At least three of the first fifteen students enrolled in King’s College, as Columbia was then called, served in the French and Indian War. Columbia students who actively participated in the Revolutionary War included Alexander Hamilton, later the first secretary of the treasury, and Henry Rutgers, later a philanthropist who would give his name to the state college in New Jersey.
In the nineteenth century, Columbians served in every major conflict between the United States and a foreign power. For example, Philip Kearney, a graduate of the class of 1833 served with distinction in the Mexican–American War and was killed in the Civil War at the Battle of Chantilly while leading Union troops. A memorial to his bravery stands in Arlington National Cemetery. One account dating from1989 lists 395 Columbia students and alumni who served in the Civil War, a large number given the small size of its graduating classes in the decades before the conflict. In 1898, University President Seth Low acknowledged the participation of students and graduates of the University in the Spanish–American War. These included Theodore Roosevelt who attended the Law School for a year.