The Strange Military Career of Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore, the least famous president, had no military service prior to attaining office through the untimely death of President Zachary Taylor in 1851. A native of New York State, Fillmore, born in 1800, came to manhood at a time when the traditional enrolled militia was fading from favor. By the time the nation faced a proper war, with Mexico in 1846, he was generally regarded as too old for service.
However, oddly, after Fillmore's term in office, he did see some military service, when well into his 60s.
In 1861, on the outbreak of the Civil War, Fillmore was elected chairman of the Buffalo Committee of Public Defense, which assisted in raising troops for the war. In addition, Fillmore helped organize the "Union Continentals," a militia unit composed of older men, in which he eventually rose to major.
The Union Continentals performed home guard, internal security, escort, prisoner-of-war, and ceremonial duties during the war. At the war's end the regiment was disbanded, and Major Fillmore given an honorable discharge.
Fillmore has the curious distinction of being the only president to have had his first experience of military service after his presidency.
An Educated Soldier is a Superior Soldier
The first British infantry battalion to report not a single illiterate man in its ranks was the 1st Gordon Highlanders, in 1933. This may not seem important, but it was in fact overwhelmingly so.
Long experience has demonstrated that the better educated a man is, the better a soldier he is likely to make. Illiterate dummies, generally thought to be ideally suited to serve as soldiers, are in fact far less so.
One reason for the superior performance of some armies in World War II, such as the German and American, was the high proportion of literate men in their ranks. In contrast most of the less successful armies, such as the Italian or Chinese, and to some extent even the Russian, had significant numbers of illiterates in the front lines.