General is the top rank in the Army, Marines, and Air Force nowadays. The highest rank currently attainable in the military is four-star general, though there were five-star generals in WWII like Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower, the two eminent leaders then. That rank vanished in peacetime.
George Washington was the first American Commanding General of the Continental Army. The number of generals surged during the Civil War to around 1,000 but has since plummeted. (These are the 15 highest ranking U.S. military generals and admirals.)
Despite the military remaining under civilian control since America’s founding, distinguished generals hold a special status. Becoming a general has proven a stepping stone to the presidency – twelve generals later became president, half of whom served during and after the Civil War. The leadership and decisiveness that marked their military careers propelled their political ascents.
Some of the most prominent generals served during pivotal historical moments. They led forces in crucial battles, shaped the trajectory of whole wars, or commanded the largest troop numbers ever. Their wartime leadership and experience paved the way for them to reach the pinnacle of political power as president. (This is each president’s path to the Oval Office.)
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