The Seniormost Deaths

Today in 1862, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was mortally wounded at the head of his troops during the Battle of Shiloh (or Pittsburg Landing). A plaque on the battlefield, placed by the War Department shortly after the park’s founding, notes that he is the senior American to die in battle.

Is this still true? How does Johnston rank among the other senior officer deaths?

It is in fact still true. Johnston’s rank is equivalent to a four-star general officer today, and makes him the seniormost American to die in battle.

The other American officers (above the rank of Major General) killed in battle by enemy action are listed by seniority as follows:

Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, CSA – Killed by artillery fire June 14, 1864 at Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Lieutenant General A.P. Hill, CSA – Killed by enemy soldiers, April 2, 1865 outside Petersburg, Virginia.

Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner Jr., USA – Killed by artillery fire June 18, 1945, on Okinawa, Japan.

Lieutenant General Timothy J. Maude, USA – Killed in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Two American lieutenant generals have been killed or mortally wounded in battle by friendly fire:

Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson, CSA – Mortally wounded by the 18th North Carolina on May 2, 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, USA – Killed by American bombs falling short on July 25, 1944 just prior to the Normandy breakout attack.

Johnston is also the seniormost American to die on active duty and in command, not counting General Pershing or the 5-star officers, who never were retired but had ceased active command. These 3-star and 4-star officers (listed by seniority) were on active duty and in command when they passed from various causes:

General Philip H. Sheridan, USA – Heart failure, August 5, 1888. Commanding General of the U.S. Army.

General Joseph W. Stilwell, USA – Stomach cancer, October 12, 1946. Commander of Sixth Army.

General George S. Patton Jr., USA – Effects of a traffic accident 12 days prior, December 21, 1945. Commander of Fifteenth Army.

Lieutenant General Frank Andrews, USAAF – Plane crash in Iceland, May 3, 1943. Commander, European Theater of Operations.

Lieutenant General Millard Harmon, USAAF – Plane lost at sea in the Pacific, February 24-25, 1945. Commander of Pacific Ocean Areas Air Forces.

Lieutenant General Walton Walker, USA – Jeep accident in Korea, December 22, 1950. Commander of Eighth Army.

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12 Responses to The Seniormost Deaths

  1. John Pryor says:

    Great article. James McPherson?

    • Ryan Quint says:

      James McPherson was a major general when killed at Atlanta on July 22, 1864. He was the 2nd highest ranking Federal killed in the Civil War, behind Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, killed at Spotsylvania.

      • Todd Berkoff says:

        McPherson’s death was unique because he was commanding an army when he was killed — the only Union army commander killed during the war. Sedgwick may have outranked him, but Sedgwick was commanding a corps when killed.

  2. Stefan Papp Jr. says:

    I don’t see Lt. Gen. A. Powell Hill on the list. .

  3. Joe Mieczkowski says:

    Gen John Sedgwick was the highest-ranking Union official killed on the battlefield during the United States Civil War.

  4. Joe Mieczkowski says:

    Following the US Civil War, many career officers served on the front lines of the American Indian Wars. However, unlike the Civil War, the fight for territory in the western frontier was asymmetric, lasting decades.

    Gen Edward Canby was the only US general killed during the American Indian Wars, and at the most unlikely stage possible. At peace talks in northern California with the Modoc tribe, he was assassinated by treaty negotiators.

  5. Todd Berkoff says:

    I wanted to correct my earlier statement, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was the other Union army commander killed during the war (in addition to J. B. McPherson).

    • Kristen Pawlak says:

      One important fact about Lyon is that he was the very first Union general to be killed in the war. He died immediately after a Southern bullet tore into his heart and lungs on Bloody Hill at Wilson’s Creek.

  6. Chris, this is an excellent article! I always wondered about Johnston and his legacy as the senior-most officer to be killed in combat. Thanks for digging into this!

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