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Possibly stupid question about Army rank terminology

 
 
Reply Mon 12 Jan, 2009 11:09 pm
If a Major outranks a Lieutenant, why does a Lieutenant General outrank a Major General?

This seems really backwards and I'm just wondering what/why this terminology is used.

Thanks!
 
roger
 
  2  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 12:03 am
@boomerang,
Lieu means in place of. . . . A lieutenant general stands in place of a "full" general of 4 stars.
roger
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 12:04 am
@roger,
As I look at that answer, it seems incomplete, but that's about it.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 06:45 am
Roger has hit the main explanation, if not dead center in the bullseye. These terms date back to the Gothic era, or early middle ages. The earliest is captain, from a corruption of the Latin word for "head." The original meaning was someone who "stands at the head of," as in the head of a body of troops. The Romans had specific names for their ranks, but those simply no longer applied, especially as imperial authority collapsed in the west, and what you had was "barbarians" pretending to be all cool and Roman.

Major comes from a Latin root, too, and as one might suspect, means a superior officer. It actually comes from the Latin word for "elder," but enters the military ranks from the Franks, for whom "mayor" meant someone who is superior to all other officers of a royal household. The ancestors of Charles Martel and Charlemagne were "mayors of the palace" to the Merovingian kings, and the title took on a military meaning.

So Captain and Major are the oldest terms for military rank in western armies. The term lieutenant, from Old French, and meaning place holder, only appears in the 14th century, at about the time of the Hundred Years War. The English pronounce this word "left-tenant," which is actually a rather sensible way to pronounce it, since that is what the officer is, he is someone left holding (tenant) the authority of a captain.

Colonel comes much later, and originally simply meant the officer at the head of a column, usually the column of a regiment. In French, the word (taken from Italian) was corrupted into coronel, and although the spelling was later returned to an italianate form, the pronounciation was retained, which is why we write colonel, but say "kernel."

General officers are another story altogether, and here we abandon the French, whose terms for rank diverged considerably from those used in English, until by the time of the French revolution there are no longer cognates between the ranks. Brigadier is the last borrowing we have from French, although they never used it for a formal title of rank. Among the English, a Brigadier is only referred to as a General officer as a courtesy, while in American usage, a Brigadier General is the lowest rank of General.

General, of course, means an officer "in general," someone who commands a large body of troops. (Brigadier actually derives from a word for a gang or mob, and derives from a word meaning fight or brawl.) General offices got their name from "Captain General," a term used in England, France and Spain to denote someone who commands all the other captains in a fleet or a body of troops.

In the Royal Navy (England), there were effectively only three ranks of officers, Lieutenants, Captains and Admirals. Commodore was a courtesy title, and a Captain who commanded other Captains was allowed to fly a "broad pendant" (we would say pennant) showing that he was in command. He had to haul down his pennant in the presence of an Admiral, although as a courtesy and a mark of special favor, the Admiral might let him continue to fly the broad pennant of a commodore. In the Royal Navy, all Lieutenants are simply Lieutenants. First Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant, Third Lieutenant, etc., simply denote the hierarchy of Lieutenants on a ship. Captain is a courtesy title for anyone commanding a ship, even if it is just a 14-year-old midshipman commanding a ship captured at sea as a prize, and being sailed home in the command of a midshipman. Many Lieutenants got their first command as a Master and Commander, another courtesy title which means they have not been promoted to Captain, but exercise the authority of a Captain. Therefore, the formal rank was known in the Royal Navy as a Post Captain, meaning someone who is a Captain even if he is not commanding a ship--his "post" is Captain. Above the rank of Post Captain are all the ranks of Admiral--Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral and Admiral. The United States Navy created a permanent rank of Commodore (almost never used now except for desk jobs), and never used the term Post Captain, but otherwise followed the sense of ranks used in the Royal Navy.

On land, Captain was used for someone capable of exercising independent command, and Lieutenant was used for his replacement in his absence. Major meant someone who might command the troops of more than one Captain, and Colonel evolved from simply being the officer who commanded a regiment marching in column to mean the commander of the regiment itself. In the English army, commissions were purchased up to the rank of a General officer, so that many regiments were technically commanded by men who had reached the rank of General. Therefore, a Lieutenant Colonel would actually, physically take command of the regiment, being a "placeholder" for the Colonel commanding, who might well be on the other side of world (he might even be at home, screwing the upstairs maid while his wife complained to her friends in the withdrawing room).

So, a Major General was someone who commanded more than one brigade--the English were slow to adopt the division as a formal part of the organization of an army, so when several brigades were combined to form a command larger than all others but smaller than an army, the General officer who commanded those brigades, and their Brigadiers, would be a Major General. That rank long existed as the highest rank of general officer, and until very late in the 18th century, the Commanders of armies didn't even have a staff, or subordinate officers in formally recognized positions--so he'd round up some talented Brigadiers, use his influence to get them promoted Major General, and then use them to command the various "wings" of his army, or to exercise semi-independent command. The rank Lieutenant General means just what it means when it used for smaller formations. The Lieutenant takes the place of the Captain, the Lieutenant Colonel takes the place of the Colonel, and the Lieutenant General takes the place of General Commanding. For most of English history, Lieutenant Generals were rare as hen's teeth, because you'd have to find something to do with the pompous jackass when the war was over, and you'd have to pay him more than the Major Generals, who would grumble endlessly about not being promoted Lieutenant General themselves.

Lieutenant Generals were pretty damned rare in the United States, too. The first Lieutenant General was George Washington, who was given that rank after the Revolution, and after he had left the Presidency. The next Lieutenant General was Ulysses Grant. The third Lieutenant General in the United States Army was Arthur MacArthur, a hero of the Civil War, known as "the Boy Colonel," and the father of Douglas MacArthur. Lieutenant Generals did not become "common" in the United States until the Second World War.

The term Lieutenant has a long history of meaning the "right-hand man" of a commander. When Douglas Southall Freeman had finished his four volume biography of Robert Lee, he began a "war biography" of the General officers who served under Lee, and he entitled it Lee's Lieutenants. There is no more directly obvious sense to systems such as military rank than there are in any other old, hoary system based on custom, on tradition. But a kind of sense prevails, and Lieutenant always means the officer next in line to the commander, and who enjoys the commanders closest confidence.

0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 07:27 am
Thanks Roger and Setanta!

That settles my confusion and provided an interesting read.
Intrepid
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 07:52 am
@boomerang,
Just confirming what Setanta so aptly described.

Lieutenant comes from the French, roughly "place holder". The Captain was the captain of the company, and the lieutenant took over from him in his absence.

The Colonel commanded the regiment, and a Lieutenant Colonel took over from him in his absence.

There is also a parallel for the term Major. A captain had a Lieutenant and a Sergeant-Major. A Colonel had a Lieutenant Colonel and a Major.

A General had a Lieutenant General and a Major General. That is why Major General is lower in rank than Lieutenant General.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 12:00 pm
@Intrepid,
Intrepid wrote:
There is also a parallel for the term Major. A captain had a Lieutenant and a Sergeant-Major. A Colonel had a Lieutenant Colonel and a Major.

A General had a Lieutenant General and a Major General. That is why Major General is lower in rank than Lieutenant General.

Well, kinda'. "Major general" was originally "sergeant-major general." The "sergeant" bit was eventually dropped. The British used to have captain generals, who outranked lieutenant generals. The rank of captain general, however, has all but disappeared. It would be equivalent to a field marshal today.

So the rank ordering of generals used to be very orderly: captain general, lieutenant general, sergeant-major general. Now it's confusing because the nomenclature changed but the ranks didn't.
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 12:25 pm
@joefromchicago,
Same in German armies: a "General-Wachtmeister" was a 'sergeant-major general'. (Though we don't have "Wachtmeister" as segeant' anymore nowadays)

In the early modern times, e.g. during the thirty-years-war, a 'general-lieutenant' was the highest rank in the imperial army: he was the place holder of the Emperor as the 'general'.. Thus, 'sergeant-major generals' were place holders of kings, princes, dukes, (arch-)bishops ...
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 12:47 pm
Sergeant has suffered a horrible demotion, as well. In the 13th century, those who were responsible to the crown for military matters were sergent in Old French, and it was used in the sense of a public servant. I believe the term sergeant at arms appears in the late 14th century. But it is not until the late 16th century that it appears in a context which can be construed as a non-commissioned officer. It was even used in English law practice (a refuge of the arcane crackpots of terminology) until the late 19th century, meaning a superior order of barrister who served the crown.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 01:07 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
Walter Hinteler wrote:

Same in German armies: a "General-Wachtmeister" was a 'sergeant-major general'. (Though we don't have "Wachtmeister" as segeant' anymore nowadays)

In the early modern times, e.g. during the thirty-years-war, a 'general-lieutenant' was the highest rank in the imperial army: he was the place holder of the Emperor as the 'general'.. Thus, 'sergeant-major generals' were place holders of kings, princes, dukes, (arch-)bishops ...

Austrian imperial military terminology was much more confusing -- I still haven't figured it out. There was Feldmarschall and Feldmarschall-Leutnant and then General der Kavallerie and General der Infanterie, which were, I think, equivalent ranks somewhere around brigadier general or colonel. I think there was also General-Oberst and General-Major somewhere in between.

So many generals, so few victories.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 01:28 pm
I have always been amused by early practice in rank insignia in the United States Army, which was mirrored by the Confederate States Army. That was that all ranks of general officer had the same insignia--Brigadier, Major General, Lieutenant General and General all wore the same rank insignia. (In the United States Army, rank insignia were changed before the civil war, i believe after the Mexican War, but i don't know that for a fact.) In Confederate States service, it was three stars (sometimes three five-pointed stars, with examples of a six-pointed star flanked by two five-pointed stars not unknown) within an open wreath of leaves (laurel leaves?). The image below of Daniel Harvey Hill shows the collar insignia, although not clearly (it was hard to find an image of a Confederate General who did not have a full beard so that the insignia was not visible--but i remembered ol' D. H., and found something usable; for R. E. Lee, whose collar was visible under his beard, more in a moment):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bb/Daniel_Harvey_Hill.jpg


Washington having been the only Lieutenant General before Grant was appointed, that only meant Brigadiers and Major Generals in United States service. The Confederate States had the full panoply of Brigadiers, Major Generals, Lieutenant Generals and Generals. The basic principle, i believe, is that matters of rank and precedence as between general officers are not the business of anybody but general officers, and everybody else could just damned well salute and say: "Yes, Sir! Right away, Sir!"

A bizarre exception to this was Robert Edward Lee. The image below is that of the most well-known and most popular (i.e., a big seller) photograph taken of him during the war. Note the collar insignia--three stars, which is the rank insignia of a Colonel in Confederate service.

http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/lincpix/lee.jpg

In the image below, which was probably the last photograph taken of Lee in uniform, and which was taken in front of the house he had rented in Richmond for his wife, you can also see (just barely) that he wears that rank insignia. It is likely to be the same uniform coat as he wore when new in the first image of him above, but whether or not, those steeped in civil war arcana know that he habitually wore the rank insignia of a colonel, and i doubt that anyone ever brought the subject up with him at the time.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/monument/relee.gif

What makes it so interesting is that, although he was one of the highest ranking officers in Confederate States service (he was not the senior General), Colonel is the highest rank he attained in United States service, and the rank he held at the time he resigned in order to offer his services to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Although he was careful to observe protocol with officers in Confederate States service, he habitually referred to officers in Federal service by the rank in "the Old Army," i.e., the army before the war. When some ladies complained to him about young women going to a ball put on by Federal officers who had recently occupied the town (Orange Courthouse in Virginia, i believe, but i disremember), Lee poopooed their objections, saying that it was good for the young ladies to enjoy an innocent entertainment, and then said (this is not a direct quote, i don't have R. E. Lee in front of me): "I know Major Sickles very well, and he will have nothing but gentlemen around him." Dan Sickles was a General in Federal service, but had been a Major in "the Old Army" before Lee resigned. A year later, in the opening stages of the battle of Chancellorsville, an army chaplain rode up on a lathered mule whom he had apparently abused to get the best speed out of him, and approached Lee with a message, but was badly out of breath. Lee made him sit down and take a glass of buttermilk, and then allowed him to give his message, which was that VI Corps of Hooker's Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General John Sedgwick, was advancing from Fredericksburg on Lee's flank. Lee replied: "I am just sending General McLaws [Major General Lafayette McLaws] to call on Major Sedgwick." Once again, Major was the rank Sedgwick had held in "the Old Army" before Lee resigned.

Ol' Bobby Lee, he was an odd duck.
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 01:39 pm
@joefromchicago,
Originally it was Generalwachtmeister >General(Feldmarschall)leutnant>General (Feldmarschall).

Then (from late 19th century until 1918): Generalmajor > Feldmarschallleutnant > Feldzeugmeister/General der Kavallerie/General der Infanterie > Feldmarschall > (in WWI) Generaloberst.


(In the Austrian navy, they had a Linienschiffleutnant (Lieutenant, in Germany 'Kapitänleutnant')), a Fregattenleutnant (in Germany 'Oberleutnant' = Lieutenant, junior grade) and a Korvettenleutnant ('Leutnant' = Ensign').)
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 01:39 pm
@joefromchicago,
Shriner Joe wrote:
So many generals, so few victories.


Aw, come on Joe . . . you can't win 'em all. They sure made hay while the sun shone when Prince Eugene was in the saddle.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 01:50 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:
In Confederate States service, it was three stars (sometimes three five-pointed stars, with examples of a six-pointed star flanked by two five-pointed stars not unknown) within an open wreath of leaves (laurel leaves?).

Here's Joseph E. Johnston (not too hirsute), clearly showing the six-pointed star flanked by two five-pointed stars on his collar:

http://warhistorian.org/blog1/images/joseph-johnston.jpg
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:19 pm
Good find, Joe. I hadn't thought about Joe Johnston with is pointy little beard. Now i think i'll go look for Pierre Gustave Toutant, the soi-disant Beauregard.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:23 pm
Here we go, with a clear image of the rank insignia, all five-pointed stars:

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/Confederate_Generals/General_Beauregard.jpg

Ol' Beauregard spent a lot of time posing for photos . . . i was surprised at the number of different photos i found. If you look for Lee, there are only two of which i know which were taken during the war.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:27 pm
This is the best photo i've found for showing the rank insignia of a general officer:

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/civil-war-pictures/battle/bull-run/general-beauregard.jpg

Pierre again, of course . . .
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:49 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

Here we go, with a clear image of the rank insignia, all five-pointed stars

The differences are not all that difficult to understand, considering that generals' uniforms were tailor-made, not government-issued. The Confederates may have had a bit more leeway when it came to their insignia, both because there wasn't any definitive standard and because the Southerners always liked to display a bit more panache in their wardrobe choices.
hamburger
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:50 pm
we probably shouldn't leave the (german) rank of RITTMEISTER (riding master) out .

Quote:
Rittmeister (in German language literally [Horse] riding master or Cavalry master) was the military rank of a commissioned cavalry officer in charge of a squadron (a troop in the United States), the equivalent of O3 or Captain, in the armies of German-speaking and Austro-Hungarian states.[1][2]

The Dutch equivalent, Ritmeester, still serves as the official designation for O3 officers in the cavalry branches of the Royal Dutch Army.[3]



while the rank was that of a captain , a "rittmeister" would consider himself superior to an "ordinary" captain .
this rank did not only apply to cavallery captains but also to captains of the "flying corps" .
i believe that prior to worldwar I , the flying corps had been established as an arm of the cavallery .
the "red baron" (von richthofen) had the rank of rittmeister .

http://www.stahlgewitter.com/c_personen/richthofen2.jpg



when we were in vienna in 2001 , we met a very charming retired "rittmeister" - he had ben a "rittmeister" (captain) captain in the austrian airforce and honoured mrs h with a proper bow , klicking of the heels and a handkiss - a true viennese gentleman . <GRIN> .
(really too bad i don't have a picture of it) .
.........................................................................................................
from 1940 to 1945 germany's military had the rank of REICHSMARSCHALL - a rank to top everyone - except the former "lance corporal" of the austrian army aka adolf hitler .
it was a rank created and reserved for "herman goering" .
he was known for his colourful uniforms (apparently designed upon his personal request) and decorations .

http://www.danielsww2.com/sitebuilder/images/scan00122-327x452.jpg

Quote:
By a decree on 19 July 1940, Hitler promoted Göring to the rank of Reichsmarschall (Marshal of Germany), the highest military rank of the Greater German Reich. Reichsmarschall was a special rank for Göring, which made him senior to all other Army and Luftwaffe Field Marshals.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 02:55 pm
@joefromchicago,
However, far fewer of them, and especially ol' Beauregard, showed as much panache on the field of battle.
0 Replies
 
 

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