A Civil War Biography

John Aaron Rawlins

Rawlins was born 13 February 1831 in Galena, Illinois. Instead of attending school the young Rawlins helped out by selling coal in neighboring towns earning the nick-name "Charcoal Boy". When his father headed to California in 1849 he took charge of the family. He spent 18 months at the Rock River Seminary in Mount Morris, Illinois then studied law in the office of Isaac P. Stevens. Rawlins was admitted to the bar in 1854 and practiced in the office of his mentor until establishing his own practice with David Sheean, one of his pupils. Rawlins was named the city attorney of Galena in 1857. He was a presidential elector supporting Stephen A. Douglas in 1860.

When the war erupted Rawlins helped form the 45th Illinois, the Lead Mine, infantry regiment joining himself with the rank of major. Ulysses S. Grant, then a colonel, asked Rawlins to accept a commission as a 1st lieutenant in the regular army and become his aide-de-camp. On 30 August 1861 Rawlins was commissioned a captain and assigned as assistant adjutant on Brigadier General Grant's staff. As Grant moved up so did Rawlins. He was promoted to major on 14 May 1862, lieutenant colonel on 1 November 1862, and brigadier general of volunteers on 11 August 1863. Rawlins would run Grant's staff throughout the war, his duties ranging from issuing orders to by some accounts maintaining the commanding general's sobriety. Grant referred to him as the most nearly indispensable man he had around him. He was breveted major general of volunteers on 24 February 1865. On 3 March 1865 Rawlins was appointed brigadier general in the regular army and given the new title, created specifically for him, of CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE ARMY. This was the last appointment of brigadier general in the regular army made during the war. He was breveted major general in the regular army on 9 April 1865.

Following the war Rawlins was discovered to be suffering from consumption, now known as tuberculosis. His first wife had died from the disease in 1861. In an attempt to restore his health he accompanied Grenville Dodge on the expedition that surveyed the proposed route of the Union Pacific Railroad through the high plains of Utah. When Grant became president he named Rawlins to be Secretary of War. Rawlins would serve from 13 March 1869 until he died on 6 September 1869.

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