General of the Army (United States)

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Army service uniform shoulder strap with the rank of General of the Army
Rank flag of a General of the Army
Rank insignia for a General of the Army from September 1959 to October 2014.
This article is about a United States Army rank. For other countries that use a General of the Army rank, see General of the Army.

General of the Army (GA)[1] is a five-star general officer and the second highest possible rank in the United States Army. A General of the Army ranks immediately above a general and is equivalent to a fleet admiral and a general of the Air Force. There is no established equivalent five-star rank in the other Federal uniformed services (Marine Corps, Coast Guard, PHSCC, and NOAA Corps). Often referred to as a "five-star general", the rank of General of the Army has historically been reserved for wartime use and is not currently active in the U.S. military.

A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above General of the Army, exists but has been conferred only twice, to John J. Pershing and posthumously to George Washington.

Post–American Civil War era[edit]

General of the Army shoulder strap insignia, from 1866 to 1872. This was used by Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.
General of the Army shoulder strap insignia, from 1872 to 1888. This was used by William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan.

On July 25, 1866, the U.S. Congress established the rank of "General of the Army of the United States" for General Ulysses S. Grant. His pay was "four hundred dollars per month, and his allowance for fuel and quarters" except "when his headquarters are in Washington, shall be at the rate of three hundred dollars per month."[2] When appointed General of the Army, Grant wore the rank insignia of four stars and coat buttons arranged in three groups of four.

Unlike the World War II rank with a similar title, the 1866 rank of General of the Army was a four-star rank. This rank held all the authority and power of a 1799 proposal for a rank of "General of the Armies" even though Grant was never called by this title.

Unlike the modern four-star rank of general, only one officer could hold the 1866–1888 rank of General of the Army at any time.

After Grant became the U.S. president, he was succeeded as General of the Army by William T. Sherman, effective March 4, 1869. In 1872, Sherman ordered the insignia changed to two stars with the coat of arms of the United States in between.

By an Act of June 1, 1888, the grade was conferred upon Philip Sheridan, who by then was of failing health. The rank of General of the Army ceased to exist with Sheridan's death on August 5, 1888.

World War II and Korean War era[edit]

As the logistics and military leadership requirements of World War II escalated after the June 1944 Normandy Landings, the United States government created a new version of General of the Army. The five-star rank and authority of General of the Army and equivalent naval fleet admiral was created by an Act of Congress on a temporary basis when Pub.L. 78-482 passed on 14 December 1944,[3] as a temporary rank, subject to reversion to permanent rank six months after the end of the war. The temporary rank was then declared permanent 23 March 1946 by Public Law 333 of the 79th Congress, which also awarded full pay and allowances in the grade to those on the retired list.[4] It was created to give the most senior American commanders parity of rank with their British counterparts holding the ranks of field marshal and admiral of the fleet. This second General of the Army rank is not considered comparable[who?] to the American Civil War era version.

The insignia for General of the Army, as created in 1944, consisted of five stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The five officers who have held the 1944 version of General of the Army are:

      •   George Marshall December 16, 1944
      •   Douglas MacArthur December 18, 1944
      •   Dwight D. Eisenhower     December 20, 1944
      •   Henry H. Arnold December 21, 1944
      •   Omar Bradley September 22, 1950

The timing of the first four appointments was coordinated with the appointments of the U.S. Navy's first three five-star fleet admirals (William D. Leahy on December 15, 1944, Ernest J. King on December 17, 1944, and Chester W. Nimitz on December 19, 1944) to establish both a clear order of seniority and a near-equivalence between the services. The final naval appointment of five-star rank was that of William F. Halsey, Jr. on December 11, 1945.

Although briefly considered,[5] the U.S. Army did not introduce a rank of field marshal. In the United States, the term "Marshal" has traditionally been used for civilian law enforcement officers, particularly the U.S. Marshals, as well as formerly for state and local police chiefs. In addition, giving the rank the name "marshal" would have resulted in George Marshall being designated as "Field Marshal Marshall", which was considered undignified.[5][6][7][8]

Dwight D. Eisenhower resigned his army commission on May 31, 1952 to run for the U.S. presidency. After he served two terms, at his request his successor, John F. Kennedy, signed Pub.L. 87–3 on March 23, 1961, which authorized reappointing Eisenhower "to the active list of the Regular Army in his former grade, of General of the Army with his former date of rank in such grade".[9] This rank is today commemorated on the signs denoting Interstate Highways as part of the Eisenhower Interstate System, which display five silver stars on a light blue background.[10][11]

Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, a general in the Army, was the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces when he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army. After the United States Air Force became a separate service on September 18, 1947, Arnold's rank was carried over to the Air Force, as all Army Air Force personnel, equipment, etc. also carried over. Arnold was the first and, to date, only general of the Air Force. He is also the only person to hold a five-star rank in two branches of the US Armed Forces.[12]

Modern usage[edit]

There have been no officers appointed to the rank of General of the Army since Omar Bradley.[13] The rank of General of the Army is still maintained as a rank of the U.S. military, and could again be bestowed, most likely during a time of major war, pending approval of the United States Congress. United States military policy since the creation of a fifth star in World War II has been to award it only when a commander of U.S. forces must be equal to or of higher rank than commanders of armies from another nation under his control.[14] However, Congress and the President may award a fifth star at any time they see fit.[15][16]

Although the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, was eventually awarded a fifth star, such a promotion does not come with the office; Bradley's elevation was a political move to remedy the fact that his subordinate, Douglas MacArthur, would otherwise outrank him.[17][18]

In the 1990s, there were proposals in U.S. Department of Defense academic circles to bestow on the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a five-star rank.[19][20][21]

At one time, after the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War but before his tenure as Secretary of State, there had been some talk of awarding General Colin Powell, who had served as CJCS during the conflict, a fifth star. But even in the wake of public and Congressional pressure to do so,[15][22] Clinton-Gore presidential transition team staffers decided against it for political reasons, fearing that a fifth star may assist Powell should he decide to challenge them politically at some point in the future.[16][23][24] An effort was also made to promote General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. to General of the Army, although it was not carried out.[25]

As recently as the late 2000s, some commentators had proposed that the military leader in the Global War on Terrorism be promoted to a five-star rank.[26] In January 2011, the founders of the Vets for Freedom political advocacy group published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for David Petraeus to be awarded a fifth star in recognition of his work and the importance of his mission.[27] Earlier, in July of 2010, D.B. Grady wrote an article in The Atlantic supporting the same promotion.[28]

General of the Armies[edit]

Main article: General of the Armies

The rank of General of the Armies is considered senior to General of the Army, and has been bestowed on only two officers in history, John J. Pershing, in 1919 for his services in World War I, and George Washington for his service as the first commanding general of the United States Army. (An equivalent rank, Admiral of the Navy, was given to George Dewey.)

When the five-star rank of General of the Army was introduced, it was decided that General Pershing (still living at the time) would be superior to all the newly appointed Generals of the Army. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was asked whether Pershing was therefore a five-star general (at that time the highest rank was a four-star general). Stimson stated:

It appears the intent of the Army was to make the General of the Armies senior in grade to the General of the Army. I have advised Congress that the War Department concurs in such proposed action.

Section 7 of Public Law 78-482 read: "Nothing in this Act shall affect the provisions of the Act of September 3, 1919 (41 Stat. 283: 10 U.S.C. 671a), or any other law relating to the office of General of the Armies of the United States."

George Washington was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of Armies on March 15, 1978 by Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander. In relation to American's Bicentennial celebration, Congress passed legislation on January 19, 1976 urging Washington's promotion and President Gerald Ford approved it in October, 1976, but historians found that Congressional and Presidential actions were not enough and that the Army would have to issue orders to make the promotion official. According to Public Law 94-479, General of the Armies of the United States is established as having "rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present", clearly making it distinctly superior in grade to General of the Army. Given the retroactive nature of the promotion, Washington will always be the seniormost general of the United States. During his lifetime, Washington was appointed a general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and a three-star lieutenant general in the Regular Army during the Quasi-War with France.

Equivalent ranks[edit]

The rank of General of the Army is equivalent to the U.S. Air Force's rank of General of the Air Force and the U.S. Navy's rank of fleet admiral. The other uniformed services of the United States, such as the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and the commissioned corps of NOAA and the U.S. Public Health Service, do not have an equivalent rank.

In foreign militaries, the equivalent rank is typically marshal or field marshal. In the British Army, field marshal was traditionally the highest rank a general officer could be promoted to but is now a ceremonial rank. Russia uses the rank of marshal of the Russian Federation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Army Regutation 600-20 see table 1-1". 
  2. ^ Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Army, General Orders No. 52,
  3. ^ "Public Law 482". Retrieved 2008-04-29.  This law allowed only 75% of pay and allowances to the grade for those on the retired list.
  4. ^ "Public Law 333, 79th Congress". Naval Historical Center. April 11, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-22.  The retirement provisions were also applied to the World War II Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Commandant of the Coast Guard, both of whom held four-star rank.
  5. ^ a b Leonard Mosley, Marshall, hero for our times (1982), 270, available at Google Books
  6. ^ Sydney Louis Mayer, The biography of General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur (1984), 70, available at Google Books
  7. ^ Eric Larrabee, Commander in chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his lieutenants, and their war (2004), 200, available at Google Books
  8. ^ Stuart H. Loory, Defeated; inside America's military machine (1973), 78, available at Google Books
  9. ^ Jean Edward Smith (2012). Eisenhower in War and Peace. Random House. p. 761-2. ISBN 978-1-4000-6693-3. 
  10. ^ "Eisenhower Military Ranks". Eisenhower Presidential Center. Archived from the original on 2007-06-12. Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  11. ^ "Eisenhower Resigned as General". Eisenhower Presidential Center. Retrieved 2007-10-22. [dead link]
  12. ^ U.S. Army: Five-Star Generals
  13. ^ Uldrich, Jack (2005). Soldier, statesman, peacemaker: leadership lessons from George C. Marshall. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-8144-0857-5. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  14. ^ Taylor, E. Kelly (2009). America's Army and the Language of Grunts: Understanding the Army Lingo Legacy. AuthorHouse. p. 283. ISBN 978-1-4389-6250-4. Retrieved February 25, 2011. The rank was created during World War II because of the enormity of the war, and the fact that several American commanders found themselves in the awkward position of commanding Allied officers of higher rank 
  15. ^ a b "U.S. Sen. Kasten Pushing Effort To Award Powell With Historic Fifth Star". Jet 79 (23). March 1991. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved February 21, 2011. ...there is a movement afoot in the U.S. Senate to award an historic fifth star to the nation's first Black Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin L. Powell for his military proficiency. 
  16. ^ a b Stephanopoulos, George (1999). All Too Human: A Political Education. Thorndike Press. pp. 330–331. ISBN 978-0-7862-2016-8. Retrieved February 21, 2011. Mack asked me to secretly research the procedure for awarding a fifth star to a general. [...] If Powell did challenge Clinton, the fifth star would forestall criticism of the general's military record. 
  17. ^ Abrams, Jim (March 22, 1991). "Higher rank not in the stars for nation's top generals". Associated Press. Bradley received his fifth star in 1950 when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff so he would not be outranked by MacArthur. 
  18. ^ Tillman, Barrett (2004). Brassey's D-Day encyclopedia: the Normandy invasion A-Z. Brassey's. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-57488-760-0. Retrieved February 22, 2011. MacArthur, having been army chief of staff before World War II, was senior to everyone on the Joint Chiefs, and some observers felt that Bradley was given his fifth star in order to deal with the vainglorious field commander on an equal footing. 
  19. ^ Organizing for National Security: The Role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Institute for Foreign Analysis. January 1986. p. 11. Retrieved February 21, 2011. There was some discussion of the proposal to grant the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs five-star rank, as a symbol of his status as the most senior officer in the armed forces. 
  20. ^ Jones, Logan (February 2000). "Toward the Valued Idea of Jointness: The Need for Unity of Command in U.S. Armed Forces" (PDF). Naval War College. p. 2. ADA378445. Retrieved February 21, 2011. Lay summary. Promoting the Chairman to the five-star rank and ceding to him operational and administrative control of all U.S. Armed Forces would enable him to provide a unifying vision... 
  21. ^ Owsley, Robert Clark (June 1997). "Goldwater-Nichols Almost Got It Right: A Fifth Star for the Chairman" (PDF). Naval War College. p. 14. ADA328220. Retrieved February 21, 2011. Lay summary. ...Chairman's title be changed to Commander of the Armed Forces and commensurate with the title and authority he be assigned the grade of five stars. 
  22. ^ Italia, Bob (1991). Armed Forces: War in the Gulf. Abdo & Daughters. pp. 44–46. ISBN 978-1-56239-026-6. Retrieved February 21, 2011. Others want to make him a five-star general. [...] Congress is talking about giving him a fifth silver star, which is very rare. 
  23. ^ Hamilton, Nigel (2007). Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency. PublicAffairs. pp. 190, 399. ISBN 978-1-58648-516-0. Retrieved February 21, 2011. Moreover, for the very reason he admired Colin Powell as the most distinguished living black American, Clinton also feared the general as a potential rival. [...] Bill Clinton had denied Powell his rightful fifth star... 
  24. ^ Halberstam, David (2001). War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals. Scribner. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-7432-0212-1. Retrieved February 22, 2011. They checked it out and found that the last general to get a fifth star was Omar Bradley forty-three years earlier. Powell, they decided, was not Bradley. Besides, as George Stephanopoulos noted, if they gave him one more star, it might help him one day politically. 
  25. ^ Evans, David (28 March 1991). "No More Stars,Sir WAR IN THE GULF". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 6 September 2014. Dazzled by America's blitzkrieg victory over Iraq, Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., has put forth a resolution that the architects of this triumph, Gens. Colin L. Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, be promoted to five-star rank. 
    "S.J.RES.85". Thomas. Library of Congress. 5 March 1991. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
    "H.R.1052". Thomas. Library of Congress. 28 February 1991. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
    Brown, Warren; Wagner, Heather Lehr (1 January 2009). Colin Powell: Soldier and Statesman. Infobase Publishing. p. 78. ISBN 9781438100753. Retrieved 6 September 2014. The speedy, complete, and relatively bloodless victory for the allies-less that 200 Americans were killed in the Persian Gulf War-turned Powell, Schwarzkopf, and the rest of the U.S. military into national heroes. Congressmen proposed to promote the two men to rank of General of the Army, which would make them the first generals to wear five stars since Omar N. Bradley was accorded that honor in 1950. 
  26. ^ Stringer, Kevin D. (1st quarter 2007). "A Supreme Commander for the War on Terror" (PDF). JFQ (National Defense University Press) (44): 23. Archived from the original on February 21, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2011. The development of a four- or even five- star commander with staff to run the war on terror...  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  27. ^ Hegseth, Pete; Wade Zirkle (January 13, 2011). "A Fifth Star for David Petraeus". Wall Street Journal (News Corporation). Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2011. 
  28. ^ D.B. Grady (7 July 2010). "Give Petraeus 5 Stars". The Atlantic. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 

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