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Lincoln and His Generals

March 13, 2019

Abraham Lincoln was Commander-in-Chief of the Union forces during the Civil War.  His prior military experience was as captain of volunteers during the Black Hawk War.  He served less than three months during the spring and summer of 1832 and was an officer for only 36 days.  He saw no action.

Andrew Johnson had no military experience when the Civil War began, but he had been the elected governor of Tennessee from 1853 through 1857.  Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee in 1862 with the rank of brigadier general.

Ulysses Grant graduated 21st in his West Point class, one spot below the median.  He had accumulated a long list of demerits, and later said, “A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the Army even if I should be graduated, which I did not expect.”  More than 20 years after graduating from West Point, Grant became the first soldier in history to command an army of more than a million men.

Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, and Benjamin Harrison were politicians who entered the war as officers, acquitted themselves well, and mustered out as generals.  Chester Arthur served as quartermaster general during the war.  Lincoln had many other generals with whom he worked closely, but all these men mentioned above – Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and Arthur – eventually became Presidents of the United States.

By the way, two other of Lincoln’s generals ran for President and lost.  George McClellan ran against Lincoln in 1864.  Winfield Scott Hancock ran against Garfield in 1880.  And one more thing:  Hancock’s namesake, Winfield Scott, was Lincoln’s first general.  He retired from service shortly after the war began at the age of 75.  He had already run for President in 1852 and lost.  He and Lincoln belonged to the same political party back then, so Lincoln had probably voted for him.





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