Commanding General of the United States Army

The Commanding General of the United States Army was the title given to the service chief and highest-ranking officer of the United States Army (and its predecessor the Continental Army), prior to the establishment of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army in 1903. During the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the title was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. In 1783, the title was simplified to Senior Officer of the United States Army. In 1821, the title was changed to Commanding General of the United States Army. The office was often referred to by various other titles, such as "Major General Commanding the Army" or "General-in-Chief".

Commanding General of the United States Army
Winfield Scott by Fredricks, 1862 crop.jpg
Longest serving
Brevet LTG Winfield Scott

5 July 1841 – 1 November 1861
United States Army
United States Department of War
TypeSenior-most officer
Reports toThe Secretary of War
SeatSeveral HQs (Washington)
AppointerThe President
with Congress advice and consent
Term lengthNo fixed term
Constituting instrumentAn act of the Second Continental Congress
Formation15 June 1775
June 1821
First holderGEN George Washington
as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
MG Jacob Brown
as Commanding General of the United States Army
Final holderLTG Nelson A. Miles
Abolished8 August 1903
SuccessionChief of Staff of the Army

From 1789 until its abolition in 1903, the position of commanding general was legally subordinate to the Secretary of War.

The position was abolished with the creation of the statutory Chief of Staff of the Army in 1903.


† denotes people who died in office.

Commander-in-Chief of the Continental ArmyEdit

No. Portrait Commander-in-Chief Took office Left office Time in office Notes
1Washington, GeorgeGeneral[a]
George Washington
15 June 177523 December 17838 years, 191 daysAppointed by the Second Continental Congress, after being nominated by Samuel Adams and John Adams. Resigned to the Congress of the Confederation, at the end of the American Revolutionary War.

Senior Officer of the United States ArmyEdit

No. Portrait Senior Officer Took office Left office Time in office Notes
1Knox, HenryMajor general
Henry Knox
23 December 178320 June 1784180 daysResigned to begin career farming and developing land in Maine; appointed Secretary of War under Articles of Confederation in 1785.
2Doughty, JohnBrevet Major
John Doughty
20 June 178412 August 178453 daysServed when all of the Army but 80 men were discharged. Lowest ranking individual ever to command the U.S. Army.
3Harmar, JosiahBrevet Brigadier general
Josiah Harmar
12 August 17844 March 17916 years, 204 daysServed at the beginning of the Northwest Indian War with the Northwestern Confederacy. Removed by President George Washington in the aftermath of the Harmar campaign.
4St. Clair, ArthurMajor general
Arthur St. Clair
4 March 17915 March 17921 year, 1 daySimultaneously served as Governor of the Northwest Territory (1787–1802). Resigned as Senior Officer at the request of President George Washington, in the aftermath of St. Clair's defeat.
5Wayne, AnthonyMajor general
Anthony Wayne
13 April 179215 December 1796 †4 years, 246 daysCommanded the Legion of the United States during the Northwest Indian War and negotiated the Treaty of Greenville with the Northwestern Confederacy after the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
6Wilkinson, JamesBrigadier general
James Wilkinson
15 December 179613 July 17981 year, 210 daysCommanded the Legion of the United States at the start of the Quasi War. Responsible for establishing Reserve Corps in the Ohio River Valley and the lower Mississippi River Valley to be deployed in the event of war with France or Spain. Later discovered by historian Charles Gayarré to have been a Spanish spy.
7Washington, GeorgeLieutenant general
George Washington
13 July 179814 December 1799 †1 year, 154 daysPreviously served as President of the United States (1789–1797). Appointed by President Adams during the Quasi-War against the French Republic. Did not actively command the Army during this period but was prepared to lead the Army if the need arose.
8Hamilton, AlexanderMajor general
Alexander Hamilton
14 December 179915 June 1800183 daysPreviously served as Secretary of the Treasury (1789–1795). Served as Inspector General of the Army with rank of major general, with effective command-and-control during the Quasi-War from 19 July 1798. Became Senior Officer in the Army after the death of Washington.
6Wilkinson, JamesBrigadier general[b]
James Wilkinson
15 June 180027 January 181211 years, 226 daysCommanded during the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Known for suppressing the Burr conspiracy.
9Dearborn, HenryMajor general
Henry Dearborn
27 January 181215 June 18153 years, 139 daysPreviously served as Secretary of War (1801–1809). Last American Revolutionary War veteran to serve as Senior Officer. Served as the Commanding General at the beginning of the War of 1812. Known for authorizing the American invasion of Lower Canada, including the Battle of York. Reassigned to administrative post in New York City after achieving few victories.
10Brown, JacobMajor general
Jacob Brown
15 June 1815June 18215 years, 351 daysAppointed Commanding General of the Army after successes on the Northwestern front of the War of 1812. Presided over a reduction in the size of the U.S. Army in the 1810s. Created the United States's first military colleges and the General Recruiting Service.

Commanding General of the United States ArmyEdit

No. Portrait Commanding General Took office Left office Time in office Notes
1Brown, JacobMajor general
Jacob Brown
June 182124 February 1828 †6 years, 268 days.
2Macomb, AlexanderMajor general
Alexander Macomb
29 May 182825 June 1841 †13 years, 27 daysCommanding general at the Battle of Plattsburgh. Advocated expanding the U.S. Army during his tenure.
3Scott, WinfieldBrevet Lieutenant general
Winfield Scott
5 July 18411 November 186120 years, 119 daysPersonally commanded the Army in the Battle for Mexico City in 1847, during the Mexican–American War. Commanded the Union Army at the beginning of the American Civil War. Developed the Anaconda Plan to defeat the Confederacy and recommended expanding the Regular Army rather than relying on militia. Resigned after the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run. Age 75 at his retirement, Scott was the oldest person to serve as Commanding General.
4McClellan, George B.Major general
George B. McClellan
1 November 186111 March 1862130 daysSimultaneously served as Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Removed by President Abraham Lincoln after the Peninsula campaign and McClellan's failure to pursue the Army of Northern Virginia after the Battle of Antietam. Later unsuccessfully campaigned with the Democratic Party in the 1864 election.
Position vacant
(11 March 1862 – 23 July 1862)[c]
5Halleck, HenryMajor general
Henry Halleck
23 July 18629 March 18641 year, 230 daysReassigned as the Army's chief of staff, subordinate to Grant.
6Grant, Ulysses S.General of the Army
Ulysses S. Grant
9 March 18644 March 18694 years, 360 daysAppointed after successes in the Battle of Vicksburg and the Chattanooga campaign. When appointed, Grant served in the field, his headquarters attached to the Army of the Potomac. Defeated the Army of Northern Virginia at the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg campaign. Accepted General Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Battle of Appomattox. Resigned to become the 18th president of the United States after winning the 1868 election. (1869–1877).
7Sherman, William TecumsehGeneral of the Army
William Tecumseh Sherman
8 March 18691 November 188314 years, 238 daysKnown for leading the March to the Sea and the Campaign of the Carolinas during the American Civil War. Served as commanding general during the Modoc War, the Great Sioux War of 1876, and the Nez Perce War. Resigned position; retired upon reaching mandatory retirement age of 64 in 1884.
8Sheridan, PhilipGeneral of the Army
Philip Sheridan
1 November 18835 August 1888 †4 years, 278 daysKnown for service in the American Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Indian Wars. Influential in establishment of Yellowstone National Park.
9Schofield, JohnLieutenant general
John Schofield
14 August 188829 September 18957 years, 46 daysFormer military commander during the American Civil War and Reconstruction. Advised the government during the Pullman Strike. Retired upon reaching mandatory retirement age of 64.
10Miles, Nelson A.Lieutenant general
Nelson A. Miles
5 October 18958 August 19037 years, 307 daysServed as commanding general during the Spanish–American War and the Army beef scandal. Retired upon reaching mandatory retirement age of 64. Position replaced with the Army Chief of Staff upon Miles's retirement.


Nelson A. MilesJohn SchofieldPhilip SheridanWilliam Tecumseh ShermanUlysses S. GrantHenry HalleckGeorge B. McClellanWinfield ScottAlexander Macomb (general)Jacob BrownHenry DearbornAlexander HamiltonJames WilkinsonAnthony WayneArthur St. ClairJosiah HarmarJohn DoughtyHenry KnoxGeorge Washington

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Promoted posthumously to General of the Armies in 1976, by an Act of Congress (Public Law 94-479) as part of the United States Bicentennial.
  2. ^ Promoted to major general during the War of 1812 and retired on 15 June 1815.
  3. ^ Eicher, Civil War High Commands. The gap from 11 March 1862 to 23 July 1862 was filled with direct control of the Army by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, with the help of an unofficial "War Board" that was established on 17 March 1862. The board consisted of Ethan A. Hitchcock, the chairman, with Department of War bureau chiefs Lorenzo Thomas, Montgomery C. Meigs, Joseph G. Totten, James W. Ripley, and Joseph P. Taylor.


  • Historical Resources Branch; United States Army Center of Military History.
  • Eicher, John H.; Eicher, David J. (2001). Civil War High Commands. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Bell, William Gardner (2005). Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff 1775-2005: Portraits and Biographical Sketches. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History.
  • King, Archibald (1960) [1949]. Command of the Army (PDF). Military Affairs. Charlottesville, Virginia: The Judge Advocate General's School, U.S. Army.