Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
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Military Rank of American Presidents

In colonial days, Governors and state legislatures assigned officers rank to the militia. Later, the same became true for the National Guard. However, when these units were called into national service, only the U.S. Congress has the authority to grant officer rank to military personnel.

What is the highest military rank (including militia/National Guard) ever awarded a man who was also President?

If currently authorized RANK and how it relates one-to-another is considered and applied to the question it looks like this:

Officers of the military: Highest to lowest ranks:

Five stars: General of the Army (Army) -- Admiral; Chief of Naval Operations (Navy)
Four stars: General (Army) -- Admiral (Navy)
Three stars: Lt. General (Army) -- Vice Admiral (Navy)
Two stars: Major General (Army) -- Rear Admiral (Navy)
One star: Brigadier General (Army) -- Commodore (Navy)
Silver Eagle: Colonel (Army) -- Captain (Navy)
Silver Oak Leaf Cluster: Lieutenant Colonel (Army) -- Commander (Navy)
Gold Oak Leaf Cluster: Major (Army) -- Lieutenant Commander (Navy)
Double Silver Bar: Captain (Army) -- Lieutenant (Navy)
Single Silver Bar: 1st Lieutenant (Army) -- Lieutenant Junior Grade (Navy)
Single Gold Bar: 2nd Lieutenant (Army) -- Ensign (Navy)

The only President to attain the highest rank from the above list was Dwight Eisenhower -- a five star general and commander of allied forces in Europe during WWII. HOWEVER, Eisenhower was commander of European operations only. He did not have any responsibility for the overall operations of Navy, Marine, and Air Force functions; only those segments assigned to him to meet his objectives. Also, there was another military position above him; General of the Army (five stars), and Chief of Staff, George Marshall.

On the other hand, George Washington had command of ALL military operations but his rank at the end of the Revolution was only 3 stars or Lieutenant General. BUT, that was the highest rank authorized by congress for the armed forces because that was all that was needed at the time.

Additionally, Ulysses S Grant had command of all military operations after Lincoln named him General in Chief but, like Washington, his actual rank was 3 stars, or Lieutenant General.

Congress saw the disparity caused by national growth and world wide military requirements and in 1976 posthumously promoted George Washington to General of the Armies with six stars. This was not a "made up" rank just for the occasion. John J. Pershing attained this rank during WWI!

FOR YOUR INFORMATION: Presidents by highest military rank.

General of the Armies ******
  George Washington (1)

General of the Army *****
  Dwight D Eisenhower

Lt General ***
  Ulysses S Grant
  George Washington (1)

Major General **
  James Garfield
  William Henry Harrison
  Rutherford B Hayes
  Andrew Jackson
  Zachary Taylor

Brigadier General *
  Benjamin Harrison
  Andrew Johnson (2)
  Franklin Pierce

  James Madison (3)
  Theodore Roosevelt

Lieutenant Colonel
  James Monroe (3)

Major | Lieutenant Commander (Navy)
  Gerald Ford (Navy)
  Lyndon B Johnson (Navy)
  William McKinley
  Richard Nixon (Navy)
  Harry S Truman

Captain | Lieutenant (Navy)
  Jimmy Carter (Navy) 
  Abraham Lincoln (3) 
  Ronald Reagan 
  John Tyler (3)

1st Lieutenant | Lieutenant Junior Grade (Navy)
  George Bush (Navy)
  John F Kennedy (Navy)

(1) Posthumously promoted to 6-star General of the Armies by Congress in 1976.

(2) As military governor of Tennessee. 

(3) Militia. 

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