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.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.