 1812Joined volunteer light dragoon unit and served in defense of Baltimore. Only future President with military service who did not serve as an officer.
31PrivateState militia, Illinois.Abraham LincolnDid not experience combat but served during Black Hawk War burying the dead shortly after battles ended.Initially elected to the officer rank of Captain, but was mustered in and out of service during the Black Hawk War, going from Captain to the enlisted rank of Private and finishing his service in an independent spy company commanded by Captain Jacob Early. Honorably discharged without seeing combat. Also served in Stillman's Run and Battle of Kellogg's Grove.

Did not serve[edit]

PresidentService notes
John AdamsNone. Adams served as chairman of the Continental Congress's Board of War (1776–1777), making him the simultaneous equivalent of today's Secretary of Defense and Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee.

He did, however, take an active part in a naval battle against the British merchantman, Martha, on March 10, 1778; while in transit to France aboard the 24-gun frigate Boston. The ship's Captain, Samuel Tucker, later related the story that during the thick of the battle, he had discovered Adams "among my marines accoutered as one of them and in the act of defense."[18]

John Quincy AdamsNone.
Martin Van BurenNone.
Grover ClevelandNone. He was drafted during the Civil War, but paid $150 for a substitute (a legal option under the terms of the Enrollment Act of 1863, and his substitute survived the war).
William H. TaftNone. He was Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1904 to 1908. Taft also joined a Connecticut Home Guard unit during World War I.
Woodrow WilsonNone. Served as President during World War I.
Warren G. HardingNone.
Calvin CoolidgeNone.
Herbert HooverNone. He served in a private humanitarian capacity as a civilian in Europe during World War I. He was also involved in the Siege of Tientsin during the Boxer Rebellion as a guide for U.S. Marines.
Franklin D. RooseveltNone. He attempted to join the Navy during the Spanish-American War but was unable as he contracted measles. Served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 and through World War I; when the U.S. entered the war in 1917 he offered his resignation so that he could apply for a commission in the Navy, but was refused by the President. Witnessed fighting in World War I. In a post World War I publication "Harvard in the War" he is listed among the Harvard's contributors to World War I effort. He served as President during World War II.
Bill ClintonNone. He received a 2-A student draft deferment during the Vietnam War, and later registered for the draft. He received a high draft number, was not drafted and did not serve.
Barack ObamaNone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ wikisource:Public Law 94-479
  2. ^ wikisource:Order 31-3 Department of the Army Order Number 31-3 of 13 March 1978
  3. ^ "Military Personnel File of Harry S. Truman". Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved 1 January 2009. 
  4. ^ American Warriors Home Page
  5. ^ Commander Lyndon B. Johnson, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  6. ^ Caro, Robert (1982). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-49973-5. The most you can say about Lyndon Johnson and his Silver Star is that it is surely one of the most undeserved Silver Stars in history, because if you accept everything that he said, he was still in action for no more than 13 minutes and only as an observer. Men who flew many missions, brave men, never got a Silver Star. 
  7. ^ Tillman, Barrett and Sakaida, Henry. "LBJ’s Silver Star: The Mission That Never Was". Retrieved 2009-03-22. The fact is LBJ never got within sight of Japanese forces. 
  8. ^ Commander Richard M. Nixon, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  9. ^ Specials
  10. ^ Lieutenant Commander Gerald R. Ford, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  11. ^ Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USN from the Naval Historical Center
  12. ^ Jimmy Carter's Naval Service record from the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum
  13. ^ Lieutenant James Earle Carter, Jr., USN from the Naval Historical Center
  14. ^ a b Lieutenant Junior Grade George Bush, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  15. ^ Ryder, Robert Randall "My War Chuck Downey Youngest Naval Aviator in WWII." Sea Classics, August 2013. "Off he went for training in Memphis, Tenn., before heading to Pensacola, Fla., for flight school, where he was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on July 16, 1943. Downey was the tender age of 18 years, 11 months, and 14 days when he earned his wings."
  16. ^ "Democratic Group's Ad Revives "AWOL" Allegation Against Bush". Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  17. ^ Roane, Kit R. "Bush's military service in question – again (9/8/04)". Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  18. ^ McCullough, David (2001). John Adams. Simon & Schuster. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-4165-7588-7. Of the part Adams had played in the action, Tucker was to speak warmly, and later confirm how, at the height of the fray, he had discovered Adams "among my marines accoutered as one of them and in the act of defense." ]

External links[edit]