General of the Army (United States)

General of the Army (abbreviated as GA)[1] is a five-star general officer 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.[2] The General of the Army insignia consisted of five 38-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 epaulets with five 716-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
Rank flag of a General of the Army
Army service uniform shoulder strap with the rank of General of the Army
Country United States
Service branch United States Army
Rank groupGeneral officer
NATO rank codeOF-10
Pay gradeSpecial grade
FormationJuly 25, 1866
Next higher rankGeneral of the Armies
Next lower rankGeneral
Equivalent ranks

The rank of "General of the Army" has had two incarnations. The first was introduced in 1866, following the American Civil War. While it was nominally a four-star rank, structurally it had authority over the entire Army, it was reserved for the Commanding General of the United States Army, and was held by three different men in succession from 1866 to 1888: Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. When it was created by Congress for Grant, Grant had already reached the highest rank historically used in the United States, the three star lieutenant general.[3] The "General of the Army" rank was revived during World War II as the modern five-star rank. The rank does not imply command of the entire Army and may be awarded to more than one officer at a time. It has been held by five different men since 1944, four promoted to the rank in December 1944 (George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry H. Arnold), and one promoted in September 1950 (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 three times — to World War I's John J. Pershing in 1919, and posthumously to George Washington in 1976. In December 2022, the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 authorized Ulysses S. Grant to be posthumously promoted to the rank, 137 years after his death.[4][5] President Biden signed the Act into federal law on December 23, 2022.



Post–American Civil War era

General of the Army shoulder strap insignia, from 1866 to 1872.
General of the Army shoulder strap insignia, from 1872 to 1888.

Toward the end of the American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant achieved the first fixed promotion to lieutenant general in the U.S., since George Washington.[3] On 25 July 1866, the U.S. Congress further established the rank of "General of the Army of the United States" for General 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."[6] (His combined monthly pay and allowance of seven hundred dollars in 1866 is equivalent to $15,000 in 2023). 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 nominally a four-star rank, but 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.[7]

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.[4][8]

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.[4]

Generals of the Army (post Civil War)

Portrait Name Date of rank Ref.
  Ulysses S. Grant
25 July 1866 [9]
  William T. Sherman
4 March 1869 [10]
  Philip Sheridan
1 June 1888 [11]

World War II and Korean War era


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 government had considered creating a rank of field marshal, however George C. Marshall, the first officer to be nominated for the rank, objected to the proposed title as he did not want to be known as "Marshal Marshall".[12] A Marshal is, in the United States, traditionally a law enforcement or fire department official. 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.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 78–482 was passed on 14 December 1944,[13] which provided only 75% of pay and allowances to the grade for those on the retired list.[14] 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.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 79–333, which also awarded full pay and allowances in the grade to those on the retired list.[15][16] 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)

Portrait Name Position Date of rank
  George C. Marshall
US Army Chief of Staff 16 December 1944
  Douglas MacArthur
Supreme Commander - Southwest Pacific Area 18 December 1944
  Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander - Europe 20 December 1944
  Henry H. Arnold
Commander of the US Army Air Forces 21 December 1944
  Omar Bradley
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
22 September 1950

The timing of the first four of these appointments was coordinated with the first three of the following appointments of the U.S. Navy's first five-star Fleet Admirals:

      •   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,[17] 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.[17][18][19][20]

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.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 87–3,[21] 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".[22][23] 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.[24][25]

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.[26]

Bradley received the 5-star rank upon being made the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (serving from 1949 to 1953). This was to make him superior in rank to General MacArthur, who was still serving at the time.

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 $346,000 in 2023. They were entitled to an office maintained by the Army along with an aide (of the rank of colonel), a secretary, and an orderly.[27]

Modern usage

Rank insignia for a General of the Army if worn on the Army Blue service uniform, from 2010 to present.
Rank insignia for a General of the Army if it is worn on the Army Green Class "A" service uniform, from September 1959 to October 2015.

No officers have been promoted 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).[28] 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.[29][30]

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.[31][32]

In the 1990s, there were proposals in Department of Defense academic circles to bestow a five-star rank on the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[33][34][35]

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,[29][36] 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.[30][37][38] An effort was also made to promote General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. to General of the Army, although it was not carried out.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41] Earlier, in July 2010, David W. Brown wrote an article in The Atlantic supporting the same promotion.[42]

Ranks senior to General of the Army


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.[4][5] In 2022, Ulysses S. Grant was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies to celebrate 200 years since his birth.[43][44] 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."[14]

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."[5] 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.

See also



  1. ^ Army Command Policy (PDF). Department of the Army. 18 March 2008. p. 3, table 1-1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 August 2009.
  2. ^ Army Command Policy (PDF). Department of the Army. 18 March 2008. p. 5, table 1-2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 August 2009.
  3. ^ a b Stilwell, Blake (5 May 2022). "Why Ulysses S. Grant Might Be Getting a Promotion Soon". Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d "U.S. Army Five Star Generals – Frequently Asked Questions". U.S. Army Center of Military History. Archived from the original on 31 December 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b c "Public Law 94-479" (PDF). United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Army, General Orders No. 52". Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  7. ^ Trask, Roger R. (1996). Defender of the Public Interest: The General Accounting Office, 1921–1966. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office. p. 179. ISBN 9780160487286.
  8. ^ Hunter, Thomas (1882). Uniform of the army of the United States. Philadelphia. p. 24. Retrieved 29 November 2022.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ "Ulysses Simpson Grant |".
  10. ^ "Introduction".
  11. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Philip Henry Sheridan".
  12. ^ Stilwell, Blake (11 March 2021). "This is why there's no Field Marshal rank in the US military". We Are The Mighty. Retrieved 9 January 2024.
  13. ^ "Public Law 482". Retrieved 29 April 2008.
  14. ^ a b "Public Law 78-482" (PDF). Legis Works. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 November 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  15. ^ "Public Law 333, 79th Congress". Naval Historical Center. 11 April 2007. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2007. 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.
  16. ^ "Public Law 79-333" (PDF). Legis Works. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 November 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  17. ^ a b Leonard Mosley, Marshall, hero for our times (1982), 270, available at Internet Archive
  18. ^ Sydney Louis Mayer, The biography of General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur (1984), 70, available at Internet Archive
  19. ^ Eric Larrabee, Commander in chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his lieutenants, and their war (2004), 200, available at Google Books
  20. ^ Stuart H. Loory, Defeated; inside America's military machine (1973), 78, available at Internet Archive
  21. ^ Kennedy, John F. (22 March 1961). "Letter to President Eisenhower Upon Signing Bill Restoring His Military Rank". The American Presidency Project. Archived from the original on 17 February 2017.
  22. ^ "Public Law 87-3" (PDF). United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  23. ^ Jean Edward Smith (2012). Eisenhower in War and Peace. Random House. pp. 761–2. ISBN 978-1-4000-6693-3.
  24. ^ "Eisenhower Military Ranks". Eisenhower Presidential Center. Archived from the original on 12 June 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2007.
  25. ^ "Eisenhower Resigned as General". Eisenhower Presidential Center. Archived from the original on 12 June 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2007.
  26. ^ "CMH". Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  27. ^ James, D. Clayton (1985). Triumph and Disaster 1945–1964. The Years of MacArthur. Vol. 3. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 661–662. ISBN 0-395-36004-8. OCLC 36211311.
  28. ^ Uldrich, Jack (2005). Soldier, statesman, peacemaker: leadership lessons from George C. Marshall. AMACOM. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-8144-0857-5. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  29. ^ a b "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.
  30. ^ a b 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.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Tillman, Barrett (2004). Brassey's D-Day encyclopedia: the Normandy invasion A-Z. Brassey's. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-57488-760-0. Retrieved 22 February 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.
  33. ^ Organizing for National Security: The Role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Institute for Foreign Analysis. January 1986. p. 11. ISBN 9780895490742. Retrieved 21 February 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.
  34. ^ Jones, Logan (February 2000). Toward the Valued Idea of Jointness: The Need for Unity of Command in U.S. Armed Forces (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center (Report). Naval War College. p. 2. ADA378445. Archived from the original on 1 June 2022. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 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...
  35. ^ Owsley, Robert Clark (June 1997). Goldwater-Nichols Almost Got It Right: A Fifth Star for the Chairman (PDF) (Report). Naval War College. p. 14. ADA328220. Archived from the original on 17 September 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2011. ...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.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ 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...
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ Evans, David (28 March 1991). "No More Stars,Sir WAR IN THE GULF". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 7 September 2014. 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". Library of Congress. 5 March 1991. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
    "H.R.1052". Library of Congress. 28 February 1991. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
    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.
  40. ^ 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...
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ David W. Brown (7 July 2010). "Give Petraeus 5 Stars". The Atlantic. Retrieved 7 February 2024.
  43. ^ "Southwest Ohio native Ulysses S. Grant to get posthumous promotion".
  44. ^ "H.R.7776 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 | | Library of Congress".