Today is Presidents’ Day and we here at SOFREP thought it might be interesting to recount to you some of the military exploits of our past presidents. Of the 46 U.S. presidents, 35 were in the military at some point in their life. Most saw service in the Army, National Guard, or in volunteer militias raised during wartime. After WWII, presidents who had served in the Navy overtook those who had served in the Army. Probably because of the vast expansion of the Navy that occurred in the 1940s with over four million Americans serving at sea in WWII.
Twelve U.S. presidents held “Flag Rank” meaning they ranked brigadier general or higher. George Washington held the rank (posthumously) of general of the armies of the United States, a distinction even more exclusive than being elected president of the United States. The only other American ever ranked that high was General John Pershing who was honorarily given the rank after WWI. Given that the rank would have carried six stars, general of the Armies would make them the most senior officers in all the military branches.
Here are some noteworthy stories of U.S. presidents who had served in the military.
President Abraham Lincoln
When the Civil War began in 1861, the respective leaders of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln were very badly mismatched. Davis was a born soldier, a West Point graduate, a brigade commander during the Mexican-American War, and had served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce. Lincoln, by contrast, had only had about six months of military service in an Illinois militia regiment as an elected captain during the Blackhawk War. Lincoln’s regiment never saw action. Lincoln himself mocked his own military service, saying in a political speech in 1848, “Did you know I am a military hero?” “I fought, bled and came away” after “charges upon the wild onions” and “a good many bloody struggles with the Musquetoes [sic].”