Naval Officer Rank Structure

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Mark F. Jenkins

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Union Navy, war's beginning:

Midshipman
Passed Midshipman
Master
Lieutenant
Commander
Captain
*Flag Officer (a Captain in command of a squadron or station, often addressed as Commodore; still a Captain in terms of formal rank)

Union Navy, after reforms of July, 1862:

Midshipman
Ensign
Master
Lieutenant
Lieutenant Commander
Commander
Captain
Commodore
Rear Admiral
(Vice Admiral) - later on, created for David G. Farragut
(Admiral) - later on, created for David G. Farragut, and only held by him and David Dixon Porter until the Spanish-American War

During the Civil War era, only those officers who had received a vote of thanks from Congress were eligible to advance beyond the rank of Captain in their permanent rank.

Functional "brevets" were awarded as "Acting," as in "Acting Rear Admiral" S. Phillips Lee, who reverted to his permanent rank of Captain at the war's end.

Since the time of the Civil War, Midshipman has come to be used as an equivalent to "cadet" at the Naval Academy; "Master" has been replaced by "Lieutenant, Junior Grade"; "Commodore" has been replaced by "Rear Admiral, Lower Half"; and a 'five-star' rank of "Fleet Admiral" was added during World War II, though no officers have been advanced to that rank since then (the last, Admiral Nimitz, dying in 1966).

Union Navy Volunteer Officers:

Men with significant prewar maritime experience were granted Volunteer rank. Typically, those who were experienced merchant captains could be entered as Acting Volunteer Masters and Acting Volunteer Lieutenants. Volunteers were outranked by the equivalent 'regular' Navy ranks, so that a Lieutenant outranked an Acting Volunteer Lieutenant.

Acting Volunteer Ensign
Acting Volunteer Master
Acting Volunteer Lieutenant
Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commander (only by promotion from Acting Volunteer Lieutenant)

In the Union Navy, line officers (as opposed to staff officers such as paymasters, surgeons, engineers, etc.) were distinguished by a small star on their sleeves above their sleeve-cuff stripes.

The Confederacy mostly adhered to the same rank structure as the U. S. Navy had at the war's beginning, with the addition of Rear Admiral and Admiral ranks; only Franklin Buchanan held the rank of Admiral.
 

NedBaldwin

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I have wondered if Navy men were/are bothered that the Army uses 'Captain' for a relatively junior position whereas it is a high status naval position. Any navy people here who can enlighten me?
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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"Captain" originally meant the military officer aboard a vessel, commanding about a company-strength unit, whereas the "master" ("Sailing Master") was actually in charge of the vessel and where it went. As time went on, the "captain" assumed greater and greater responsibilities, until by the 1800s he had taken over the functions of the "master" as well. So, the terms started from about the same place.
 
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