GENERAL OF THE ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES
GENERAL OF THE ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES
The terms "General of the Armies of the United States" and "General of the Army of the United States" are commissioned officer grades of the Army of the United States.
Prior to 14 December 1944 there were, since the formation of the United States, but four Generals of the Army or of the Armies of the United States (both phrases being held to mean the same thing): Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Pershing. The temporary grade of "General of the Army" or "Fleet Admiral" (Five-Star insignia), was provided for by Public Law 482, 78th Congress, on 14 December 1944 and the following named officers served on active duty during World War II in that temporary grade until 23 March 1946 when it was made permanent under the provisions of Public Law 333, 79th Congress:
-General of the Army George C. Marshall, appointed 16 Dec 44. Deceased Oct 59.
-General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, appointed 18 Dec 44. Deceased Apr 64.
-General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, appointed 20 Dec 44. Deceased Mar 69.
-General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, appointed 21 Dec 44. Deceased Jan 50.
(General Arnold redesignated General of the Air Force pursuant to PL58, 81st Congress, dated 7 May 49.)
-Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, appointed 15 Dec 44. Deceased Jul 59.
-Fleet Admiral Earnest J. King, appointed effective 17 Dec 44. Deceased Jun 56.
-Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, appointed effective 19 Dec 44. Deceased Feb 66.
Officers appointed after World War II:
-Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, confirmed by the Senate 4 Dec 45 and took oath of office on 11 Dec 45. Deceased Aug 59.
-General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, appointed 22 Sep 50. Deceased Apr 81.
(General Bradley appointed pursuant to PL 957, on 18 Sep 1950.)
The following historical background contained herein will provide the significance of the grade, General of the Armies of the United States or General of the Army of the United States.
The records show that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington acted under a commission from the Continental Congress of 16 July 1775, appointing him "General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the United Colonies and of all forces now raised or to be raised by them, and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their services." After the close of hostilities, Washington resigned his commissioned effective 23 December 1783.
In anticipation of a war with France, the Congress of the United States, by Act of 28 May 1798, authorized the raising of a provisional army and empowered the President to appoint a "Commander of the Army" who, "being commissioned as lieutenant-general, might be authorized to command the arms of the United States." On 2 July 1798, the President appointed George Washington "Lieutenant-General and Commander in Chief of all the Armies raised or to be raised in the United States," and the appointment was confirmed by the Senate.
Subsequently, in an Act of 3 March 1799, Congress provided "that a Commander of the Army of the United States shall be appointed and commissioned by the style of General of the Armies of the United States and the present office and title of Lieutenant General shall thereafter be abolished." However, the proposed new appointment of General of the Armies of the United States was not conferred upon Washington, and he died while under the commission of Lieutenant General.
After Washington’s death, an Act of Congress, approved 14 May 1800, specifically authorized President Adams to suspend, among other things, any further appointment to the Office of General of the Armies of the United States, "having reference to economy and the good of the service." Although the office was not expressly referred to in any of the actions for the reduction or disbandment of the forces raised in contemplation of war with France, apparently it ceased to exist in 1802, which determined the military peace establishment. Under those circumstances, it appears that the authority for the advancement no longer existed and that some special enactment of the Congress would be necessary to carry out such action.
The grade of general was revived under the title of "General of the Army of the United States," by the act of 25 July 1866, and was conferred upon Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant; and was recognized and continued by Section 9 of the Act of 28 July 1866. Section 6 of the act of 15 July 1870 contained the requirement, however, that "the offices of General and Lieutenant General shall continue until a vacancy shall exist in the same, and no longer, and when such vacancy shall occur in either of said offices immediately there upon all laws and parts of laws creating said office shall become inoperative, and shall, by virtue of this act, from thenceforward be held to be repealed. William T. Sherman succeeded General Grant in the grade of "General of the Army of the United States," having been appointed on 4 March 1869. The office ceased to exist, as a grade of military rank, at the death of General Sherman on 14 February 1891. The act of 3 March 1885 authorized the appointment of a "General of the Army on the Retired List" which was conferred upon General Ulysses S. Grant, and expired on his death on 23 July 1885. By the act of 1 June 1888, the grade of lieutenant general was discontinued and merged in that of General of the Army, which was conferred upon Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan, and ceased to exist at the death of General Sheridan on 5 August 1888.
The office of general was again revived in 1919 by the title of "General of the Armies of the United States" when General John J. Pershing was appointed to that office on 3 September 1919; accepted the appointment on 8 September 1919, was retired with that rank on 13 September 1924, and held it until his death on 15 July 1948. No other officer has occupied this office. General Pershing held the grade of General of the Armies of the United States under the provisions of the Act of Congress of 3 September 1919, (Public Law 45) which is quoted as follows:
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the office of General of the Armies of the United States is hereby revived, and the President is hereby authorized, in his discretion and by and with the consent of the Senate to appoint to said office a general officer of the Army who, on foreign soil and during the recent war, has been especially distinguished in the higher command of military forces of the United States: and the officer appointed under the foregoing authorization shall have the pay prescribed by section 24 of the Act of Congress, approved July 15, 1870, and such allowances as the President shall deem appropriate; and any provisions of the existing law that would enable any other officer of the Army to take rank and precedence over said officer is hereby repealed: Provided, that no more than one appointment to office shall be made under the terms of this Act."
As will be seen from the above, the office of general was first created in 1799 by the title of "General of the Armies of the United States" - that it was revived in 1866 as "General of the Army of the United States," and that it was again revived in 1919 by the title of "General of the Armies of the United States." That it is one and the same office, that of general, is unquestioned. Whether the plural was used in 1799 because of the prospects of war with armies operating in several theatres, the singular in 1866 after the close of the Civil War and with a view to a small regular army operating in time of peace in the continental limits of the United States, and the plural in 1919 because of the technical state of war, the expansion of the Regular Army and the existence of units thereof at far distant stations beyond the limits of the United States, would be fruitless to inquire.
It will be further noted that the temporary grade of General of the Army (five-star) established by Public Law 481, 78th Congress, approved 14 December 1944 and made permanent by Public Law 333, 79th Congress, approved 23 March 1946, did not revive any prior such grade and, therefore, the generals appointed under the provisions of these acts are in a separate category from Generals Washington, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Pershing.
It appears the intent of the Army was to make the General of the Armies senior in grade to the General of the Army. In a press conference during September 1944, Secretary of War Henry Stimson commented: "I have advised Congress that the War Department concurs in such proposed action. This concurrence, however, is contingent on the understanding that a distinction will be made between the title conferred by the newly advanced rank and the title now accompanying the higher rank of General of the Armies held by General John J. Pershing." It is also interesting to not that Army Regulation 600-15 dated January 1945, and not rescinded until August 1945, listed the three top "grades of rank" in the descending order of General of the Armies, General of the Army, and General.
Joint Resolution of Congress, Public Law 94-479, dated 11 October 1976 provided for the posthumous appointment of George Washington to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976. This resolution stated that "it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington.