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 order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
1 General of the Armies of the United States Virginia militia, Continental Army, United States Army George Washington[1][2] French and Indian War, Revolutionary War Served 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 order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
2 General of the Army United States Army (Regular army) Dwight D. Eisenhower Supreme 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 order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
3 General of the Army United States Army (Regular Army) Ulysses S. Grant Mexican–American War and Civil War Graduated West Point; first Lieutenant General since Washington, appointed as four-star General of the Army in 1866.

Major general[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
4 Major General North Carolina Militia, Tennessee Militia, United States Army Andrew Jackson Revolutionary 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 Army William H. Harrison Northwest Indian War, War of 1812 Dates of service: 1791–1798, 1812–1814. Became national hero after success at the Battle of the Thames.
Zachary Taylor War 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 Volunteers United States Army (volunteers) Rutherford B. Hayes Civil War Successful leadership in Virginia/West Virginia region; wounded at the Battle of South Mountain
Major General of Volunteers James A. Garfield His heroic ride at the Battle of Chickamauga later helped him to be elected President.

Brigadier general[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
5 Brigadier General of Volunteers United States Army (State militia, New Hampshire) Franklin Pierce Mexican–American War Served 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.
Brigadier General of Volunteers United States Army Andrew Johnson Appointed 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.
Quartermaster General, Inspector General New York State Militia Chester A. Arthur Non-combatant service during Civil War Dates 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.
Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers United States Army (State militia, Indiana) Benjamin Harrison Civil War Battle of Perryville
Atlanta Campaign
Battle of Nashville


Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
6 Colonel Virginia militia, Albemarle County Thomas Jefferson None Like other Virginia gentlemen, he had militia duties, and did administrative work
Virginia militia, Orange County James Madison None, served between 1775 and 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.)
Continental Army, Virginia State Troops James Monroe Revolutionary War Dates 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. Returned to Virginia to recruit and lead a regiment as a militia Lieutenant Colonel, but the regiment was never raised. Commissioned as a Colonel during British invasion of Virginia in 1780 to command the militia raised in response and act as liaison to the Continental Army in North Carolina. Appointed As Secretary of State during the War of 1812, scouted and deployed troops during the British invasion of Washington.
State militia, Tennessee James K. Polk No war service Captain 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 Roosevelt Spanish–American War Commissioned 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.
Missouri Army National Guard, United States Army (National Army), United States Army Reserve Harry S. Truman World War I Served 1905–1911, then in World War I, 129th Field Artillery (1917–1919), Army Reserves (1919–1953)[3]


Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
7 Commander United States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve) Lyndon B. Johnson World War II Awarded Silver Star medal by General Douglas MacArthur for his role as an observer on a B-26 bomber mission.[4][5] (Controversial.).[6][7]
Commander United States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve) Richard Nixon World War II Served 1942–1945 on various islands in the South Pacific and Commanded SCAT units in the South Pacific.[8]

Major / Lieutenant commander[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
8 Brevet Major of Volunteers United States Army (Volunteers) William McKinley Civil War Served 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.
Lieutenant Commander United States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve) Gerald Ford World War II Years of service: 1942–1946. Served on USS Monterey. Earned 10 battle stars.[9][10]
Major 47th Brigade, New York Militia, Union Continentals (home guard) Millard Fillmore None, Mexican–American War, Civil War Years of service: 1820s–1830s, 1860s–1870s

Captain/Lieutenant (naval)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
9 Captain State militia, Virginia. John Tyler War of 1812 Raised a company for the defense of Richmond in 1813
Captain State militia, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln Served during Black Hawk War burying the dead shortly after battles ended. Initially elected to command a company as a Captain. Was mustered in and out of service during the Black Hawk War, going from Captain to 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.
Captain United States Army (U.S. Army Reserve) Ronald Reagan None, served during World War II Served 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.
Lieutenant United States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve) John F. Kennedy World War II Commanded a PT boat. Earned Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in the PT-109 Incident.[11]
Lieutenant United 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 Korea Years of service: 1946–1953. Graduated 59th in class of 1946 out of 820, United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Submarine service (Nuclear Specialist)

First lieutenant / Lieutenant, junior grade[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
Lieutenant, Junior Grade United States Navy (U.S. Naval Reserve) George H. W. Bush[14] World War II Second[15] youngest pilot in the United States Navy during World War II (Three days before turning 19).[14] Earned Distinguished Flying Cross.
First Lieutenant Texas Air National Guard George W. Bush None, served during the Vietnam War but never sent to South Vietnam He 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 order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
11 Private United States Army (State militia, Pennsylvania) James Buchanan War of 1812 Joined volunteer light dragoon unit and served in defense of Baltimore. Only future President with military service who did not serve as an officer.

Did not serve[edit]

President Service notes
John Adams None. 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 Adams None.
Martin Van Buren None.
Grover Cleveland None. 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. Taft None. 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 Wilson None. Served as President during World War I.
Warren G. Harding None.
Calvin Coolidge None.
Herbert Hoover None. 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. Roosevelt None. 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 Clinton None. 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. He served as President during the peacekeeping war in Bosnia.
Barack Obama None.

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 January 1, 2009. 
  4. ^ "American Warriors Home Page". Retrieved October 25, 2015. 
  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 March 22, 2009. The fact is LBJ never got within sight of Japanese forces. 
  8. ^ Commander Richard M. Nixon, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  9. ^ " Specials". Retrieved October 25, 2015. 
  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]