Change is the rule rather than the exception in the political process, and the constant rotation of officials at the upper levels of government causes frequent gaps in executive progression. Interruptions may result from a change of administration or through the dismissal, reassignment, resignation, illness, or death of an incumbent. Although continuity is normally maintained by second-level management, intervals are usually bridged by temporary executive appointees. The Army department has had its share of secretaries ad interim over the years.

Acting secretaries have come from the civilian and military ranks of the department and from other agencies of government, and tours have ranged from a few days to as long as one year. When Secretary Pickering was commissioned Secretary of State by President Washington on 10 December 1795, he retained the Army portfolio as well and served until Secretary McHenry took office on 27 January 1796. Under similar circumstances, Secretary Dexter retained the Army stewardship after being appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President John Adams on 31 January 1801, until Secretary Dearborn succeeded him at the War Department on 5 March 1801. The roles were reversed when President Madison asked Secretary of the Treasury Alexander J. Dallas to relieve ailing Secretary Monroe of the Army responsibility so that Monroe could devote full time to his primary duties as Secretary of State. Dallas filled in at the War Department from 2 March to 1 August 1815.

On 22 October 1816, effective with Secretary William H. Crawford’s transfer from the War Department to the Treasury Department, George Graham, Chief Clerk of the War Department, was designated Acting Secretary by President Madison under special Congressional authority, and held the position for almost a year until Secretary Calhoun’s arrival on 8 October 1817. Again, in a six-week hiatus between the departure of Secretary Eaton on 18 June 1831 and the assumption of office by Secretary Cass on 1 August 1831, Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury served concurrently as Secretary of War.

Following Cass’s five-year superintendence, Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler was designated by President Jackson to preside over the War Department as well, a commission that extended from Secretary Cass’s departure on 5 October 1836 until Secretary Poinsett’s appointment on 7 March 1837 in the opening week of President Van Buren’s administration.

Another interval occurred in the succeeding Tyler administration between the tours of Secretaries Bell and Spencer. Once again it was the War Department’s Chief Clerk who supervised operations; Albert Miller Lea watched over the department from 13 September to 12 October 1841.

On several occasions in the nineteenth century and one in the twentieth, the executive branch of government strayed briefly from the path of civilian control over the military when the President designated the Army’s senior uniformed official to act temporarily as Secretary of War. President Fillmore, for example, during his first days in office, designated Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, the Commanding General of the Army, to act as Secretary of War during the interregnum between the departure of Secretary George W. Crawford on 23 July 1850 and the succession by Secretary Conrad on 15 August 1850.

Three interruptions in the secretarial progression occurred during the 1860’s: one was covered by another cabinet officer, the other two by military officers. In the first, President Buchanan asked Postmaster General Joseph Holt to also oversee the War Department after Secretary Floyd departed on 29 December 1860. Holt filled the post on an acting basis until 18 January 1861, when the President appointed him Secretary of War; confirmed by the Congress, Holt continued in office until President Lincoln’s inauguration in March.

When relations between President Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, and Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson, soured, the Chief Executive suspended Stanton on 12 August 1867 and appointed General Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the Army, as Secretary of War ad interim. Although ill-disposed to be at the center of a controversy between his departmental superior and his commander in chief, Grant acted as secretary until 13 January 1868, when the Senate reinstated Stanton. Grant managed to hold himself apart from the political turmoil which led to unsuccessful impeachment proceedings against President Johnson and Stanton’s early resignation.

As Johnson’s successor, President Grant also turned to the Commanding General of the Army to fill the secretarial post temporarily when Secretary Rawlin’s health failed. General William T. Sherman ran the department from 6 September to 25 October 1869, when Secretary Belknap entered office.

The final secretarial interregnum of the nineteenth century came late in 1891 during President Benjamin Harrison’s administration. Upon Secretary Proctor’s departure from office on 5 November 1891, Assistant Secretary of War Lewis A. Grant became Acting Secretary for a period of six weeks until Secretary Elkins entered office on 17 December 1891.

The creation of the posts of Assistant Secretary of War in 1861 and Under Secretary of War in 1940—both titles carried forward with the department’s 1947 name change from War to Army—provided a pool of resident officials who were intimately informed concerning departmental affairs and were ready to serve in an acting capacity should the need arise. The one exception in the twentieth century occurred when Maj. Gen. Hugh L. Scott officiated as Secretary of War at President Wilson’s request following the simultaneous departures of Secretary Garrison and Assistant Secretary Breckinridge on 10 February 1916 and until Secretary Baker’s arrival on 9 March 1916. Otherwise, during the current century, interim officials have been drawn from the second-level civilian officials of the department.

On 18 November 1929, for example, Assistant Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley became Acting Secretary upon the death of incumbent Secretary Good. Nominated to succeed Mr. Good, Hurley became Secretary of War in his own right on 9 December 1929. Under similar circumstances, Assistant Secretary Harry H. Woodring assumed the secretaryship on an acting basis when Secretary Dern died in office on 27 August 1936, moving officially into the executive role a month later, on 25 September 1936. Woodring resigned on 20 June 1940, and Assistant Secretary Louis A. Johnson ran the department in an acting capacity until Secretary Stimson entered office on 10 July 1940.

There have been several interruptions in secretarial continuity since the 1947 change in departmental designation and the loss of cabinet status which resulted from the 1949 amendments to the National Security Act. Gordon Gray, who was an Assistant Secretary of the Army under Secretary Royall and advanced to Under Secretary after Royall’s departure, was Acting Secretary from 28 April to 19 June 1949 before moving up the final step to become Secretary of the Army. Again, from 20 January to 4 February 1953, Under Secretary Earl D. Johnson acted as Secretary of the Army, bridging the departure of Secretary Pace and the arrival of Secretary Stevens. Only a few days separated the incumbencies of Secretaries Brucker and Stahr, Stahr and Vance, and Ailes and Resor, and other transitions were made by immediate succession; the next substantial interval came between the departure of Secretary Callaway on 3 July 1975 and the arrival of Secretary Hoffmann on 5 August, a period in which Under Secretary Norman R. Augustine was Acting Secretary of the Army.

The War Department commissioned the portraits of seven interim secretaries. The gallery contains paintings of Alexander J. Dallas by Philip F. Wharton; Benjamin F. Butler by Robert Walter Weir; Reverdy Johnson (who served a five-day interval) by Henry Ulke; Winfield Scott by Weir; Ulysses S. Grant by Freeman Thorp; William T. Sherman by George P. A. Healy; and Hugh L. Scott by Edmund C. Tarbell.


Secretaries Ad Interim Dates
Alexander J. Dallas 2 March 1815–1 August 1815
George Graham 22 October 1816–8 October 1817
Levi Woodbury 18 June 1831–1 August 1831
Benjamin F. Butler 5 October 1836–7 March 1837
Albert Miller Lea 13 September 1841–12 October 1841
Winfield Scott 23 July 1850–15 August 1850
Joseph Holt 29 December 1860–18 January 1861
Ulysses S. Grant 12 August 1867–13 January 1868
William T. Sherman 6 September 1869–25 October 1869
Lewis A. Grant 5 November 1891–17 December 1891
Hugh L. Scott 10 February 1916–9 March 1916
Patrick J. Hurley 18 November 1929–9 December 1929
Harry H. Woodring 27 August 1936–25 September 1936
Louis A. Johnson 20 June 1940–10 July 1940
Gordon Gray 28 April 1949–19 June 1949
Earl D. Johnson 20 January 1953–4 February 1953
Norman R. Augustine 3 July 1975–5 August 1975
Percy A. Pierre 21 January 1981–29 January 1981
John W. Shannon 20 January 1993–26 August 1993
Gordon R. Sullivan 27 August 1993–21 November 1993
Robert M. Walker 2 January 1998–1 July 1998
Gregory R. Dahlberg 20 January 2001–4 March 2001
Joseph W. Westphal 5 March 2001–

page updated 22 May 2001

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