Martin Van Buren


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: Martin Van Buren

What: 8th President of the United States, Vice President and Secretary of State, Governor of New York

Where: Born and died in Kinderhook, New York

Why: Served as Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State and Vice President, but largely underperformed in his one term as President

When: Born December 5, 1782; died July 24, 1862 (aged 79)

“The less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for general prosperity”

Van Buren

Dutch Democrat

Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, just south of Albany, in New York in 1782. He was the first President to have been born after the Declaration of Independence. After studying to be a lawyer, he represented New York in the US Senate from 1821-28, before becoming Governor of New York in 1829. After just three months he was appointed Secretary of State for Andrew Jackson, before becoming Jackson’s Vice President for his second term. Unanimously nominated President by the Democrats, he was not opposed by a candidate. The new Whig Party, knowing they couldn’t win, attempted to throw the election to the House with three candidates, but Van Buren won 170 of 294 electoral votes to win the election.

Floundering in Jackson’s Shadow

His administration, intended to ‘follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor’ and keeping all but one of Jackson’s cabinet, began with the Panic of 1837, followed itself by a five-year depression. Unemployment reached record highs and 900 banks closed. Van Buren attempted to combat this with an Independent Treasury. The undefined boundary between Canada and Maine caused friction, with Van Buren able to make peace before the situation escalated into a more serious conflict. Van Buren continued Jackson’s anti-Native legacy, fighting the Seminoles and culminating in the Second Seminole War, and sided with the North on the era-defining sectional slavery issues, delaying the admission of Texas as another slave state after its independence from Mexico. Defeated for re-election by William Henry Harrison, and losing two more attempts to regain the presidency, Van Buren died at his home in New York in 1862.

Facts about Martin Van Buren

Van Buren was the only president whose first language was not English, being a native Dutch speaker.

He was also the first president to meet a Pope, albeit after he left office.

He wrote an autobiography after leaving the White House, and didn’t mention his wife of twelve years once. If she had been alive, he would have been in real trouble.

He was the first president to have been born after the Declaration of Independence. Depending on your definition, he could be the first president born in the United States. Zachary Taylor (1784) was the first born after the Treaty of Paris was ratified, and John Tyler (1790) was the first to be born after the Constitution had gone into effect.

Either way, he was the first president to be born a citizen of the United States, and not a British subject.

He was another president to have been widowed by the time he reached the White House. Hannah Hoes Van Buren had died in 1819, so his daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton (cousin of Dolley Madison) served as First Lady.

The term O.K possibly derives from him: he was known as ‘Old Kinderhook’ as per his birthplace.

A serving vice president wasn’t elected president again until George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Andrew Jackson


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: Andrew Jackson

What: 7th President of the United States, General in the War of 1812

Where: Born somewhere between the Carolinas; died Nashville, Tennessee

Why: First Democrat, first (and only) President to have killed in a duel, first President to be an assassination target.

When: Born March 15, 1767; died June 8, 1845 (aged 78)

“There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses.”

Imacon Color Scanner

War Hero

Andrew Jackson was born to Scots-Irish colonists who had emigrated from Ireland two years earlier. Three weeks before Andrew was born, his father died in an accident. He helped the local militia as a courier during the Revolutionary War, aged thirteen. His eldest brother died at the Battle of Stono Ferry in June 1779, and Jackson and his brother Robert were captured by the British. Jackson was maimed when he refused to clean a British officer’s boots; the officer slashed at Jackson with his sword, scarring his hand and head. Robert died in April 1781, just after their release. Jackson’s mother died of cholera in November 1781, leaving Jackson an orphan at 14. He married Rachel Donelson Robarts, a divorcee, in 1791. He served in the military in the War of 1812, notably commanding during the decisive American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and fought in the First Seminole War.


Bolstered by his everyman demeanour and war service, he was nominated for President in 1822 by the Tennessee legislature, losing the highly controversial election to John Quincy Adams despite winning the popular vote, before defeating Adams in 1828. He signed the Indian Removal Act, violently expelling Native Americans from their lands and forcing them west. Jackson vetoed more bills than all previous presidents, and vetoed the Second Bank of the United States’ charter. He returned to his home, the Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee, where he died in 1845.

Facts about Andrew Jackson

Because of the ambiguity regarding his birthplace – the remote Waxhaws had not at that point been surveyed – both North and South Carolina claim to be his birthplace.

Jackson also holds the distinction of having won the popular vote three times in a presidential election – despite only winning twice, on account of the ‘Corrupt Bargain’ that elected Adams.

Jackson is the first president to have survived an assassination attempt. Richard Lawrence pointed two derringers at him in 1835, but they both misfired, a 1 in 125,000 chance. Jackson then chased Lawrence with his walking stick. The would-be assassin was found not guilty on grounds of insanity.

Despite his notoriety in leading campaigns against the Native Americans, first militarily in the Seminole War and then politically with the Indian Removal Act, he adopted two Native American boys in 1813 and 1814.

Despite being opposed to the issuance of paper money by national banks in favour of the more reliable gold and silver, he appears on the $20 bill, and has also appeared on the $5, $10, $50 and $10,000 denominations in the past, as well as the Confederate $1,000.

It is estimated that Jackson participated in as many as 100 duels, and challenged Charles Dickinson when the former called Jackson ‘a worthless scoundrel, a poltroon and a coward’ in the newspaper in 1806. Dickinson fired first, hitting Jackson in the chest and missing his heart by less than an inch. Jackson shot Dickinson dead. He carried the bullet, plus another from another duel, in his body for the rest of his life.

He unknowingly married Rachel Donelson Robards before her divorce was finalised in 1791, making the marriage bigamous and invalid – they remarried in 1794. To complicate things further, Robards was living with Jackson and referred to herself as Mrs. Jackson before the petition for divorce was made.

When Rachel died of a heart attack two weeks after Jackson’s victory in the 1828 election, his niece Emily Donelson served as First Lady of the United States, along with his daughter-in-law Sarah Yorke Jackson.

Jackson is one of only nine presidents to have never attended college.

John Quincy Adams


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: John Quincy Adams

What: 6th President of the United States, diplomat, Senator, member of the House of Representatives

Where: Born Braintree, Massachusetts (now Quincy); died Washington D.C.

Why: First President to have been son of another President, first President elected despite losing the popular vote, first to serve in Congress after serving in the Presidency, first to have his photograph taken

When: Born July 11, 1767; died February 23, 1848 (aged 80)

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams in 1818

John Quincy Adams in 1818

Fortunate Son

If any man was born to be President, John Quincy Adams was it. He enjoyed a privileged childhood, personally witnessing the Battle of Bunker Hill from his family estate and accompanying his father on his many trips abroad. He served as a Senator and Foreign Minister before James Monroe selected him as his Secretary of State. As a phenomenally effective Secretary, he established the U.S.-Canada border, the acquisition of Florida and helping to create the Monroe Doctrine. In 1824, he participated in one of the most controversial elections in U.S. history. With Andrew Jackson winning the popular vote 41.4% to Adams’ 30.9%, the election went to the House of Representatives with no clear majority. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who detested Jackson, swayed the electoral college vote in Adams’ favour, which prompted Jackson to declare the election ‘a corrupt bargain’.

Unfortunate President

As one of four presidents to have not won the popular vote, the election severely weakened Adams’ administration and the office of the president, as many lost faith in the ‘democracy’ that had ignored their popular vote. Adams was essentially a lame duck for his term in office, with his perceived illegitimacy compounded by his inability to work with opposition in Congress. Adams passed law for U.S. infrastructural improvements, creating roads and canals to help with the massive rate of growth the United States was experiencing. He lost the election of 1828 to Jackson, and returned to the House of Representatives before his death in 1848, aged 80.

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James Monroe


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: James Monroe

What: 5th President of the United States, last president to have been a Founding Father

Where: Born Monroe Hall, Virginia; died New York City, New York

Why: Presided over the First Seminole War, the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine and America’s first economic depression

When: Born April 28, 1758; died July 4, 1831

“Our country may be likened to a new house. We lack many things, but we possess the most precious of all – liberty!” – James Monroe


War Hero

James Monroe, the last of the ‘Virginia dynasty’ presidents, was born into the planter class in 1758. He joined the College of St William and Mary, but dropped out and enlisted in the Continental Army. Although Andrew Jackson served as a courier at thirteen, Monroe is regarded as the last presidential Revolutionary War veteran, having seen combat serving under George Washington. He eventually rose to the rank of major, and joined the Continental Congress in 1783, leaving to practise law. He became a senator, Minister to France and Governor of Virginia, and in 1803 was sent to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He became minister to Britain and served as James Madison’s Secretary of State and Secretary of War. His election in 1816 proved fatal for the ailing Federalist Party, and his re-election in 1820 was effectively unopposed.


While president, he sent General Andrew Jackson to suppress Seminole Indians in Florida. Jackson effectively invaded the weakly held Spanish Florida, and Monroe pressured Spain to sell Florida to the U.S. He created the Missouri Compromise in an attempt to alleviate the fractious issue of slavery; he allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state so long as Maine entered it  free. The Compromise also prohibited slavery’s expansion north of the parallel 36⁰30’. Monroe is most famous for his Monroe Doctrine, declaring that the U.S. would resist any European intervention and colonization in the Americas, and in return would stay neutral in European wars. This set the precedent for America’s isolationist foreign policy that would last for nearly a century.

Fun facts about James Monroe

Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington and is featured as the man holding the flag in Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware – though he had crossed earlier with Washington’s cousin, William.

He was also seriously wounded at the Battle of Trenton, when a musket ball struck him in the left shoulder, severing an artery. A young volunteer doctor, John Riker, clamped the artery, saving his life. He is shown lying wounded in John Trumbull’s painting Capture of the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton, just left of center.

He never completed his degree, but instead studied law under Thomas Jefferson.

Monroe initially opposed the Constitution, favouring states’ rights, but relented when the Bill of Rights was included.

Monroe is the third President to have died on July 4, after Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Monroe was the last president never to have been photographed in his lifetime.

His daughter Maria married her father’s private secretary in 1820, the first presidential child to marry in the White House.

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James Madison


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: James Madison, Jr.

What: 4th President of the United States (1809-17), ‘Father of the Constitution’, champion of the Bill of Rights

Where: Born Port Conway, Virginia Colony; died Orange, Virginia

Why: One of the three authors of the Federalist Papers, co-author of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, considered the Father of the Constitution, President during the War of 1812

When: Born March 16, 1751; died June 28, 1836

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” – James Madison



James Madison was born to a Virginian tobacco planter, the eldest of twelve children. He attended the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, studying Latin, Greek, geography, mathematics, rhetoric and philosophy. He also studied speech and debate, founding the American Whig Society, gained fluency in Hebrew, and studied law. Despite his small stature, he served in the Revolutionary War as the colonel of the Orange County militia, but did not see combat. He was a delegate to the Virginia Convention and became member of the Continental Congress, before serving as a US Representative during the presidency of George Washington. He and his good friend Thomas Jefferson helped found the Democratic-Republic Party and he served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State.

Father of the Constitution

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he drafted most of the US Constitution, before writing the Federalist papers with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in order to help get approval for the Constitution. He also was the main author of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The War of 1812 broke out after his reelection, as Congress declared war on Britain, who had been seizing American trade goods. The war ended in 1814 with no pre-war issues resolved, though British troops managed to march on Washington and burn the White House and Library of Congress. After his presidency, he retired to Virginia, remaining active in politics until his death in 1836.

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Thomas Jefferson


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: Thomas Jefferson

What: 3rd President of the United States, 2nd Vice President of the United States, 1st United States Secretary of State, Founding Father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, architect, agriculturalist, astronomer, writer, palaeontologist and polymath

Where: Born Shadwell, Virginia; died Charlottesville, Virginia

Why: Presided over the Louisiana Purchase, the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Lewis Clark expedition and the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade

When: Born April 13, 1743; died July 4, 1826

“The government is best that governs least” – Thomas Jefferson



Thomas Jefferson was born into a planter family, the third of ten children. He studied philosophy, metaphysics and mathematics at the College of William and Mary, graduating in just two years, and worked as a lawyer. As a member of the Second Continental Congress, he was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence. He was minister to France from 1785-1789, and was chosen by George Washington to be the first Secretary of State. He believed in small federal government, strong state governments, and on these principles founded the Democratic Party. He ran against John Adams in the 1796 election, and was elected Vice President by virtue of receiving the second highest tally.


He defeated Adams in the 1800 election, and served two full terms. After the Louisiana Purchase, he sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new land, passed the Embargo Act of 1807, making foreign trade illegal. This isolationist policy was repealed after just two years, but lessened American reliance on foreign merchants and set a strong economic foundation for the isolationist policy it would follow for the next century. He also brought Ohio into the Union as the 17th state, crucially passing the Ordinance of 1787 which prohibited slavery in the new territories and states, fuelling the issue that would eventually lead to the Civil War. After his presidency he founded the University of Virginia, and died in 1826 on the same day as his rival and friend John Adams, aged 83.

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John Adams


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: John Adams

What: 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801), 1st Vice President of the United States (1789-1797), signatory of the Declaration of Independence, statesman, diplomat and Founding Father

Where: Born Braintree (now Quincy, Massachusetts); died Quincy, Massachusetts

Why: First one-term president, first Ivy League president (Harvard), member of the influential Adams political family, one of the most important Founding Fathers of the United States.

When: Born October 30, 1735; died July 4, 1826

“The happiness of society is the end of government” – John Adams


John Adams was born in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts in 1735. He attended Harvard University and became a lawyer. He rose to prominence as an opponent of the 1765 Stamp Act, becoming one of the pre-eminent advocates of independence. His firm belief that everyone should be treated fairly led to him defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre in court. As a representative from Massachusetts during the Second Continental Congress, he helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence, and as ambassador to France represented the United States during the peace negotiations with Great Britain that led to the Treaty of Paris and the ratification of the United States’ independence.



He served as the first Vice President under George Washington, and after Washington stepped down he ran for President under the Federalist ticket. He defeated his long-time rival Thomas Jefferson, who became his Vice President. During his presidency, Adams peacefully resolved the 1798-1800 Quasi-War with France and passed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, which many believed violated the First Amendment, which protected free speech. Adam’s lost his re-election to Thomas Jefferson and died the same day as Jefferson on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Adam's signature on the Declaration of Independence

Adam’s signature on the Declaration of Independence

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George Washington


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: George Washington

What: 1st President of the United States (1789-1797), commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and Founding Father of the United States

Where: Born Westmoreland County, Virginia; died Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Why: First and only President to be elected unanimously (twice), first and only sitting President to command a standing field army during the Whiskey Rebellion

When: Born February 22, 1732; died December 14, 1799 (age 67)

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth” – George Washington


Born into a wealthy family in Virginia, George Washington had always wanted to be a soldier. Appointed a major in the provincial militia in 1753, he fought in the French and Indian War, yearning for but not receiving a commission in the British Army. He married Martha Custis in 1759. He was a delegate to the First Continental Congress. After the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the breakout of the American Revolutionary War, Washington attended the Second Continental Congress in military uniform, and was appointed commander-in-chief of the newly created Continental Army. He did not win many of his battles, but did not let the British destroy his army either, and eventually forced the British surrender at Yorktown with the help of the French navy.


Unanimously elected President by the Electoral College, Washington was acutely aware that everything he did set a precedent, and took great pains to avoid any notion of monarchy. He chose the title ‘Mr President’, established the cabinet form of government, a standing army and a national bank. His farewell address warned against foreign intervention, a policy that would stand for a century, and political division. He declined a third term, setting another precedent for the unwritten rule of a two-term limit, and died two years after his retirement at his home in Mount Vernon of an infection. Washington is immortalised as the ‘father of his country’, with his birthday a federal holiday and many monuments and memorials dedicated to him all over the United States.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant


Who: Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-appointed Commander of the Faithful

What: Jihadist militant terrorist group

Where: Founded in Iraq, current sphere of influence extends into Syria

Why: Claims the status of an independent caliphate for its territory in Iraq and Syria

When: Founded at Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004, proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq on October 15, 2006 and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on April 9, 2013

“Our objective is clear. We with degrade and ultimately destroy [IS]” – Barack Obama

The area controlled by ISIL (red), and claimed by ISIL (yellow)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād or ‘The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad’ in 1999. The group achieved early notoriety after the 2003 invasion of Iraq for suicide attacks on Shia mosques and civilians, and was inadvertently incubated by the US when many of the leaders of the Iraqi insurgency were detained together at Camp Bucca. In October 2004, al-Zarqawi swore fealty to Osama bin Laden, and the group became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Osama bin Laden saw his terrorism as the precursor to a caliphate he never expected to see in his lifetime. In 2006 ISIL established its caliphate and began to capture central and western Iraq for its Sunni Islamic state.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Islamic state, shown here in June 2014

The group grew, despite many high-level members (including al-Zarqawi) being captured or killed. After the US-led coalition left Iraq, ISIL recovered from several difficulties to become the supreme jihadist militant group in the region, especially after Mosul was captured in June 2014. ISIL follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promoting religious violence and aims to reject all religious innovations, seeking to revive the original Wahhabi, conservative Sunni Islam that it believes to be purer. ISIL is notably Shiaphobic, persecuting Shi-ite Muslims. It is almost unilaterally designated a terrorist organization and deemed to be dangerous. Unlike many other terrorist groups however, ISIL maintains a level of professionalism, printing a recruiting magazine, Dabiq, in several languages and maintaining a presence on social media. It is also responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, especially Shi’ite Muslims, a number of beheadings of Western journalists and aid workers, and the immolation of Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh.

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The President of the United States


The President of the United States

Who: Currently Barack Obama, see full list below

What: Head of state and head of government of the United States of America

Where: 6 New Yorkers, 6 Ohioans, 5 Virginians, 4 Massachusites, 3 Californians, 3 Illinoisans, 3 Tennesseans, 3 Texans and 1 each from Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Why: Office created in an attempt to unite the thirteen colonies after the American Revolution, whilst also avoiding any resemblance to monarchy

When: First President took office in 1789, can serve for a maximum of two four-year terms.

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The position of President of the United States has been occupied by 43 separate people from eighteen different states. He is the ceremonial figurehead of the United States and head of the executive branch of government (the other two being judicial and legislative, headed by the Supreme Court and Congress), and as such is one of the most powerful men (or women) in the world.

The Seal of the President of the United States


To be President, the candidate must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, be at least thirty-five years old and have been a permanent resident of the United States for at least thirteen years.

Moreover, the candidate can be disqualified if s/he has already been elected president twice, has been convicted in impeachment cases, or who has rebelled against the United States.

Of the forty-three men who had served as President, four have been assassinated, another four have died in office of natural causes, and one has resigned.

The Curse

For 120 years, Presidents who were elected in a year divisible by twenty died in office: William Henry Harrison (1840), Abraham Lincoln (1860), James Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940) and John F. Kennedy (1960). This “curse of Tippecanoe” was broken by Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 and who was shot but survived.

The tallest President was Abraham Lincoln, at 6’4”, or 193cm, and James Buchanan was the only President to never marry.

The average age (at election) is 54 years, 11 months. The youngest was Theodore Roosevelt (42) who took over after McKinley’s assassination. The youngest to be elected is John F Kennedy (43 years, 236 days). The oldest president was Ronald Reagan (69 years, 349 days when he assumed office).

The shortest presidency was that of William Henry Harrison, at just 32 days. The oldest President so far was Gerald Ford, who died in 2006 aged 93. The shortest-lived President was John F Kennedy, assassinated at just 46.

Only twelve out of the 43 sported facial hair, ten of these between 1861-1913, when only two Presidents were clean shaven in fifty years. Not one President has worn a beard or moustache in over a century.


Eleven Presidents held no degree whatsoever though since 1953 every President has had at least a bachelor’s degree. Two attended business school, George W Bush at Harvard and Jon F Kennedy at Stanford (withdrew), one attended Medical School (William Henry Harrison) but withdrew, and one, Woodrow Wilson, held a PhD in political science from John Hopkins University. Abraham Lincoln, notably, only had a year of formal schooling of any kind, despite working as a licensed bartender, land surveyor and lawyer before his Presidency.

25 of the 43 men were lawyers, two of whom graduated from Harvard Law School (Rutherford B Hayes and Barack Obama).


Twelve presidents were named for their fathers: John Adams, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Buchanan, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, John Calvin Coolidge, Gerald Ford (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.), James ‘Jimmy’ Carter, Bill Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III), and Barack Hussein Obama II. George W Bush and John Quincy Adams don’t share the same middle names as their fathers, but share first names.

Not a single one of the 43 men have been an only child.

There have also been four sets of related presidents: two sets of father and son: George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and John Adams and John Quincy Adams, one grandfather and grandson: William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, and fifth cousins Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Of the 43, only eleven did not serve in the military. Of the 32 that did serve, there was one Private, four Lieutenants, five Major Generals, two Majors, one Lieutenant Commander, two Generals of the Army, one General of the Armies (posthumous), two Commanders, five Colonels, two Captains, four Brigadier Generals and a brevetted Major. Eight of these fought in the American Civil War and seven in World War Two.

The first president to not be a lawyer or a general was Andrew Johnson in 1865.

Theodore Roosevelt was the only president to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, albeit posthumously, and one of four presidents to win a Nobel Peace Prize (the irony of winning a Nobel Peace Prize and a decoration for bravery in war apparently lost on both awarding parties).

Four have been immortalised on Mount Rushmore: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Since Harry Truman (1945-53), five out of the twelve presidents have been left-handed, and two more have been ambidextrous.

Only one (Martin van Buren) didn’t speak English; van Buren’s native language was Dutch. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, claimed to read and write six languages. John F Kennedy was the only Catholic President, as well as the only President to win a Pulizter Prize and earn a Purple Heart.

The White House, official residence of the President of the United States

Since John Adams in 1800, the official residence of the president has been the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. The Neoclassical six-storey mansion has survived being torched by British troops in the War of 1812 during the Burning of Washington and two major restoration projects. The entire structure consists of the Executive Residence, the main building, and two wings, the West Wing, comprising the President’s offices and the East Wing, additional office spaces and the offices and staff of the First Lady.

The Presidents

1 George Washington 1789-1797  George-Washington
2 John Adams 1797-1801  Adams
3 Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809  Jefferson
4 James Madison 1809-1817  Madison
5 James Monroe 1817-1825 Monroe
6 John Quincy Adams 1825-1829  Quincy Adams
7 Andrew Jackson 1829-1837  Imacon Color Scanner
8 Martin Van Buren 1837-1841  Van Buren
9 William H. Harrison 18412  Harrison
10 John Tyler 1841-1845  Tyler
11 James K. Polk 1845-1849  Polk
12 Zachary Taylor 1849-18502  Taylor
13 Millard Fillmore 1850-1853  Fillmore
14 Franklin Pierce 1853-1857  Pierce
15 James Buchanan 1857-1861  Buchanan
16 Abraham Lincoln 1861-18651  Lincoln
17 Andrew Johnson 1865-1869  Johnson
18 Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877  Grant
19 Rutherford B. Hayes 1877-1881  Hayes
20 James A. Garfield 18811  Garfield
21 Chester A. Arthur 1881-1885  Arthur
22 Grover Cleveland 1885-1889  Cleveland
23 Benjamin Harrison 1889-1893  WHarrison
24 Grover Cleveland 1893-1897  Cleveland
25 William McKinley 1897-19011  McKinley
26 Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909  Roosevelt
27 William Howard Taft 1909-1913  Taft
28 Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921  Wilson
29 Warren G. Harding 1921-19232  Harding
30 Calvin Coolidge 1923-1929  Coolidge
31 Herbert Hoover 1929-1933  Hoover
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-19452  FDR
33 Harry S Truman 1945-1953  Truman
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953-1961  Eisenhower
35 John F. Kennedy 1961-19631  JFK
36 Lyndon B. Johnson 1963-1969  LBJ
37 Richard M. Nixon 1969-19743  Nixon
38 Gerald R. Ford 1974-1977  Ford
39 James Earl Carter 1977-1981  Carter
40 Ronald Reagan 1981-1989  Reagan
41 George H.W. Bush 1989-1993  5.1.2
42 William J. Clinton 1993-2001  Clinton
43 George W. Bush 2001-2009  GeorgeWBush
44 Barack H. Obama 2009-  OBama


1 Assassinated
2 Died in office
3 Resigned

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The Second Battle of Fort Wagner


Who: Robert Gould Shaw and Quincy Gillmore (Union) vs P.G.T Beauregard and William B. Taliaferro (Confederacy)

What: Confederate victory

Where: Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina

Why: Fort Wagner was crucial to the naval defense of Charleston; the battle heralded the acceptance of African-American soldiers in the war

When: July 18, 1863

“The old flag never touched the ground” – Sgt. William Carney

In 1863 Brigadier General was given the task of capturing Charleston. His task required the capture of Charleston’s heavily defended harbor. Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, a hastily built earthwork reinforced with springy palmetto logs, stood in his way. The approach to Fort Wagner was only 60 yards (55m) wide, with an impassable swamp on one side and the Atlantic on the other, meaning only one regiment could attack at a time. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry were chosen, one of the first African-American units of the US Army, commanded by the white 25-year-old Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The 54th and their two supporting brigades charged, and were shredded by withering Confederate cannon and musket fire. They reached the parapet and engaged in bloody hand to hand fighting, but the attack was repulsed with heavy losses, including Shaw, shot in the chest three times urging his men forward. Around 1,500 Union soldiers were killed, captured or wounded, with Shaw buried in a mass grave with his black men intended as an insult (but not interpreted as such by his abolitionist parents). Despite the loss, the battle changed the way the North saw African-Americans. The 54th had lost half of its 600 men, and were widely praised for their courage under fire, with one, Sgt. William Carney, awarded the Medal of Honor. This led to wider African-American recruitment, further bolstering the North’s numerical advantage and improving the reputation of black soldiers.

Further reading:

George Armstrong Custer


Who: George Armstrong Custer

What: United States Army officer

Where: Born New Rumley, Ohio; died Little Bighorn, Montana

Why: His service in the American Civil War overshadowed by his Last Stand at Little Bighorn

When: Born December 5, 1839; died June 25, 1876

“I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life” – George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer had a busy life before his premature death at Little Bighorn. After growing up in Michigan and Ohio, he attended West Point, graduating last in his class of 34 a year early due to the outbreak of the Civil War. As a cavalry officer, he fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, the Battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Yellow Tavern, Trevilian Station, the Valley Campaigns of 1864, the Siege of Petersburg and finally, played a crucial role at Appomattox, where he was present when Lee finally surrendered. Throughout the war, Custer excelled, uncharacteristically avoiding injury and becoming a darling of the press due to his exuberance and flamboyance, and his impressive cavalry tactics. He became known for his daring and his bravery. After the war ended, Custer stayed with the US Army to fight in the Indian Wars, fighting the Cheyenne and Lakota as America pushed west. In June 1876, Custer’s luck ran out; leading the 7th Cavalry against Sitting Bull at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Despite being warned by scouts, Custer’s forces were wiped out by between 1,800 and 2,000 braves. He achieved the fame he had always craved – but not as a military hero, but as a reckless, incompetent fool. The debacle became known as Custer’s Last Stand, a far cry from the stellar service he had displayed during the Civil War.

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The Battle of the Wilderness


Who: Ulysses S Grant and George Meade (Union) vs Robert E Lee (Confederacy)

What: Confederate tactical victory, Union strategy victory. Actual battle inconclusive.

Where: Spotsylvania County, Virginia

Why: Part of Grant’s Overland Campaign to take Richmond

When: May 5-7, 1864

“As desperate fighting as the world has ever witnessed” – Ulysses S Grant

In March 1864, Ulysses S Grant had been promoted and given command of all Union armies. Choosing the Army of the Potomac for his headquarters, he devised a strategy to strike at the heart of the Confederacy and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Army of the Potomac crossed the river on May 4, and Robert E Lee decided to confront Grant in the dense woodland known as the Wilderness, not far from the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville. By engaging Grant in the thick woods, Lee could negate Grant’s numerical advantage of around 100,000 to Lee’s 60,000. The two armies met on May 5. The fighting was chaotic, with cavalry and artillery almost useless in the thick brush, which set on fire and trapped many of the wounded, and the thick smoke from the fires and rifles effectively blinding the troops. The next day Grant attacked, driving the Confederate right flank under A.P Hill back almost a mile, before a timely counterattack from James Longstreet’s corps. Longstreet was shot by one of his own men in the shoulder. Lee ordered another attack, breaking the Union line. Uncharacteristically for a Union commander, Grant refused to retreat, steadying the breaking lines. By the end of the battle, the two armies had barely moved from their original positions, but had suffered huge casualties: 17,000 Union and 7,000 Confederate. Grant moved his troops from their positions and moved onwards, setting up the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, which would begin the next day on May 8.

Further reading:

The Second Battle of Bull Run


Who: Robert E Lee (Confederacy) vs John Pope (Union)

What: Confederate victory

Where: Prince William County, Virginia – the same ground as The First Battle of Bull Run in 1861

Why: After defeating McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, Lee moved north toward John Pope’s Army of Virginia

When: August 28-30, 1862

After defeating George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in the Seven Days Battles, and the collapse of the Union Peninsula Campaign, Robert E Lee’s newly christened Army of Northern Virginia swung northwards to face John Pope, appointed commander of the Army of Virginia by Abraham Lincoln. Lee’s army was split into two wings, comprising around 55,000 men, commanded by the indefatigable Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet. From August 22, the two armies fought minor engagements, until Jackson’s column, which had been sent north by Lee, engaged Pope’s army on August 28, resulting in a stalemate and convincing Pope he had Jackson trapped. On the morning of August 29 Pope ordered a series of assaults on Jackson’s position on Stony Ridge, assuming Jackson was attempting retreat, but Jackson’s men were in strong defensive positions, and waited for Lee and Longstreet’s reinforcement, which came in the afternoon. On August 30 Pope, apparently unaware Jackson had been reinforced and under the impression again the Confederates were retreating, ordered another assault, which was devastated by Confederate artillery and hurled back by Jackson’s line. James Longstreet, who had demurred at Lee’s order to attack the previous day, saying the time wasn’t right, then launched a mass counterattack with 28,000 men, the largest single assault of the war. Only a heroic rearguard action and delays from Jackson’s exhausted troops prevented a repeat of the ‘Great Skedaddle’ of First Manassas. Pope was swiftly removed from command, and Lee invaded the North on September 3, leading to the fateful Battle of Antietam.

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The Siege of Petersburg


Who: Ulysses S Grant, George Meade and Benjamin Butler (Union) vs Robert E Lee (Confederacy)

What: The culmination of Grant’s Overland Campaign led to a ten-month siege of Petersburg

Where: Petersburg, Virginia

Why: Petersburg was a vital supply city to Richmond

When: June 9, 1864 – March 25, 1865

“A mere question of time” – Robert E Lee

Ulysses S Grant’s Overland Campaign had had a heavy toll on both sides, but despite inconclusive battles, Grant’s advancing Army of the Potomac had not stopped. After the Battle of Cold Harbor, where Grant engaged Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia directly at great cost, Grant implemented a brilliant tactical manoeuvre, constructing a pontoon bridge over the James River and bypassing Lee. Lee, believing Grant would aim for Richmond, only left a token force under P.G.T Beauregard at Petersburg. General Benjamin Butler, looking to vindicate his generalship, attacked the 2,500 Confederates at Petersburg on June 9, 1864. The Confederates, bolstered by strong defensive earthworks, held. George Meade then attempted an attack on June 15, again beaten back, and by June 18, Lee had reinforced the troops defending Petersburg. The sides settled to a ten-month siege, digging trenches to shelter from the incessant artillery. Attempts to break the siege, notably the Battle of the Crater, were routed. Finally, on April 2, with Lee’s forces spread thinner than ever and starving, Union General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry broke through Lee’s right flank and Grant ordered a full assault on all fronts. The Army of Northern Virginia was broken, and Lee gave the order to abandon Richmond and Petersburg. Grant pursued Lee’s retreating army all the way to Appomattox, where he cornered them and forced Lee’s surrender on April 9. Total losses on both sides of the siege were high, around 42,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate casualties.

Further reading:

The Battle of Appomattox Court House


Who: Robert E Lee (Confederacy) vs Ulysses S Grant (Union)

What: Site of Lee’s surrender to Grant

Where: Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Why: Lee’s forced were cut off, short of supplies and were greatly outnumbered

When: April 9, 1865

“There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths” – Robert E Lee

By April 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia’s position had become untenable. On April 1, Major General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry broke Confederate lines at the Battle of Five Forks. The next day, Grant finally reached a breakthrough in the Siege of Petersburg. With his supply lines severed, Lee ordered a retreat and abandoned Richmond, his objective to link up with Joseph E Johnston’s Army of Tennessee, severely weakened by William T Sherman but still roaming the Carolinas. By April 9, Lee was at Appomattox Court House, with both the enormous Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James converging on him. Lee flew the white flag and met with Grant to discuss surrender. They met in the home of Wilmer McLean, whose previous house had been used as P.G.T Beauregard’s headquarters in the First Battle of Bull Run. Grant was slightly star-struck by the imposing Lee, resplendent in his best uniform; Grant had not changed and was spattered with mud. After some small talk in which Grant went off-topic, he offered his generous terms: Lee’s men would hand in their arms, but would be fed, could keep their horses and could return home immediately without prosecution. Leading the formal ceremony, Joshua Chamberlain led a salute of the surrendering Confederates. There were still 175,000 rebels left in the field, but the others soon followed suit: Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26, Nathan Bedford Forrest on May 9, and Stand Watie on June 23. Lee never forgot Grant’s magnanimity, and never permitted a bad word to be spoken of him in his presence. The war was finally over.

Lee signs the terms of surrender in Wilmer McLean’s front parlor. Painting by Tom Lovell

Further reading:

Braxton Bragg


Who: Braxton Bragg

What: Confederate general

Where: Born Warrenton, North Carolina; died Galveston, Texas

Why: One of the principle Confederate commanders in the Western Theater

When: Born March 22, 1817; died September 27, 1876

Not a single soldier in the whole army ever loved or respected him” – Sam Watkins

Bragg’s career in the military was decided by his father when he was just ten years old. He attended West Point at 16 in the same class as Joseph Hooker, John C. Pemberton, Jubal Early and John Sedgwick. Graduating 5th of 50 in 1837 largely on account of his prodigious memory, he served in the Second Seminole War and with distinction in the Mexican-American War. By 1860, he was a colonel in the Louisiana militia. He joined the Confederate army, becoming a major general, and commanded a corps at the Battle of Shiloh. After Albert Sidney Johnston’s death, he was promoted to full general. After P.G.T Beauregard’s perceived failure at the Siege of Corinth, Bragg was given command of the Army of Mississippi, which would become the Army of Tennessee. Bragg invaded Kentucky, meeting the Union at the Battle of Perryville before controversially withdrawing instead of pressing the attack. At the Battle of Stones River, Bragg’s leadership was called into question when the Union repulsed repeated Confederate attacks. He withdrew to Chattanooga, withdrawing again to Georgia before attacking the pursuing Union at the Battle of Chickamauga, a pyrrhic Confederate victory. After mounting criticism, he resigned in December 1863 and was replaced by Joseph E Johnston, becoming a military advisor to Jefferson Davis. After the war, he became a railroad executive and died aged 59 in Galveston, Texas. His legacy is negative: unimaginative tactics and a persistent disinclination to press the advantage (such as Perryville and Chickamauga), coupled with his poor relationships with subordinates mean he is often thought of as one of the reasons the Confederates lost in the West.

Further reading:

Jeb Stuart


Who: James Ewell Brown ‘Jeb’ Stuart

What: Confederate cavalry commander

Where: Born Patrick County, Virginia; died Richmond, Virginia.

Why: Considered one of the greatest cavalry commanders in American history

When: Born February 6, 1833; died May 12, 1864

The greatest cavalry officer ever foaled in America” – Major General John Sedgwick

Stuart was born in 1833 to Archibald Stuart, War of 1812 veteran, slaveholder and sometime politician. His great grandfather, Major Alexander Stuart, had commanded a regiment at the Battle of Guilford Court House. Stuart attempted to enlist in 1848 but was rejected for being underage, instead attended West Point, befriending the family of the new superintendent, Robert E Lee. He graduated 13th of 46 in 1854, and served in Texas and in Bleeding Kansas. In May 1861 he resigned and followed his home state into the Confederate Army as a lieutenant colonel. He reported to Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, who ignored his infantry designation and assigned him to command all the cavalry companies of the Army of the Shenandoah. He led his regiment in the First Battle of Bull Run, especially the Union rout. During McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, Lee ordered Stuart to reconnoitre the Union right flank before the Seven Days Battles. He led 1,200 troopers on a famous complete circumnavigation of the Union army, returning after 150 miles with 165 captured Federals and 260 horses and mules. Before the Second Battle of Bull Run, in retaliation to losing his hat, he overran Union commander John Pope’s headquarters, capturing Pope’s dress uniform. He fought at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and famously got engaged in the Battle of Brandy Station before Gettysburg, leaving him unable to link up with Lee until the second day of battle, leaving Lee, who relied heavily on Stuart for reconnaissance, effectively blind. Stuart died in the Battle of Yellow Tavern when a Union private shot him in the stomach. His wife Flora never remarried and wore black mourning dress for the rest of her life.

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Photo credit: Library of Congress

The Battle of Cold Harbor


Who: Ulysses S Grant and George Meade (Union) vs. Robert E Lee

What: Part of Grant’s Overland Campaign to capture Richmond

Where: Near Mechanicsville, Virginia

Why: Lee hoped to stem Grant’s advance and cause enough anti-war sentiment in the North for Lincoln to lose the upcoming election

When: May 31 – June 12, 1864

I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made” – Ulysses S Grant, in his memoirs

By the end of May, Ulysses S Grant’s Overland Campaign was nearing its end. Despite Union setbacks at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, Grant had not let up; his Army of the Potomac was shrugging off the heavy losses as best it could and marching on toward Richmond. The last major battle, at the same ground as the Lee’s victory over McClellan at Gaines’ Mill, Grant wagered that Lee’s army was exhausted, and attacked. However, the Confederates had strong defensive positions. On June 3, Grant ordered a mass assault. It was a disaster. The Confederates were well dug in, the orders did not specify a target and were uncoordinated. ‘It was more like a volcanic blast than a battle,’ one Federal later said, ‘and just as destructive.’ The Confederates rained fire down on the Union troops. 6,000 fell in twenty minutes. Apparently the Union soldiers had thought it might be suicidal – a blood-stained diary was found on the body of a Union soldier, with the last entry: ‘June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed.’ There was no truce; wounded Federals lay where they had been hit for four days before terms were arranged to pick up the wounded, by which time most had died. After the disastrous June 3 attack, Grant and Meade launched no more at Cold Harbor. The casualties were horrific: almost 13,000 Union to 5,000 Confederate. Grant regretted the decision to send in his men for the rest of his life. Instead, he looped around Lee’s army to attack Petersburg instead, starting a ten-month-long siege there. The Battle of Cold Harbor was the last major victory of Lee’s, who would surrender a little over ten months later.

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