12 U.S. Presidents Reached the Military Rank of General

Non Sibi Sed Patriae "Not for self, but for country."

By longstanding custom, on President’s Day (February 22) Navy ships on the Potomac passing George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon man the rail and salute our nation’s first President, who became Commander in Chief after he was General in Chief of the Army of the United States.

Eleven other U.S. Presidents wore general’s silver stars on their military uniform. Washington leads the list as General of the Armies of the United States, a title posthumously awarded by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 as part of our Country’s bicentennial celebration.

Washington’s successors, by rank seniority, who also served as general officers before gaining our Country’s highest elective office, were:

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower. As Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, “Ike” served two terms as President during a time when the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was heating up.
  • Ulysses S. Grant. Our country’s first four-star General of the Army, Grant, was a relentless Union leader and immensely popular (in the North, that is) following the Civil War. He served two terms, but his administration was riddled with scandal and corruption. Nevertheless, years later, when word spread that he was dying of throat cancer, Grant was gratified over the expression of sympathy and good wishes, even from his former enemies down South.
  • Andrew Jackson. ?Old Hickory? attained the rank of Major General (2 stars) after heading the successful defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Considered the first populist President, Jackson’s rowdy and drunken supporters nearly wrecked the White House during his first inauguration in 1829.

Other two-star future Presidents:

  • William Henry Harrison
  • Zachary Taylor
  • Rutherford B. Hays
  • James A. Garfield

One-star (Brigadier General):

  • Franklin Pierce
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Chester Arthur
  • Benjamin Harrison

Eighteen other presidents served as lower-ranking military officers. James Buchanan, however, was the only future president who enlisted in the Army and never became an officer. Abraham Lincoln, also born in February, mustered in and out of the Illinois militia during the 1832 Black Hawk War, first as a Captain and then as leaving as a private soldier.

Finally, a dozen presidents never served in the military in any capacity, the most recent being Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Military experience allows our Commander in Chief to have a clear understanding of the important role our Armed Services play in our Nation’s defense and security, as well as the sacrifice of our Military personnel and their families.

Something that seems to have been lost, as evidenced by the choices and decisions made by the current administration and Congress.