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Civil War Streets: Brigadier General John Aaron Rawlins

By Mark Pearson

The first street named after a Civil War general that you come across as you head north on 10th Avenue and cross the bridge over the Black River at Glenwood and Stanton is Rawlins. This street is named after Brigadier General John Aaron Rawlins who was born in Illinois on February 13, 1831. He went on to practice law in Galena, Illinois where his brother also lived and owned a leather goods store. One of the clerks who worked for his brother just happened to be a man named Ulysses S. Grant.

At this time, Grant had resigned from the army and returned to civilian life. Rawlins wasn’t a trained military man himself, but he did belong to the Illinois militia. When the war started, he asked Grant if he would be interested in training the new recruits who were answering the call to serve in the Union Army before being sent to the state capital, Springfield, IL.

At that time, prominent citizens, wealthy businessmen, or well-connected politicians could be granted a charter from Washington to raise and equip a company of soldiers, and in many cases lead them as their commanding officers. This didn’t always work out too well as these men were not always the best leaders and, in many cases, made blunders that led to many of their men getting killed. In this case, Rawlins served on Grant’s staff after he was reinstated and recommissioned in the union army.

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He never actually commanded a unit in the field so he was never put in that kind of position. He served in that capacity throughout the war and also during reconstruction. After General Grant became President, Rawlins served as his secretary of war, but only had that position for five months. He died of tuberculosis on September 6, 1869. Not much more is known about General Rawlins other than the fact that he ruffled the feathers of a few politicians over his policies regarding Cuba which at that time was a Spanish possession. His attitude regarding the Mormons in Utah was not highly appreciated.

I can only speculate why the Port Huron City Council decided to name this street after him. Perhaps it was his service on General Grant’s staff? I hope that as you read this that you don’t consider it dull and dry and just another history lesson. Rather, please keep this in mind: Rawlins was still some mother’s son who took on himself what he thought was the right thing to do with his life. He could have stayed home and continued to practice law and live a comfortable life, but if he had, there wouldn’t be a street in Port Huron named after him.

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