John Aaron Rawlins

JOHN AARON RAWLINS was born in Galena, Illinois, on 13 February 1831; attended local schools followed by eighteen months at Rock River Seminary at Mount Morris, Illinois; studied law in the office of Isaac P. Stevens of Galena and was admitted to the bar in 1854; practiced law in partnership with Stevens and later with one of his own pupils, David Sheean; married his first wife, Emily Smith, 1856; was city attorney in 1857; was nominated a presidential elector on the Douglas ticket, 1860; helped organize the 45th Illinois Infantry and was designated a major in the regiment; was requested by Colonel Ulysses S. Grant of the 21st Illinois Infantry to accept a commission as lieutenant and assignment as Grant’s aide-de-camp; was appointed captain and assistant adjutant general of volunteers on Grant’s staff, 1861; lost his wife to tuberculosis; served as Grant’s principal adviser; was promoted to major in May 1862, lieutenant colonel in November 1862, and brigadier general of volunteers, August 1863; married Mary Hurlbut, 1863; was designated chief of staff of the Army, 1865; was brevetted major general of volunteers in February 1865 and of the regular army in April 1865; contracted tuberculosis; attempted to restore his health by accompanying Grenville Dodge on a survey of the proposed route of the Union Pacific Railroad to Salt Lake City; served as Secretary of War, 13 March 1869–6 September 1869; died in office in Washington, D.C., on 6 September 1869.

The Artist

Henry Ulke (1821–1910), the German-born artist who left revolutionary activities behind when he emigrated to the United States in 1849, became not only a leading portrait painter in his adopted land but also a celebrated naturalist as well; his collection of American beetles, the largest known at the time, was exhibited in the Museum of Natural History at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. Ulke would undoubtedly have painted Secretary Rawlins from life had the Army official not succumbed to tuberculosis. Rawlins had been dead about four years when Ulke produced his portrait for the Army gallery.


Portrait, John Aaron Rawlins

Grant Administration
By Henry Ulke
Oil on canvas, 28" x 22½", 1873

page created 2 March 2001

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