Brevet Rank and the Effect of the 1st March 1869 Act of Congress

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67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Nov 10, 2006
Split from another thread.

to be blunt the US Army has never used the Regimental System. There were a specific number of specific rank slots available throughout the Army, some of which were assigned to field regiments, others like Corps of Engineers, Coast Artillery, Finance, Ordinance etc. In practice the Regular Army rank is the only rank that mattered unless it came down to an issue of seniority, which at that point an officer with the same Regular Army rank as another officer might be junior on the Regular Army list but have higher brevet (or volunteer) rank in which case the brevet makes him higher ranking
Well, it did not use a regimental type system in the WW2, but in the 1860's it did or a sort. I will point out that the split is "rank in the army" and "rank in the regiment (or corps)". A brevet is a promotion within the US Army as a whole which is not matched within the regiment (where promotion is strictly by seniority). This is because being promoted out of turn doesn't create a new slot on the establishment table. If a regiment is established for 10 captains and one of the Lts is promoted captain what happens? Well they are now a captain in the army/ 1st lieutenant in the regiment. They get to wear the uniform of a captain and draw captains pay when assigned elsewhere, but the regimental paymaster only has money to pay for 10 captains. The most junior captain (11th out of 10) now continues to act as a 1Lt and draw the pay of such in the regiment, but is first in line to take a regimental captaincy when it becomes available.

Custer was promoted to major general in the regular army with seniority dating from 13th March 1865, like loads of other generals. However the US Army only had 5 slots for MG's and 10 for line BG's, but had promoted, and the cavalry alone held 26 regular army generals in 1868 thus:

1st Cavalry: 1x MG (Lt Col) and 1x BG (Col)
2nd: 1x MG (Col) and 1x BG (Lt Col)
3rd: 2x BG (Col and Lt Col)
4th: 1x MG (Lt Col) and 3x BG (Col, senior Maj and the 3rd Capt)
5th: 2x MG (Col and senior Maj) and 1x BG (Lt Col)
6th: 2x BG (Col and 3rd Maj)
7th: 3x MG (Col, Lt Col and senior Maj)
8th: 3x BG (Col, Lt Col and senior Maj)
9th: 2x MG (Col and Lt Col, with the oddity that the Lt Col was senior as MG)
10th: 2x MG (Col and Lt Col) and 1x BG (senior Maj)

The US Army had promoted ridiculous numbers of volunteer generals to regular army generals, when there were only 17 GOC slots in the line (Gen, LG, 5x MG and 10x BG). They were all piled up waiting for their seniors to die so they could get their turn at drawing pay.

The situation was such a problem that on 1st March 1869 Congress passed an Act changing the meaning of a brevet. From this point forward brevets that had previously been awarded were declared to be honorary only. It is a major mistake to project the post-1869 status back to before 1869.

Lieutenant Colonel Custer commanded the 7th Cavalry in the field because Colonel Sturgis was assigned to duty in Saint Louis during the campaign in the Black Hills and he (Sturgis) had a permanent rank of Colonel dated from the time the 7th Cavalry was formed.
Sturgis was assigned to command the 7th US Cavalry in 1869, after the passage of the Act of 1st March 1869 that altered the meaning of brevet rank, and ISTR also introduced lineal within an arm for field officers. If he'd been assigned three months earlier then Custer would have been senior to him (by dint of major-general Custer only acting down to Lt Col, and Sturgis only being a colonel in the army). However, as of March '69 brevet rank ceases to function as a substantive promotion in the army, but not the the regiment, and Sturgis held the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the 6th Cavalry dated 27th October 1863, and Custer held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Cavalry dated 28th July 1866.

So to reiterate, prior to 1st March 1869 Custer is senior to Sturgis, but from that date onwards Sturgis is senior.

This makes the mistake of projecting the post 1st March 1869 meaning of brevet rank back on the ACW.
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