General of the Army

Ulysses S. Grant 

General of the Army

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. When appointed General of the Army, Grant wore the rank insignia of four stars and coat buttons arranged in three groups of four.   What follows is the printing of the Secretary War’s General Orders. No. 52 An Act to Revive The Grade of General in the United States:

General Orders, No. 52
War Department
Adjutant General's Office
Washington, July 26, 1866

The following Act of Congress is published for the information and government of all concerned.

[Public - No. 129.] 

An Act to Revive The Grade of General in the United States
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That the grade of "General of the Army of the United States" be, and the same is hereby, revived.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the grade of 'General of the Army of the United States' be, and the same is hereby, revived; and that the President is hereby authorized, whenever he shall deem it expedient, to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a General of the Army of the United States, to be selected from among those officers in the military service of the United States most distinguished for courage, skill, and ability, who, being commissioned as General, may be authorized, under the direction and during the pleasure of the President, to command the armies of the United States."

SEC 2.  And be it further enacted, That the pay proper of the General shall be four hundred dollars per month, and his allowance for fuel and quarters, when his headquarters are in Washington, shall be at the rate of three hundred dollars per month, and his other allowances in all respects the same as are allowed to the Lieutenant General by the second section of the Acts approved February twenty-nine, eighteen hundred and sicty four, entitled "An act reviving the grade of lieutenant general in the United States army''; and the chief of staff to the lieutenant general shall Chief of staff shall be be transferred and be the chief of staff to the general, with the rank, pay, and emoluments of a brigadier-general in the army of the United States; and the act approved March third, eighteen hundred and sixty-five, entitled " An act to provide for a chief of staff to the lieutenant general commanding the armies of the United States," is hereby repealed; and the said general may select from the regular army for service upon Aides, their his staff such number of aides, not exceeding six, as he may judge proper, number, rank, who during the term of such staff service shall each have the rank, pay, an pay and emoluments of a colonel of cavalry. And it is hereby provided, that in lieu of the staff now allowed by law to the lieutenant general, he shall be entitled to two aides and one military secretary, each to have the rank, pay, and emoluments of a lieutenant colonel of cavalry, during the term of such staff service.

Approved,  July 25. 1866. 

By order of the Secretary of War 

E. D. Townsen
Assistant General  


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. 

Executive Mansion

Washington, D. C.

July 25th, 1866

I nominate Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to be General of the Army of the United States.

Andrew Johnson

After Grant became 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.  

Message of President Ulysses S. Grant nominating Sherman General of the Army on March 4th, 1869. 

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.

Philip H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General United States Army,Charles L. Webster and Co., New York, 1888. Hard Cover

On December 14, 1944, as a temporary rank, General of the Army and an equivalent Naval Fleet Admiral Rank was created by an Act of Congress. The temporary rank was then declared permanent on March 23rd, 1946 by Public Law 333 of the 79th Congress.  This second General of the Army rank is not considered comparable to the 1866-1888 American Civil War era General of the Army rank.   

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