General of the Army (abbreviated as GA) is a five-star general officer and the second-highest possible rank in the United States Army. It is generally equivalent to the rank of Field Marshal in other countries. In the United States, a General of the Army ranks above generals and is equivalent to a fleet admiral and a general of the Air Force. The General of the Army insignia consisted of five 3⁄8-inch (9.5 mm) stars in a pentagonal pattern, with touching points. The insignia was paired with the gold and enameled United States Coat of Arms on service coat shoulder loops. The silver colored five-star metal insignia alone would be worn for use as a collar insignia of grade and on the garrison cap. Soft shoulder epaulettes with five 7⁄16-inch (11 mm) stars in silver thread and gold-threaded United States Coat of Arms on green cloth were worn with shirts and sweaters.
|General of the Army|
|Service branch||United States Army|
|NATO rank code||OF-10|
|Non-NATO rank||Five-star rank|
|Formation||25 July 1866|
|Next higher rank||General of the Armies|
|Next lower rank||General|
The rank of "General of the Army" has had two incarnations. The first was introduced in 1866, following the American Civil War. It was a four-star rank reserved for the Commanding General of the United States Army, and was held by three different men from 1866 to 1888: Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. The rank was revived during World War II as the modern five-star rank, and may be awarded to more than one serving officer at a time. It has been held by five different men since 1944: George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry H. Arnold, and Omar Bradley.
A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above the second incarnation of General of the Army, exists but has been conferred only thrice, to World War I's John J. Pershing, posthumously to George Washington, by proclamation 177 years after his death, and posthumously to Ulysses S. Grant in 2022.
Post–American Civil War eraEdit
On 25 July 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." (His combined monthly pay and allowance of seven hundred dollars in 1866 is equivalent to $13,000 in 2021). 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. Despite being titled General of the Army instead of General of the Armies, the Comptroller General of the United States would rule in 1924 that the grade revived in 1866 for Grant (and later William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan) was the same grade that had been proposed for Washington in 1799 and revived for Pershing in 1919.
In contrast to the modern four-star rank of general, only one officer at a time could hold the 1866–1888 rank of General of the Army. For a few months in 1885, as he was dying, Grant was accorded a special honor and his rank was restored by Congressional legislation.
After Grant became U.S. president, he was succeeded as General of the Army by William T. Sherman, effective 4 March 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 Congress on 1 June 1888, the grade was conferred upon Philip Sheridan, who by then was in failing health. The rank of General of the Army ceased to exist with Sheridan's death on 5 August 1888.
Generals of the Army (post Civil War)Edit
|Portrait||Name||Date of Rank||Ref.|
|Ulysses S. Grant
|25 July 1866|
|William T. Sherman
|4 March 1869|
|1 June 1888|
World War II and Korean War eraEdit
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 were created by an Act of Congress on a temporary basis when Pub. L. 78–482 was passed on 14 December 1944, which provided only 75% of pay and allowances to the grade for those on the retired list. The rank was temporary, subject to reversion to permanent rank six months after the end of the war. The temporary rank was then declared permanent on 23 March 1946 by Pub. L. 79–333, which also awarded full pay and allowances in the grade to those on the retired list. 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 the same as the post-Civil War era version because of its purpose and five stars.
The insignia for the 1944 General of the Army rank consists of five stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The five officers who have held the 1944 version of General of the Army and the date of each's appointment are as follows:
Generals of the Army (WWII)Edit
|Portrait||Name||Date of Rank|
|George C. Marshall
|16 December 1944|
|18 December 1944|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower
|20 December 1944|
|Henry H. Arnold
|21 December 1944|
|22 September 1950|
|•||William D. Leahy||15 December 1944|
|•||Ernest King||17 December 1944|
|•||Chester W. Nimitz||19 December 1944|
|•||William Halsey Jr.||11 December 1945|
This was to establish both an order of seniority among the generals and a near-equivalence between the services.
Although briefly considered, 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.
Eisenhower resigned his army commission on 31 May 1952 to run for the U.S. presidency. After Eisenhower was elected and served two terms, President John F. Kennedy on 22 March 1961 signed Pub. L. 87–3, 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". 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.
Arnold, a general in the Army, was the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces throughout World War II, when he was promoted. After his United States Air Force became a separate service on 18 September 1947, Arnold's rank was carried over to the Air Force, just as all Army Air Forces airmen's rank carried over. Arnold was the first and, to date, only General of the Air Force. He is also the only person to have ever held a five-star rank in two branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
These officers who held the rank of General of the Army remained officers of the United States Army for life, with an annual $20,000 in pay and allowances, equivalent to $308,000 in 2021. They were entitled to an office maintained by the Army along with an aide (of the rank of colonel), a secretary, and an orderly.
No officers have been appointed to the rank of General of the Army since Omar Bradley (who was also the last living officer of such rank when he died in 1981).  The rank is still maintained in the Army's structure, and could be awarded by the president with the consent of the United States Senate.
Although the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Omar Bradley, was eventually awarded a fifth star, such a promotion does not come with that office; Bradley's elevation ensured that he would not be outranked by his subordinate, Douglas MacArthur.
After the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, but before his tenure as Secretary of State, there was talk of awarding a fifth star to General Colin Powell, who had served as CJCS during the conflict. But even in the face of public and Congressional pressure to do so, Clinton presidential transition team staffers decided against it for political reasons, fearing that a fifth star may have assisted Powell (a Republican) had he decided to run for office. An effort was also made to promote General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. to General of the Army, although it was not carried out.
As recently as the late 2000s, some commentators proposed that the military leader in the Global War on Terrorism be promoted to a five-star rank. 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. Earlier, in July 2010, D.B. Grady wrote an article in The Atlantic supporting the same promotion.
Ranks senior to General of the ArmyEdit
This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2020)
The rank of General of the Armies is senior to General of the Army, and the rank by this name has been bestowed on only three officers in U.S. history. In 1919, John J. Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies for his services in World War I. In 1976, during the United States Bicentennial, George Washington was posthumously promoted to this rank for his service as the first commanding general of the United States Army. In 2022, Ulysses S. Grant was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies to celebrate 200 years since his birth. In 1903, retroactive to 1899, George Dewey was promoted to Admiral of the Navy, a rank equated to that of a five-star admiral. The promotion of Admiral Dewey is the only time an Admiral of the Navy has been named and the rank ceased to exist after his death.
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 the Armies on 15 March 1978 by Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander. In relation to America's bicentennial celebration, Congress passed legislation on 19 January 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 had 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." Thus, Washington will always be the most senior 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.
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- "U.S. Sen. Kasten Pushing Effort To Award Powell With Historic Fifth Star". Jet. 79 (23). March 1991. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved 21 February 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.
- Stephanopoulos, George (1999). All Too Human: A Political Education. Thorndike Press. pp. 330–331. ISBN 978-0-7862-2016-8. Retrieved 21 February 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.
- Abrams, Jim (22 March 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.
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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.
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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.
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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...
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...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.
- Italia, Bob (1991). Armed Forces: War in the Gulf. Abdo & Daughters. pp. 44–46. ISBN 978-1-56239-026-6. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
Others want to make him a five-star general. [...] Congress is talking about giving him a fifth silver star, which is very rare.
- Hamilton, Nigel (2007). Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency. PublicAffairs. pp. 190, 399. ISBN 978-1-58648-516-0. Retrieved 21 February 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...
- Halberstam, David (2001). War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals. Scribner. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-7432-0212-1. Retrieved 22 February 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.
- 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". Congress.gov. Library of Congress. 5 March 1991. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
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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 than 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.
- Stringer, Kevin D. (1 January 2007). A Supreme Commander for the War on Terror (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center (Report). ADA517523. Archived from the original on 24 June 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
The development of a four- or even five- star commander with staff to run the war on terror...
- Hegseth, Pete; Wade Zirkle (13 January 2011). "A Fifth Star for David Petraeus". Wall Street Journal. News Corporation. Archived from the original on 31 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
- D.B. Grady (7 July 2010). "Give Petraeus 5 Stars". The Atlantic. Retrieved 27 August 2012.