List of presidents of the United States by military rank

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The United States Constitution names the president of the United States the commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces. Many presidents, however, also served in the military before taking office; all but 13 of the 44 men to become president as of 2019 have served.

Of the 33 presidents with military service, 31 have been commissioned officers, of whom five began their careers as regular officers (Jimmy Carter transferred to the Naval Reserve after five years in the Navy). 13 presidents have been general officers (four regular officers, six militia officers, three volunteers).

Table of United States presidents by military rank[edit]

General of the Armies (O-12)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
1
6 Star.svg

General of the Armies of the United States
Flag of the United States (1777–1795).svg
Continental Army/United States Army
Kingdom of Great Britain
Virginia militia
Brooklyn Museum - George Washington - Charles Willson Peale - overall.jpg
George Washington
[1][2]
French and Indian War
(1754-1758)
Revolutionary War
(1775-1783) Whiskey Rebellion

(1791-1794)

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 (O-11)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
2
US-O11 insignia.svg

General of the Army
Emblem of the United States Department of the Army.svg
United States Army
(Regular army)
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, at his headquarters in the European theater of operations. He... - NARA - 520686.tif
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.Visited one day in Korea during the Korean War

General (O-10)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
3
US Army General insignia (1866).svg

General of the Army
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
(Regular Army)
Grant, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S., three-quarter-length, standing - NARA - 558720.tif
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 (O-8)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
4
US-O8 insignia.svg

Major General
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
North Carolina Militia
Tennessee Militia
Andrew Jackson by Ralph E. W. Earl 1837.jpg
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.
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
Rembrandt Peale - William Henry Harrison - Google Art Project.jpg
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 by Joseph Henry Bush, c1848.jpg
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.
Union Army major general rank insignia.svg

Brevet Major General of Volunteers
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
(volunteers)
General Hayes.jpg
Rutherford B. Hayes
American Civil War
Successful leadership in Virginia/West Virginia region; wounded at the Battle of South Mountain
Union Army major general rank insignia.svg

Major General of Volunteers
General James Garfield - Brady-Handy.jpg
James A. Garfield
His heroic ride at the Battle of Chickamauga later helped him to be elected President.
Army-USA-OF-07.svg

Major General
American Red Cross (Under jurisdiction of the US War Dept)
William Howard Taft I.jpg
William Howard 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. He was commissioned with Military rank in the American Red Cross By President Wilson August 1917[3]

Brigadier general (O-7)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
5
Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg

Brigadier General
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
New Hampshire Militia
Franklin Pierce - 1852.jpg
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.
Flag of New York (1778–1901).svg

New York State Militia
Chester A Arthur 1859.png
Chester A. Arthur
Inspector General of the New York Militia

Civil War
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.
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
AndrewJohnson1860.png
Andrew Johnson
Military Governor of Tennessee

Civil War
Served in the 90th Regiment of Tennessee Militia in 1830s. Later appointed Colonel.
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
Indiana State Militia
GenBenHarrison.jpg
Benjamin Harrison
Civil War
Battle of PerryvilleAtlanta CampaignBattle of Nashville

Colonel (O-6)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
6
US-O6 insignia.svg

Colonel
Seal of Virginia.svg
Virginia State Militia
Albemarle County
Mather Brown - Thomas Jefferson - Google Art Project.jpg
Thomas Jefferson
None
Like other Virginia gentlemen, he had militia duties, and did administrative work
Colonial-Red-Ensign.svg
Virginia Colonial Militia
Orange County
1811, Sharples, James, James Madison.jpg
James Madison
None
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.)
Flag of the United States (1777–1795).svg
Continental Army
Virginia State Militia
James Monroe (1758-1831).jpg
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.
Tennessee Militia
border[
James K. Polk
None
Captain in a cavalry unit beginning in 1821. Subsequently appointed Colonel on staff of Governor William Carroll.
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
Col roosevelt rough rider.jpg
Theodore Roosevelt
Spanish–American War

Medal of Honor ribbon.svg
Medal of Honor
(posthumously; 2001)
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.
Harry S. Truman WW I.jpg
Harry S. Truman
World War I
Served 1905–1911, then in World War I, 129th Field Artillery (1917–1919), Army Reserves (1919–1953)[4]

Commander (O-5)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
7
US-O5 insignia.svg
Commander
Emblem of the United States Navy.svg
United States Navy
(Reserve)
Portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson in Navy Uniform - 42-3-7 - 03-1942.jpg
Lyndon B. Johnson
World War II

Silver Star Medal ribbon.svg
Silver Star
Awarded Silver Star by General Douglas MacArthur for his role as an observer on a B-26 bomber mission.[5][6] (Controversial.).[7][8]
NH 84098 Lieutenant Commander Richard Milhous Nixon, USN.jpeg
Richard Nixon
World War II
Served 1942–1945 on various islands in the South Pacific and Commanded SCAT units in the South Pacific.[9]

Major / Lieutenant commander (O-4)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
8
US-O4 insignia.svg

Major
Flag of New York (1778–1901).svg

New York State Militia
Unidentified Artist - Millard Fillmore - Google Art Project.jpg
Millard Fillmore
None
Years of service: 1820s–1830s, 1860s–1870s
US-O4 insignia.svg

Brevet Major
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
(volunteers)
McKinleyBrady 1865.png
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.
US-O4 insignia.svg

Lieutenant Commander
Emblem of the United States Navy.svg
United States Navy
(Reserve)
GeraldFord1945.jpg
Gerald Ford
World War II
Years of service: 1942–1946. Served on USS Monterey. Earned 10 battle stars.[10][11]

Captain/Lieutenant (naval) (O-3)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
9
US-O3 insignia.svg

Captain
Seal of Virginia.svg
Virginia State Militia
John Tyler - Governor of Virginia (c. 1826).jpg
John Tyler
War of 1812
Raised a company for the defense of Richmond in 1813
Seal of Illinois.svg
Illinois State Militia
Abelincoln1846.jpeg
Abraham Lincoln
Black Hawk War
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.
US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg
United States Army Air Corps
(Reserve)
Ronald Reagan in the US Army Air Force 1940s.jpg
Ronald Reagan
None
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.
US-O3 insignia.svg

Lieutenant
Emblem of the United States Navy.svg
United States Navy
(Reserve)
1942 JFK uniform portrait.jpg
John F. Kennedy
World War II

Purple Heart ribbon.svg
Purple Heart
Commanded a PT boat. Earned Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in the PT-109 Incident.[12]
United States Navy Presidents (cropped).jpg
Jimmy Carter
None
Years of service: 1946–1953. Graduated 59th in class of 1946 out of 820, United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Submarine service (Nuclear Specialist). Midshipman during World War II, served during Korean War, but never sent to Korea

First lieutenant / Lieutenant, junior grade (O-2)[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
10
US-O2 insignia.svg

Lieutenant, Junior Grade
Emblem of the United States Navy.svg
United States Navy
(Reserve)
George Bush, Navy pilot during World War II - NARA - 186380.tif
George H. W. Bush
World War II
Second[13] youngest pilot in the United States Navy during World War II (Three days before turning 19).[14] Earned Distinguished Flying Cross.
US-O2 insignia.svg

1st Lieutenant
Texas Air National Guard patch.png
Texas Air National Guard
GW-Bush-in-uniform.jpg
George W. Bush
None
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.[15] He was later discharged eight months short of his six-year service requirement.[16]

Enlisted[edit]

Rank order Highest rank Branch President Combat experience Service notes
11
Private [Volunteer]
Emblem of the United States Marine Corps.svg
United States Marine Corps
ADAMS,John-President (BEP eng portrait restored).tif
John Adams
American Revolution
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."[17].
11
Private
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
New York State Militia
James Buchanan painted by J. Eichholtz.jpg
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 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).
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. 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
Donald Trump None

See also[edit]

References[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. ^ The Washington times., August 07, 1917, NIGHT FINAL, Page 3, Image 3
  4. ^ "Military Personnel File of Harry S. Truman". Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  5. ^ "American Warriors Home Page". americanwarriorsfivepresidents.com. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  6. ^ Commander Lyndon B. Johnson, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Tillman, Barrett and Sakaida, Henry. "LBJ's Silver Star: The Mission That Never Was". b-26marauderarchive.org. Retrieved March 22, 2009. The fact is LBJ never got within sight of Japanese forces.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Commander Richard M. Nixon, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  10. ^ "CNN.com Specials". cnn.com. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  11. ^ Lieutenant Commander Gerald R. Ford, USNR from the Naval Historical Center
  12. ^ Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USN from the Naval Historical Center
  13. ^ 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."
  14. ^ Lieutenant Junior Grade George Bush, USNR from the Naval Historical Center Archived 1997-02-06 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Democratic Group's Ad Revives "AWOL" Allegation Against Bush". FactCheck.org. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  16. ^ Roane, Kit R. "Bush's military service in question – again (9/8/04)". USNews.com. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  17. ^ 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]