Military Wiki

United States Army officer rank insignia in use today.

US DoD Pay Grade O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6 O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10
Insignia US-OF1B US-OF1A US-O3 insignia US-O4 insignia US-O5 insignia US-O6 insignia US-O7 insignia US-O8 insignia US-O9 insignia US-O10 insignia
Title Second Lieutenant First Lieutenant Captain Major Lieutenant Colonel Colonel Brigadier General Major General Lieutenant General General
NATO Code OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6 OF-7 OF-8 OF-9


The structure of U.S. ranks has its roots in British military traditions. At the start of the American Revolutionary War, uniforms, let alone insignia, were barely affordable and recognition of ranks in the field was problematic. To solve this, General George Washington wrote: "As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green." From 1780, regulations prescribed two stars for major generals and one star for brigadier generals, worn on epaulettes. The period of 1821 to 1832 witnessed a brief period of using chevrons to identify officer grades, a practice that is still observed at West Point for cadet officers.

Colonels received their eagle in 1832, and four years later lieutenant colonels were using oak leaves and captains and first lieutenants their respective double and single bars. Both majors and second lieutenants had no specific insignia. A major would have been recognizable as he would have worn the more elaborate epaulette fringes of a senior field officer but without insignia. The color of insignia was gold on silver epaulettes in the infantry and vice versa in the other branches until 1851 when insignia became universally silver on gold for senior officers and gold for the bars of captains and first lieutenants. The reason for the choice of silver eagles over gold ones is thought to be one of economy; there were more cavalry and artillery colonels than infantry so it was cheaper to replace the numerically fewer gold ones.

From 1872 the majors received oak leaves in gold to distinguish them from the silver of lieutenant colonels and the bars of both captains and lieutenants became silver. In a similar fashion, 1917 saw the introduction of a single gold bar for second lieutenants. These changes created the curious situation (in terms of heraldic tradition) of silver outranking gold. One after-the-fact explanation suggested by some NCOs is that the more-malleable gold suggests that the bearer is being "molded" for his or her responsibilities—as a field officer (second lieutenant) or staff officer (major). However, this explanation may be more clever than correct, for while the insignia for second lieutenant and major are gold colored they are actually made of brass (except that the gold bars used to "pin on" a Second Lieutenant at the US Military Academy are, by tradition, 14 karat gold), and brass is a base metal while silver is a precious metal. The rank order thus does not actually conflict with heraldic tradition.

General of the Army / General of the Armies[]

US-O12 insignia

1956 Conjectural Design for General of the Armies

Period 1866-1872 1872-1888 1919-1939 1942–Present
Insignia General of the Army (1866-1872) General of the Army (1872-1888) Pershing's Insignia General of the Army (1944-1981)
Title General of the Army1 General of the Army2 General of the Armies3 General of the Army4
1 Worn by Grant (1866 to 1872).
2 Worn by Sherman (1872 to 1888) and Sheridan (1888).
3 Insignia chosen by General of the Armies John J. Pershing (authorized 1919 to 1948) but never actually worn.
4 Worn by Marshall (1944-1959), MacArthur (1944-1964), Eisenhower (1944-1969), Arnold (1944-1950), and Bradley (1950-1981).

While not currently in use today, special insignia were authorized by Congress for ten General officers who were promoted to the highest ranks in the United States Army: General of the Army, designed as a "five star" rank, and General of the Armies, considered to be the equivalent of a "six star" rank. Eight Generals were promoted to the rank and title General of the Army (Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry H. Arnold, and Omar Bradley), while two Generals were promoted to the higher rank and title of General of the Armies (George Washington and John J. Pershing).

Congress created the rank of General of the Armies specifically for Washington, although while living he never officially accepted the honor. Pershing received the rank in 1919 and was allowed to choose his own insignia; he chose to use four gold stars, but never actually wore the rank on his uniform. While a conjectural design for the rank of General of the Armies was proposed using six silver stars when the promotion of Douglas MacArthur to the rank was considered in 1956, no design was ever officially authorized. In 1976, Congressman Mario Biaggi of New York submitted a House Resolution granting Washington the promotion. The promotion was effective on July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. Although Pershing accepted the rank in 1919 and technically had a date of rank that preceded Washington's, the new law specified that no other officer of the United States Army should ever outrank Washington. Hence, effective date of rank non-withstanding, Washington was permanently made superior to all other officers of the United States Army, past, present, or future.

While no living officer holds either of these ranks today, the General of the Army title and five star insignia designed in 1944 is still authorized for use in war time. Congress may promote Generals to this rank for successful wartime campaigns, or to give the officer parity in rank to foreign counterparts in joint coalitions, specifically with respect to Field Marshals.


External links[]

All or a portion of this article consists of text from Wikipedia, and is therefore Creative Commons Licensed under GFDL.
The original article can be found at United States Army officer rank insignia and the edit history here.