John Aaron Rawlins
John Aaron Rawlins was born
February 13, 1831, at Galena, Illinois; his family had originated in Virginia
and had come to Illinois by way of Kentucky. When his father went to California
for the gold rush of 1849, young Rawlins maintained the family, at the same time
obtaining a law education and admission to the state bar in 1854. He served as
city attorney of Galena in 1857 and like thousands of his Midwestern
contemporaries was a Douglas Democrat in 1860. With the outbreak of war,
Rawlins, the successful politician with a passion for the military life, teamed
up with the unassuming ex-captain of the army who clerked in his brother's
leather store, U. S. Grant. Within eight years Grant would be President of the
United States, and Rawlins his Secretary of War. Grant asked Rawlins to become
his aide-decamp, and on August 30, 1861, he was commissioned captain and
assistant adjutant general on the staff of Grant, who was then brigadier
general. From that time until the end of his brief life, Rawlins was Grant's
alter ego, discharging with objectivity the duties and responsibilities of
intimate friend, military and political adviser, editor, and, on perhaps a few
occasions, those of apostle of sobriety, although it would seem that he played
this role far less than is popularly believed. In any event Grant referred to
him as "the most nearly indispensable" man he had around him. As Grant attained
fame and promotion, he secured for Rawlins appropriate advances in grade: he was
made major on May 14, 1862; lieutenant colonel November 1, 1862; brigadier
general of volunteers August 11, 1863; and brigadier general, chief of staff, U.
S. Army, to rank from March 3, 1865 (this was the last appointment of a
brigadier in the regular service made during the Civil War).
Rawlins was also brevetted major general in both the volunteer and regular services. His first wife had died of tuberculosis in 1861, and it was determined that he himself was suffering from the disease. Recommended travel on the high plains over the proposed route of the Union Pacific Railroad failed to improve his health, and when Grant made him him Secretary of War in March, 1869, he had only five months to live. He died in Washington, September 6, 1869, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.