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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