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Top 10 Military Figures on US Coins

By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
 

Popular with many collectors, military themes adorn several United States coins (especially commemoratives), tokens, and currency notes. The following is a subjective ranking of 10 generals, military commanders, and regular soldiers that appear on US (and some world) coins.

10. George B. McClellan

1937 Antietam Half Dollar - Top 10 Military Figures on US Coins. Image: Stack's Bowers / Adobe Stock.
1937 Antietam Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / Adobe Stock.

A highly skilled military organizer with a reputation as an ineffectual commander, George McClellan was nonetheless one of the most beloved Union commanders of the American Civil War. McClellan, like many officers on both sides, had fought in the Mexican-American War and was later appointed as major general of the Ohio volunteer militia on April 23, 1861. First as commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, and later as General-in-Chief of the Union Army, McClellan was responsible for rebuilding the army after its disastrous defeat at the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. McClellan increased morale, built scores of new forts, and created the largest army the United States had fielded up to that point. Ultimately drummed out of command by President Abraham Lincoln for lack of initiative, McClellan ran unsuccessfully against his former superior in the 1864 presidential election. After the war, McClellan would go on to serve as the governor of New Jersey.

Unlike other men on this list, McClellan did not appear on any circulating coins. Most of his numismatic fame comes from private tokens struck in the 1860s and from the 1932 Battle of Antietam 75th Anniversary commemorative half dollar. Authorized under Public Law 75-160, a total of 18,028 examples were struck by the Mint. American sculptor William Marks Simpson designed the obverse, which depicts the jugate busts of General McClellan and Robert E. Lee.

9. Omar Bradley

2013 Five-Star Generals Half Dollar - Top 10 Military Figures on US Coins. Image: US Mint / CoinWeek.
2013 Five-Star Generals Half Dollar. Image: US Mint / CoinWeek.

During World War II, Omar Bradley was beloved by the common soldier. Starting his career as a military instructor, Bradley was transferred to North Africa to take control of the 1943 invasion. After helping General George S. Patton successfully lead the invasion, Bradley was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and shifted to Sicily. Bradley was quickly promoted again to be the field commander for American forces in Operation Overlord (D-Day). By May 1945, Bradley was in direct command of 43 divisions and 1.3 million men – the largest number of troops under a single field commander in American history. After the war, Bradley was made Army Chief of Staff and later the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in August 1949. He later oversaw most of America’s military decision-making during the Korean War.

For the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, Bradley was commemorated on two different sets of silver coins: a 1 Crown struck by the Isle of Man and a 5 Crown struck by Turks and Caicos. Both coins depict the General as part of a military tableau on the reverse. Bradley appears on the obverse of one military-themed US coin: the 2013 silver half dollar in the one-year Five-Star Generals series.

8. Henry Arnold

The only Air Force general on this list, Henry Arnold was taught to fly by the Wright Brothers themselves. A major figure in aviation, Arnold personally contributed to nearly every technological and strategic advance in flight until he retired in 1946. Not only did he serve as an instructor at the Signal Corps aviation school in College Park, Maryland until 1912 but he also personally broke several flight records. By the outbreak of the Second World War, Arnold had helped usher along the development of the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator. As Chief of the Army Air Forces, Arnold grew the fledgling force from roughly 22,000 officers and men with 3,900 planes to upwards of 2,500,000 men and 75,000 aircraft. Despite his promotion to four-star general, and perhaps because of it, Arnold suffered a heart attack in 1945. After retiring, Arnold was appointed the first five-star general of the Air Force.

Arnold appears on only one coin, alongside General Bradley on the obverse of the 2013 silver half dollar coin in the one-year Five-Star Generals series.

7. George C. Marshall

2013 Five-Star Generals Dollar. This military coin features George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Image: US Mint / CoinWeek.
2013 Five-Star Generals Dollar. Image: USMint / CoinWeek.

A towering presence in American military history, George Marshall began his career in 1902. After serving in the Philippines, Marshall served as aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing between the two World Wars. Recognizing his military command capabilities, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him as Army Chief of Staff. Due to his tireless efforts in the lead-up to and during World War II, Marshall became known as the “Architect of Victory”. After the war, Marshall was appointed as the Secretary of State under President Harry Truman in 1947, and while in that office, he authored the eponymous Marshall Plan.

For his role in post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Europe–as well as his attempts to mediate China’s civil war–the United Arab Emirates honored Marshall in their 1970 Men of Peace commemorative coinage series. His portrait appears on both the silver 5 riyals and gold 25 riyals coin. Twenty-seven years later, in 1997, The Netherlands struck a 50th anniversary 10 gulden coin commemorating the Marshall Plan, which depicted Marshall on the reverse. Most recently, the General was depicted on the obverse of the 2013 silver $1 coin in the one-year Five-Star Generals series.

6. Douglas MacArthur

1947 Philippines Peso commemorating General Douglas MacArthur - Top 10 Military Figures on US Coins. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1947 Philippines Peso commemorating General Douglas MacArthur. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

One of the most controversial US military commanders of the 20th century, Douglas MacArthur was central to US Pacific military maneuvers from 1935 until he was fired by President Truman in 1951. As the Commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East and as the first and only Field Marshal of the Philippines, MacArthur skillfully positioned himself as the sole defender of the Philippine islands.

After the end of hostilities with Japan, MacArthur found himself honored yet again, this time on the .750 fine 50 centavo piece and a .900 fine peso issued in 1947 by the San Francisco Mint for the Philippine islands. As the first coins struck for the fledgling independent nation, these pieces were dedicated to a man the islanders saw as their savior. He would also be depicted on a 1980 25 piso coin, a 1994 5 piso piece, and a 2014 5 peso coin.

A bellicose commander, MacArthur considered both the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea and a land invasion of China. Taken together with other issues, President Truman (no innocent, himself) relieved MacArthur of his command. Many years later, MacArthur was featured on the obverse of the 2013 $5 coin in the one-year Five-Star Generals series.

5. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette

The Lafayette Dollar - Top 10 Military Figures on US Coins. Image: Stack's Bowers.
The Lafayette Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de-Lafayette was a man of many names, but he was known by American patriots simply as Lafayette, “the American Guest”. A French aristocrat, Lafayette served as a general in the Continental Army and was a close friend of General George Washington. On the battlefield, Lafayette was a capable leader, commanding brigades against the British at the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. As a diplomat, Lafayette was instrumental in securing additional aid from the French King Louis XVI. Upon his return to America, Lafayette forced Cornwallis’ troops to a standstill at Yorktown while Washington’s American forces pushed the advantage, ultimately forcing Cornwallis to accept the terms of a humiliating surrender.

After the war, Lafayette and Washington had an emotional reunion at the latter’s Mount Vernon plantation, where the Marquise stayed for 10 days. Returning to France, Lafayette’s personal fortunes fell into decline as his home country descended into revolution. Lafayette, a royalist, defected to Austria in August 1792, only to be held captive for five years. Lafayette survived the royal purge, but several members of his wife’s family did not. In 1803, US President Thomas Jefferson urged Lafayette to return to the United States and serve as the Governor of the Louisiana Territory; Lafayette politely declined.

In 1824, at the age of 67, Lafayette and his son George toured the United States as a guest of President James Monroe. It had been nearly 50 years since the Revolutionary War, and Americans from 24 states took to the streets to catch a glimpse at the legendary war hero. To commemorate Lafayette’s visit, some souvenir vendors counterstamped 1824 half dollars with the likeness of the Marquise and Washington.

Lafayette was famously honored on a 1900-dated commemorative silver dollar. The coin, struck entirely in one day in 1899, shows Lafayette and Washington on the obverse and Lafayette atop a horse on the reverse.

4. Ulysses S. Grant

1922 Ulysses S. Grant Half Dollar.
1922 Ulysses S. Grant Half Dollar.

Ulysses S. Grant was not necessarily destined for greatness. After serving with distinction in the Mexican-American War, Grant suffered a series of personal and economic hardships. After failing as a farmer, Grant was passed over for public office. Throughout these years, Grant also struggled with alcoholism. When war broke out in 1861, Grant was appointed as the military aide to Illinois Governor Richard Yates. Eventually, after the Confederate surrender of Fort Donelson, President Lincoln appointed Grant as Brigadier General of Volunteers. Over the next several years, Grant proved himself to be the most capable western commander in the Union forces. As a result, he was appointed General-in-Chief of all Union forces in March 1864. It was Grant on April 9, 1865, who accepted Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House in Appomattox, Virginia.

In 1922, the United States Mint commissioned Laura Gardin Fraser to design a commemorative Centennial coin to mark the 100th anniversary of Grant’s birth. In total, the Mint struck 10,032 gold dollars and 71,661 silver half dollars, both with the same design. All proceeds from the sale of these coins were used to preserve Grant’s birthplace. Elected as US president in 1869, Grant was also depicted on a 2011 Presidential dollar coin. The likeness used for this coin was designed by the United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Don Everhart.

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower

1978-D Eisenhower Dollar. Image: CoinWeek.
1978-D Eisenhower Dollar. Image: CoinWeek.

After graduating from West Point Military Academy in 1915, Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a knee injury and later received a commission in the Philippine 57th Infantry Regiment. Between the World Wars, Eisenhower served under General Douglas MacArthur. He later rejected an appointment as brigadier general in the Philippine army, souring their relationship. During the first days of World War II, Eisenhower rose to prominence when General Marshall made him Deputy Chief of the War Plans Division. He quickly became commander of all American forces in Europe and later the supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Elected as the 34th president, Eisenhower came to office in 1953 with years of military experience. While in office, Eisenhower used this vast reservoir of military experience and prestige to steer the US military through the beginning of the Cold War.

Issued a decade after his second term ended and just over a year after he died, the Eisenhower dollar commemorated the recently deceased former president. The Mint also issued a centennial commemorative silver dollar in 1990 and the Five-Star General commemorative silver 1$ coin in 2013. Most recently, the Eisenhower Presidential dollar coin was issued in 2015.

2. George Washington

1976 Washington Bicentennial Quarter graded MS68 by NGC. Image: GreatCollections.
1976 Washington Bicentennial Quarter graded MS68 by NGC. Image: GreatCollections.

As perhaps the best-known founding father of the United States of America, George Washington has long graced US coinage.

Before being elected president in 1789, Washington had a long and storied military career. Starting in 1753, the young and relatively inexperienced Washington was appointed as a major in Virginia’s militia force being sent into the Ohio Territory to fight in the French and Indian War. During this time, Washington helped oversee the failed Braddock Expedition, which resulted in over 900 British casualties. Washington parleyed his frontier military experience, political clout, and status as an influential Virginian into a congressional appointment as the General and Commander in Chief of the Army of the United Colonies. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past century, Washington has come to be featured on several US circulating and commemorative coins. While one of the first times Washington appeared numismatically was on a fascinating 1792 gold eagle pattern coin, the most famous is the Flanagan quarter. Originally designed to be a single-year issue in 1932 in commemoration of Washington’s 200th birthday anniversary, the design was retained and became a staple of American numismatics. He also appeared on the common 1982 commemorative half dollar celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth. Washington’s likeness, created by Laura Gardin Fraser, was also used on the 1999 gold $5 commemorative. This same design was recently adopted as the obverse of the American Women Quarters (2022-25) series.

1. The Everyday Soldier

Coins representing everyday soldiers.
Coins representing everyday soldiers. Left: 2012 Infantry Soldier dollar. Center: Vietnam Veterans Memorial dollar. Right: 1994 Women in Military Service Memorial dollar.

As with nearly every nation, the standard enlisted man or “grunt” makes up the backbone of America’s military forces. By 2020, there are just over 480,000 active service members in the US armed forces. The United States, as a very martial nation, places great symbolic value on its military. Therefore, it is not at all unusual for the government to commission several coins over the years that commemorate the common soldier.

In 1925, Daniel Chester French’s famous statue honoring the “Minute Man” of the Revolutionary War appeared on the Lexington Concord Sesquicentennial commemorative silver half dollar.

In 1991, the Mint struck 831,537 Korean War silver dollar commemoratives. Two years later, in 1993, the Mint began striking the 1991-1995 World War II series, comprised of a half dollar, silver dollar, and $5 gold coin. The next year, the Mint issued three military-themed silver dollars commemorating Vietnam Veterans, POWs, and Women in the Military. In 1995, the Mint struck a Civil War commemorative half dollar, and, in 1998, a Black War Patriots silver dollar. In 2005 the Marine Corps was commemorated by a silver dollar, and in 2010 the Mint honored disabled veterans. 2011 saw the production of both a Medal of Honor and US Army series, and Army infantrymen were commemorated with a silver dollar in 2012. Other recent examples include the 2016 South Carolina America the Beautiful quarter featuring Fort Moultrie National Monument, the 2016 Code Talkers Native American dollar, the 2018 World War I Centennial commemorative dollar, the 2019 American Legion 100th Anniversary commemorative coin program, the 2021 Alabama America the Beautiful quarter featuring Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Park, and the 2022 National Purple Heart Hall of Honor commemorative coin program.

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Tyler Rossi
Tyler Rossi
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University's Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies sustainable international development and conflict resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington, D.C., he worked for Save the Children, creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the U.S. from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).

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