Past Presidents Who Served In The Military

Looking Back at Past Presidents Who Served in the Military

With the blood and fire in which the United States was forged, it is unsurprising that, looking back at past Presidents who served in the military, the number is a considerable one. Whether leading the US Army during the War of Independence in the 18th century or serving in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, almost two thirds of all men who have acted as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces have also previously served in the military in some capacity.

How Many Presidents are Veterans?

Of the 45 people to have been Presidents of the United States (Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th President), 31 of them have military experience of some form or another. This military tradition was founded in 1789, when George Washington, former Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, was elected President in 1789. His Vice President and successor John Adams, however, had no such experience. Of the 22 men to be sworn in as President in the 19th century, 19 had military experience. Only John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, and Grover Cleveland broke the trend. Of the other nine from the list of Presidents to have served subsequently during the 20th and 21st centuries, most served in the Army or Navy Reserve. Notable exceptions on that list are Dwight Eisenhower, who was General of the Army during World War II, and George W. Bush, who was in the Texas Air National Guard between 1968 and 1974. Eisenhower also graduated from West Point, a distinction he shares with only one other President: Ulysses S. Grant, who also served as General of the Army 80 years prior, commanding the Union Army during the American Civil War.

This is a complete list of the United States Presidents who have been US Armed Forces service members.

  1. George Washington (1789-1797) General of the Armies, US Army
  2. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) Colonel, Virginia Militia
  3. James Madison (1809-1817) Colonel, Virginia Militia
  4. James Monroe (1817-1825) Colonel, Virginia Militia
  5. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) Major general, US Army
  6. William Henry Harrison (1841) Major general, US Army
  7. John Tyler (1841-1845) Captain, Virginia Militia
  8. James K Polk (1845-1849) Major, Tennessee Militia
  9. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) Major general, US Army
  10. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) Major, New York Militia
  11. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) Brigadier general, US Army
  12. James Buchanan (1857-1861) Private, Pennsylvania Militia
  13. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) Captain, Illinois Militia
  14. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) Brigadier general, Union Army
  15. Ulysses S Grant (1869-1877) General of the Army, Union Army
  16. Rutherford B Hayes (1877-1881) Major general, Union Army
  17. James A Garfield (1881) Major general, Union Army
  18. Chester A Arthur (1881-1885) Brigadier general, New York Militia
  19. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) Brigadier general, Union Army
  20. William McKinley (1897-1901) Captain, Union Army
  21. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) Colonel, US Army
  22. Harry S Truman (1945-1953) Colonel, US Army Reserve
  23. Dwight D Eisenhower (1953-1961) General of the Army, US Army
  24. John F Kennedy (1961-1963) Lieutenant, US Navy Reserve
  25. Lyndon B Johnson (1963-1969) Commander, US Navy Reserve
  26. Richard Nixon (1969-1974) Commander, US Navy Reserve
  27. Gerald Ford (1974-1977) Lieutenant commander, US Navy Reserve
  28. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) Lieutenant, US Navy
  29. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) Captain, US Army Reserve
  30. George HW Bush (1989-1993) Lieutenant, US Navy Reserve
  31. George W Bush (2001-2009) First lieutenant, Air National Guard

Which Presidents Fought in Wars?

Though there is a substantial amount of military experience represented in the list above, perhaps even more relevant to the role of Commander in Chief is actual wartime experience. The United States has participated in many wars that, for better or worse, were formative events in its identity.

Four Presidents served in the Revolutionary War:

  • George Washington
  • James Madison
  • James Monroe
  • Andrew Jackson (the only President to have ever been a POW)

Four Presidents served in the War of 1812:

  • Andrew Jackson
  • William Henry Harrison
  • John Tyler
  • Zachary Taylor
circa 1844: Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845), the 7th President of the United States of America. (Photo by Library Of Congress/Getty Images)

Two Presidents served in the Black Hawk War:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Zachary Taylor

Three Presidents served in the Mexican War:

  • Zachary Taylor
  • Franklin Pierce
  • Ulysses S Grant

Eight Presidents served in the American Civil War:

  • Andrew Johnson
  • Ulysses S Grant


Tags: Air National Guard, Commander-in-Chief, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, John Quincy Adams, President, Union Army, United States, United States Presidents, Vietnam War


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