Sergeant major general
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (July 2009)|
Sergeant Major General is a now-extinct military rank that can trace its origins to the Middle Ages. Originally simply sergeant major, the title—unlike the modern military rank of the same name—signified a general officer, commander of an army's infantry and typically third in command of the army as a whole (after the lieutenant general and captain general); he also acted as a sort of chief of staff.
Early in the 17th century, individual regiments began appointing their own Sergeants Major to perform a similar role on a smaller scale (these evolved into modern-day majors): the older, senior position became known as sergeant major general to distinguish it. A prominent example was Philip Skippon in the English New model Army as organized by Oliver Cromwell.
Over the course of the 17th century, the increasing professionalisation of armies saw sergeant major general become the most junior of the general ranks. At the same time, the sergeant portion of the title was more and more commonly dropped; by the early 18th century, the rank's name had been permanently shortened to major general.
Since sergeant major general had ranked below lieutenant general, the newly named rank of major general appeared to create a precedence issue, in that a major outranks a lieutenant but a lieutenant general outranks a major general. This continues to cause confusion to those unfamiliar with the history of the rank, particularly in those armies using insignia similar to the British army.
Nearly every country in the world maintains the rank of major general or a close equivalent. The rank is also referred to as a "two-star general", most often in countries which maintain the lower rank of brigadier general.