John Aaron Rawlins was a general officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a cabinet officer in the Grant administration. A longtime confidant of Ulysses S. Grant, Rawlins served on Grant's staff throughout the war, rising to the rank of brevet major general, and was Grant's chief defender against allegations of insobriety. He was appointed Secretary of War when Grant was elected President of the United States.
Rawlins was a self-made man who overcame an impoverished family background, scanty education, and an absentee father who was prone to drink. After studying law, Rawlins passed the bar in 1854 and started a practice in Galena, Illinois. He was a Douglas Democrat at the outbreak of the Civil War; a noted public speaker, he gave a notable pro-Union speech at the start of hostilities, and he soon became close friends with Ulysses S. Grant, a Galena resident, United States Military Academy graduate, and Mexican–American War veteran who had served in the Army for 11 years. Rawlins persuaded Grant to drill and muster a local volunteer militia company and send them to the state capital in Springfield so they could be inducted into federal service.