Research Custer & Merritt: who ranks whom in the final reckoning...

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I believe it's the case that both MG ranks were brevets, and thus when the regulations were changed (March 1869) both MG ranks basically just became honorary. As such it was their regimental ranks which counted, not anything else.

Serving with an unconfirmed MG nomination (say) was actually kind of common, AIUI, if only because the rank was "acting" but substantive until the Senate got around to either confirming, rejecting or just letting the nomination lapse.
 

PJO

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Nov 15, 2014
I believe it's the case that both MG ranks were brevets, and thus when the regulations were changed (March 1869) both MG ranks basically just became honorary. As such it was their regimental ranks which counted, not anything else.

Serving with an unconfirmed MG nomination (say) was actually kind of common, AIUI, if only because the rank was "acting" but substantive until the Senate got around to either confirming, rejecting or just letting the nomination lapse.
We have to distinguish between substantive & brevet rank in the Volunteers and the Regular Army. My post was about Merritt's & Custer's elevation to substantive major general's rank in the Volunteer Service. One may argue that it was really of no importance whether Merritt was confirmed or not, especially since he (& Custer) had been mustered out, effective 1 February 1866. But the fact remains that Custer was a duly commissioned mg while Merritt wasn't. I readily agree, relative seniority within the arm of the service is what counted following the reorganisation of the Regular Army in the summer of 1866. And Merritt was one rung ahead of Custer...
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
My understanding is that before 1869, brevet rank was substantive - it was a promotion in the army which was not matched by promotion in the regiment (where there were a limited number of slots). It's 1869 when that changes and brevet rank becomes honorary.
 

PJO

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My understanding is that before 1869, brevet rank was substantive - it was a promotion in the army which was not matched by promotion in the regiment (where there were a limited number of slots). It's 1869 when that changes and brevet rank becomes honorary.
Brevet rank was even honorary prior to 1869! (Please see attached file for General Macombs definition of a brevet commission in the US Army, to be found in General James B. Fry's book on Brevets, p. 76) The act of 3 March 1869 directed that brevet rank "shall not entitle an officer to precedence or command except by special assignment of the President, but such assignment shall not entitle any officer to additional pay and allowances."

Screenshot_20210115-113731_Gallery.jpg
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Brevet rank was even honorary prior to 1869! (Please see attached file for General Macombs definition of a brevet commission in the US Army, to be found in General James B. Fry's book on Brevets, p. 76) The act of 3 March 1869 directed that brevet rank "shall not entitle an officer to precedence or command except by special assignment of the President, but such assignment shall not entitle any officer to additional pay and allowances."
I think the problem here is that I'm reading the bit which says "not only an honorary distinction but is as effective as any other commission except" and concluding that brevet rank is therefore fundamentally substantive (with exceptions) rather than fundamentally honorary.



My understanding is that, prior to 1869:

When the question is strictly related to the regiment or other section of the army, then brevet rank does not matter. This includes:
- Generally for purposes of pay and emolements in the peacetime army, when officers are usually with their regiments and drawing pay as such.
- When only one regiment or elements of only one regiment are involved in a combat situation.

However, whenever the question is not strictly related to such, brevet rank does matter. This includes:
- When the officer holding the brevet is commanding according to their brevet rank (whereupon they draw the pay entitled to the brevet rank, etc.)
- When the comparison being made in rank (such as for the purposes of who commands in a combat situation) is between officers in different regiments or branches.
- When elements of more than one regiment or branch are involved in a combat situation.
- When a promotion opens up in the regiment (since promotion is by seniority, the first in line to take the new promotion is the most senior officer in the army).


Consequently, if the 1st Cavalry in 1868 is operating by itself, or is not in combat, then the Colonel is a higher rank than the Lt. Col. But if the 1st Cavalry is operating with elements of some other force containing no generals, army rank applies and the Lt. Col (who is a brevet MG) is higher ranking than the Col (who is a brevet BG), and thus the Lt. Col/MG would be the one commanding the combined force and ordering the Col/BG around.


The change is that in 1870 the brevet ranks are no longer used for this calculation, and the Colonel remains in command.
 

Lubliner

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Chattanooga, Tennessee
I think the problem here is that I'm reading the bit which says "not only an honorary distinction but is as effective as any other commission except" and concluding that brevet rank is therefore fundamentally substantive (with exceptions) rather than fundamentally honorary.



My understanding is that, prior to 1869:

When the question is strictly related to the regiment or other section of the army, then brevet rank does not matter. This includes:
- Generally for purposes of pay and emolements in the peacetime army, when officers are usually with their regiments and drawing pay as such.
- When only one regiment or elements of only one regiment are involved in a combat situation.

However, whenever the question is not strictly related to such, brevet rank does matter. This includes:
- When the officer holding the brevet is commanding according to their brevet rank (whereupon they draw the pay entitled to the brevet rank, etc.)
- When the comparison being made in rank (such as for the purposes of who commands in a combat situation) is between officers in different regiments or branches.
- When elements of more than one regiment or branch are involved in a combat situation.
- When a promotion opens up in the regiment (since promotion is by seniority, the first in line to take the new promotion is the most senior officer in the army).


Consequently, if the 1st Cavalry in 1868 is operating by itself, or is not in combat, then the Colonel is a higher rank than the Lt. Col. But if the 1st Cavalry is operating with elements of some other force containing no generals, army rank applies and the Lt. Col (who is a brevet MG) is higher ranking than the Col (who is a brevet BG), and thus the Lt. Col/MG would be the one commanding the combined force and ordering the Col/BG around.


The change is that in 1870 the brevet ranks are no longer used for this calculation, and the Colonel remains in command.
I would think a Brevet rank would put the officers at the top of the list for advancement first.
Lubliner.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I would think a Brevet rank would put the officers at the top of the list for advancement first.
Lubliner.
I'm not sure whether it would, under the 1869 regulations. I believe it did before the 1869 regs, but under the 1869 regs it's honorary only so it might not apply.
 

Sgt. Tyree

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“Here’s for a brevet or a coffin!” - Major Joel Elliott at Washita River

Regardless of whatever practical advantage a brevet did or didn’t carry, officers must have considered it quite an honor. Joel Elliott rode to his death trying to earn one.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
“Here’s for a brevet or a coffin!” - Major Joel Elliot at Washita River

Regardless of whatever practical advantage a brevet did or didn’t carry, officers must have considered it quite an honor. Joel Elliot rode to his death trying to earn one.
At that time (1868) it was a substantive promotion and a way to jump the strict seniority ladder that otherwise obtained. So I can see why it was such a draw.
 

Lubliner

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Toward the end of many battle reports the mention is made, 'I recommend so and so for a brevet (promotion) for exemplary conduct, etc., etc.' This gave the top command knowledge of the lower ranks, who excelled and who deserved attention.
Lubliner.
 

Sgt. Tyree

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Location
Wyoming Territory
At that time (1868) it was a substantive promotion and a way to jump the strict seniority ladder that otherwise obtained. So I can see why it was such a draw.
Officers coveted it for sure. You mentioned the practical advantage. I suspect the honorific aspect of it influenced their thinking as well. It seems that officers were usually (always?) addressed and introduced by brevet rank - General Custer, Colonel Benteen, etc.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Officers coveted it for sure. You mentioned the practical advantage. I suspect the honorific aspect of it influenced their thinking as well. It seems that officers were usually (always?) addressed and introduced by brevet rank - General Custer, Colonel Benteen, etc.
It depends on the context, and whether it's regimental or not. Within a few years the use of brevet rank at all was no longer allowed, IIRC...
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
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Brevet rank was even honorary prior to 1869! (Please see attached file for General Macombs definition of a brevet commission in the US Army, to be found in General James B. Fry's book on Brevets, p. 76) The act of 3 March 1869 directed that brevet rank "shall not entitle an officer to precedence or command except by special assignment of the President, but such assignment shall not entitle any officer to additional pay and allowances."

View attachment 387809
This is exactly correct, but look at the wording.

In the Army Register, brevets are recorded as "rank in the Army [at large]" as opposed to "rank in the regiment", and that is exactly what they were. The officer had been promoted in the army, but because there were no slots in the TO for them, they remain in the previous rank within their regiment.

When an officer with such a split rank is ordered to duty outside their regiment, including if their regiment is brigaded, then their "rank in the Army" is the operating one.

It is better to think of the brevet as the "true rank" and the officer is acting down to their regimental rank. It is no wonder Macomb subscribed to this position, as it was the argument he made to become Major-General. He stood as the senior surviving MG from the War of 1812, and took a position in the diminished army as Chief Engineer, with the rank and pay of a Colonel. There were, however, two other MG's from the war who occupied the two BG slots in the army (Scott and Gaines). His argument that he ranked Scott and Gaines was accepted and Macomb was thus in a position to write policy and rules.

The Act of 1st March 1869 revoked the 61st Article-of-War, which made brevets effectively honorary. The day before the article was revoked, Custer stood as senior Lt Col in the cavalry (by dint of being the senior MG in the regular army). When it was revoked, Sturgis moved ahead of him (his regimental rank being dated 1863 vs Custer's 1866).

For a short while, the officers were brevets could still wear their brevet rank insignia and be addressed as such. An act of 15th July 1870 removed any right to wear brevet rank, or use it in any sense for the Army.
 

PJO

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67th Tigers: Well, regarding Custer's ranking as LTC in the cavalry, I cannot follow your reasoning... Custer was never "senior MG in the RA" and his and the ranking of his peers within their arm of the service, the cavalry, was determined by date of commission and relative rank, respectively, the latter establishing the order of precedence among those who took rank from the same day. Thus Sturgis was Custer's senior by date of commission (27 Oktober 1863 vs 28 July 1866) and Merritt, whose commission bore the same date as Custer's, was his senior by virtue of superior relative rank, as his name stood on the list immediately ahead of Custer's....
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
67th Tigers: Well, regarding Custer's ranking as LTC in the cavalry, I cannot follow your reasoning... Custer was never "senior MG in the RA" and his and the ranking of his peers within their arm of the service, the cavalry, was determined by date of commission and relative rank, respectively, the latter establishing the order of precedence among those who took rank from the same day. Thus Sturgis was Custer's senior by date of commission (27 Oktober 1863 vs 28 July 1866) and Merritt, whose commission bore the same date as Custer's, was his senior by virtue of superior relative rank, as his name stood on the list immediately ahead of Custer's....
I think the point is that before the change in rules then Custer was senior to Sturgis in the army by virtue of their respective brevets (Custer's one being a senior MG commission to Sturgis' brevet rank).
 
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67th Tigers

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In September 1869, there were 8 Major-Generals in the regular army acting down (until March 1869) to by cavalry field officers. They were:

Lt Col Elliott, 1st Cav - MG dated 13th March 1865 (nominated 17th June 1866, confirmed 23rd July 1866)
Lt Col Carleton, 4th Cav - ditto (originally nominated 11th December 1866 and confirmed 23rd February 1867, but recalled two days later, renominated 10th January 1868 and confirmation apparently backdated to the original confirmation)
Col Emory, 5th Cav - ditto (nominated 10th April, 1866 and confirmed 14th July 1866)
Col (from Lt Col, 6th Cav) Sturgis, 7th Cav - ditto (nominated 6th April 1868 and confirmed 17th July 1868)
Lt Col Custer, 7th Cav - ditto (nominated 30th June, 1866 and confirmed 25th July, 1866)
Lt Col Merritt, 9th Cav - ditto (nominated 30th June, 1866 and confirmed 25th July, 1866)
Lt Col Davidson, 10th Cav - ditto (nominated 17th July, 1866 and confirmed 23rd July, 1866)
Col Grierson, 10th Cav - MG dated 2nd March 1867 (nominated 30th March, 1867 and confirmed 5th April, 1867)

In rank order in the army (on 28th Feb 1869), they were:

Col Emory
Lt Col Elliot
Lt Col Custer
Lt Col Merritt
Lt Col Davidson
Lt Col Carleton
Col Grierson
Lt Col Sturgis

Custer had received a promotion to Major-General in the Regular Army in the summer of 1866, with the same date as Merritt, although he ranked above Merritt by dint of previous seniority (when the dates are identical, the previous seniority is preserved). There were, however, no slots in the Table of Organisation for him, and so he remained in regimental service as a Lt Col.

In the cavalry, Lt Col Elliot of the 1st Cavalry ranked Custer (which I missed) , with Custer being the 2nd most senior Lt Col by dint of Brevet. On 1st March, this changed and hence Sturgis jumped to being the senior and got the vacant colonecy.

Merritt survived long enough to make substantive MG by dint of seniority.

Interestingly, 4 days after the Act removing the 61st AoW was passed, Grant assigned several of those who'd lost their rank to exercise it. I guess it took time to sink in.
 

PJO

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Brevet rank had NO bearing on seniority within one arm of the service. Article 61 only stipulated under which circumstances brevet or lineal (substantive) rank took precedence over the other. With its abolishment the army did some necessary streamlining....
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Brevet rank had NO bearing on seniority within one arm of the service. Article 61 only stipulated under which circumstances brevet or lineal (substantive) rank took precedence over the other.
Really?

The text quoted above says "the particular corps or regiment". Is the whole of the cavalry arm officially a single regiment?
Certainly "corps" here refers to "engineers" or things like that, categories in which regiments do not exist.
 

67th Tigers

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Really?

The text quoted above says "the particular corps or regiment". Is the whole of the cavalry arm officially a single regiment?
Certainly "corps" here refers to "engineers" or things like that, categories in which regiments do not exist.
ARTICLE IV. APPOINTMENT AND PROMOTION OF COMMISSIONED OFFICERS.

19. All vacancies in established regiments and corps, to the rank of Colonel, shall be filled by promotion according to seniority, except in case of disability or other incompetency.
20. Promotions to the rank of Captain shall be made regimentally; to Major and Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel, according to the arm, as infantry, artillery, &c., and in the Staff Departments and in the Engineers, Topographical Engineers,. and Ordnance, according to corps.
21. Appointments to the rank of Brigadier-General and Major-General will be made by selection from the army.

We are dealing with field officers, and so the "cavalry" is counted as a single arm. Before they were merged, the Dragoons, Mounted Rifles and Cavalry were all counted as separate branches. Jeff Davis set it up this way so he'd have a free choice in selecting officers for the 1st and 2nd Cavalry.
 
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