How many Civil War generals became president?


2nd Lieutenant
Silver Patron
Jul 30, 2018

The White House in the 1860s during the Lincoln Administration

The casual Civil War student might know that in 1869, that Union General Ulysses S. Grant became the 18th President of the United States. But he wasn't the only general to take up the highest office. So how many Civil War generals became President?

The answer depends on how you interpret it:
Six if you go by the rank the future presidents held during the Civil War.
The answer is four, though, if you only count those that fought on the frontlines and led troops into battle.

Let's take a closer look at the men in question and their individual service during the Civil War:

The first Civil War general to become president was Andrew Johnson. He was Lincoln's vice president during his second term and when Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, Johnson became the 17th President. He served out Lincoln's term until 1869.


Johnson was born on December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Born to poverty, he never went to school, instead apprenticed to a tailor. He moved west to Tennessee and founded his own tailor business which soon prospered (and which he eventually sold to concentrate on his political career). He learned to read from his wife and customers with which he "practiced" debating. His career in politics started in his community but he worked his way up until he became Governor of Tennessee in 1853 and afterwards gained a seat in the Senate. When Tennessee seceded, Johnson remained loyal to the Union and had to flee north to save his life. In 1862, much of west and central Tennessee had been recovered and Lincoln appointed Johnson Military Governor of Tennessee with the rank of Brigadier-General. For the presidential elections of 1864, Johnson became Lincoln's running-mate.

"I will not give up this government ... No; I intend to stand by it ... and I invite every man who is a patriot to ... rally around the altar of our common country ... and swear by our God, and all that is sacred and holy, that the Constitution shall be saved, and the Union preserved."​
Johnson’s commitment to the Union in 1860, Speeches of Andrew Johnson

More information on Johnson can be found in these threads:

Reconstruction marked Johnson's presidency. If you want to learn more about this period, you will find lots of information and discussions in our Reconstruction forum:

Johnson's successor – and probably the best-known Civil War general to become president – was Ulysses S. Grant. He served for two terms from 1869 to 1877 as the 18th President.


Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. He went to the Military Academy of the United States, better known as "West Point," which he graduated in 1843. He served in the Army for about eleven years before resigning and trying his hand at a civil career. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he received a commission as Colonel of volunteers and fought in the Western Theater, rising in rank until Major-General of volunteers. Due to his success at Vicksburg, on July 4, 1864 he was made Major-General in the US Army. Early in 1864, Grant became the General-in-Chief of all Union armies, a position he held until he won the presidential election in 1868.

Since Grant played such a prominent role in the Civil War, we have a forum dedicated to him with lots of informative threads and discussions:

If you want to learn more about Grant's wife, you'll find lots of information in this thread:

Details and discussions about the campaign and siege that opened the Mississippi can be found in our Vicksburg forum:

The next Civil War general to become president was Grant's successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, who served one term from 1877 to 1881 as the 19th President.


Hayes was born on October 4, 1822 in Delaware, Ohio. He graduated from Kenyon College in 1842 with highest honors, then studied law at Harvard Law School. As a fervent abolitionist he defended refugee slaves in court proceedings. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the 23rd Ohio Volunteers as Major. Most of the war years were spent in what became West Virginia. After being wounded in the Battle of South Mountain, Maryland, on September 14, 1862 he was promoted to Colonel and as a brevet Brigadier-General assigned to command a brigade in the Kanawha Division. His troops saw action during the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and Hayes received promotion to Brigadier-General and Brevet Major-General. After the Civil War, Hayes sat in the House of Representatives and served as Governor of Ohio before winning the presidential elections of 1876.

"His conduct on the field was marked by conspicuous gallantry as well as the display of qualities of a higher order than that of mere personal daring."​
Ulysses S. Grant on Rutherford B. Hayes, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Three threads about Hayes with a more detailed biography and a witness account:

And this thread is about his wife Lucy:

In this thread you'll find information and photographs about the 23rd Ohio Infantry:

And these threads are about battles he was engaged in during the 1864 Valley Campaign:

In 1881, former Civil War general James A. Garfield followed Hayes into the highest office as 20th President.


Garfield was born on November 19, 1831 in Ohio. Before the Civil War, he earned his living as a teacher before starting to study law, although he considered a career in politics. After the outbreak of hostilities, he toured Ohio on recruiting services before receiving a commission as Colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteers. Success in east Kentucky earned him the promotion to Brigadier General. He then fought at Shiloh on April 7, 1862. After spending some time at home to recover from an illness, he became Chief of Staff to Major-General William S. Rosecrans for the Army of the Cumberland with which he fought the Tullahoma campaign, at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Garfield received promotion to Major-General but soon after resigned from the army to pursue a long political career which culminated in his winning the presidential election in 1880 against another Civil War general.

However, Garfield spent only some months in office; he was shot on July 2, 1881 and succumbed to his wounds eleven weeks later.

More information about Garfield can be found in these threads:

This thread contains information about his wife Lucretia:

This thread covers the regimental history of the 42nd Ohio Infantry:

And if you're curious about the Battle of Shiloh, you might want to check out the forum we have for that battle with lots of information and discussions:

With the death of the 20th President on September 19, 1881, his vice president and former Civil War general Chester A. Arthur succeeded him as 21st President and served out Garfield's term until 1885.


Arthur was born on October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont. He graduated Union College in 1848. While studying law, he taught at schools. In 1854 he was admitted to the New York bar and joined the law firm of an abolitionist and family friend. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was commissioned Brigadier-General of state militia and served in the quartermaster department. His effectiveness in outfitting and housing incoming troops earned him promotions to Inspector General of state militia in March 1862 and only three months later to Quartermaster General of state militia. He turned down offers to lead a regiment into battle. When a new governor took charge of New York in January 1863, Arthur was relieved of his duties and returned to practicing law. His involvement in New York's politics earned him an appointment as Collector in the Custom House of the Port of New York in 1871. He was then asked to be Garfield's running mate in the 1880 presidential election.

For more information on Arthur see

If you want to learn more about his wife Ellen:

The last Civil War general to become president was Benjamin Harrison who as 23rd President served one term from 1889 to 1893.


Harrison was born on August 20, 1833 in North Bend, Ohio. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, had served as the 9th President. He graduated Miami University, Ohio in 1852 and then studied law. He worked for the federal court in Indianapolis, Indiana, and also served as a Commissioner for the U.S. Court of Claims. He joined the Republican Party shortly after its founding. His Civil War service began in 1862, recruiting men, and in August that year he received the commission as Colonel of the newly formed 70th Indiana Infantry. The regiment spent several months on reconnaissance duty in Kentucky and Tennessee before joining General Sherman's army for the Atlanta Campaign, seeing action at inter alia Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, and Atlanta. When Sherman started his March to the Sea, Harrison's brigade was transferred to the District of Etowah and fought in the Battle of Nashville. He rose to brigade command and in January 1865 received promotion to Brevet Brigadier-General. After the war, he continued practicing law, was elected to the Senate and in 1888 won the presidential election.

The following two threads contain more information about Harrison:

And this thread is about his wife Caroline:

If you're curious about the Atlanta Campaign, you will find lots of information and discussions in our Atlanta forum:

So how many Civil War generals became president? Six if you go by the rank, four if you count those that saw battlefield action.

- Wikipedia

All pictures are in the public domain.
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2nd Lieutenant
Silver Patron
Jul 30, 2018
And while we're talking about future presidents' involvement in the Civil War:

Another president was a Civil War veteran, although he never reached a general's rank: William McKinley, the 25th President. McKinley served a full term and won the reelection but was assassinated on September 14, 1901 – only six months after retaking the office.


McKinley was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio. He went to Allegheny College but left after only a year due to illness. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteers – whose Major was none other than Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes would become a friend and mentor to McKinley. Most of the war years were spent in West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. McKinley rose to Captain and was assigned to General George Crook's staff. He finished the Civil War with the rank of Brevet Major. After the war, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in Ohio in 1867. Rutherford B. Hayes's run for Governor of Ohio was McKinley's start into politics when he made speeches for Hayes in his county. McKinley became his county's prosecuting attorney in 1869. He sat in Congress, became Governor of Ohio and in 1896 won the presidential election.

Some more information about McKinley and his Civil War service can be found in these threads:

This thread talks about his wife Ida:

Information about McKinley's (and Hayes') regiment, the 23rd Ohio Infantry, can be found here:
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Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Aug 6, 2016
In another “What If”, on the night of February 21, 1865 Confederate Raider Jesse Cunningham McNeill and 65 of his Rangers traveled behind enemy lines to Cumberland, Maryland in the hopes of capturing Union General Benjamin Franklin Kelley. McNeill wanted Kelley in retaliation for an earlier incident. The Rangers managed to also capture Union General George Crook in the raid. Incidentially, (according to Paul Magid in his book “George Crook: From the Redwoods to Appomattox”), they could have captured another Brigadier General and a Captain James A. Garfield and William McKinley and another gent - Rutherford B. Hayes.