As the nineteenth president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes brought an end to Reconstruction and returned order to the White House. But it was his service as a volunteer officer in the Union army during the Civil War that provided the most glorious years of his life and made his post-war political accomplishments possible. Although he spent much of the war on the periphery, away from the major centers of activity, Hayes performed conspicuously whenever called upon. He participated in the repulse of dreaded Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan's Ohio Raid and, although only a colonel, commanded a division in General Philip Sheridan's devastating Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. No professional soldier, Hayes was nonetheless a natural warrior. Another future president, William McKinley, wrote of his fellow Ohioan, His whole nature seemed to change when in battle. Normally kind and agreeable, Hayes grew intense and ferocious during a fight. In all, he was wounded five times and had four horses shot from under him. And while he ended the war as a brevet major general, Hayes noted that he never fought a battle as a general. He was, by his own reckoning, simply one of the good colonels in the great army.
ARI HOOGENBOOM is professor of history at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He is the author of Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, and Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865-1883.