Commanding General of the United States Army

Prior to the institution of the Chief of Staff of the Army in 1903, there was generally recognized to be a single senior-most officer in the United States Army (and its predecessor the Continental Army), even though there was not a statutory office as such. 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.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.
3Harmar, JosiahBrevet Brigadier general
Josiah Harmar
12 August 17844 March 17916 years, 204 daysRemoved 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 the St. Clair's Defeat.
5Wayne, AnthonyMajor general
Anthony Wayne
13 April 179215 December 1796 †4 years, 246 days.
6Wilkinson, JamesBrigadier general
James Wilkinson
15 December 179613 July 17981 year, 210 days.
7Washington, GeorgeLieutenant general
George Washington
13 July 179814 December 1799 †1 year, 154 daysPreviously served as President of the United States (1789–1797). Appointed 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 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 days.
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.
10Brown, JacobMajor general
Jacob Brown
15 June 1815June 18215 years, 351 daysAppointed Commanding General of the Army.

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 days.
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. Upon his retirement, at the commencement of the American Civil War, he was the oldest serving Commanding General of the U.S. Army in history at age 75.
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 to focus on the Peninsula campaign.
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 daysWhen appointed, Grant served in the field, his headquarters attached to the Army of the Potomac until the Battle of Appomattox. Resigned to become the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877).
7Sherman, William TecumsehGeneral of the Army
William Tecumseh Sherman
8 March 18691 November 188314 years, 238 daysResigned 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 days.
9Schofield, JohnLieutenant general
John Schofield
14 August 188829 September 18957 years, 46 daysRetired upon reaching mandatory retirement age of 64.
10Miles, Nelson A.Lieutenant general
Nelson A. Miles
5 October 18958 August 19037 years, 307 daysRetired upon reaching mandatory retirement age of 64.

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.