On this day in 1831, Union General John Rawlins is born in Galena, Illinois. Rawlins was a close personal aide to General Ulysses S. Grant and was reported to have kept Grant from drinking heavily during the war.
Rawlins' family was originally from Virginia but had settled in Illinois shortly before Rawlins' birth. When Rawlins was a teenager, his father abandoned the family and headed for the gold fields of California. The younger Rawlins received little formal education, but was admitted to the bar in Illinois in 1854 and went on to practice law and involve himself in state politics.
When the Civil War started, Rawlins became the aide-de-camp to Grant. He was Grant's principal staff officer throughout the war, and Grant said that Rawlins was nearly indispensable. Grant was known to be a heavy drinker when he served on the frontier in the 1850s, and it appears Rawlins was instrumental in keeping the general from excessive imbibing throughout the Civil War.
After the war, Rawlins served in the West. He helped General Greenville Dodge survey the route for the Union Pacific Railroad, which later became part of the first transcontinental line. For his efforts, the town of Rawlins, Wyoming, was named after him. When Grant became U.S. president in 1869, he made Rawlins secretary of war. However, Rawlins' health declined after taking office, and the 38-year-old died in September 1869. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.