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Brevet Rank In The Civil War

        Brevet rank, usually an honor, was borrowed from the British and introduced into the American army during the Revolutionary War.  Over the years Congress, in legislation, specified reasons for granting brevet ranks and gave the senate the right to approve or reject them after they were recommended by the president.  Army Regulation, published periodically, stipulated that an officer functioned at this brevet rank on special assignment of the president in commands composed of different corps and when in detachments or on courts-martial composed of different corps.  In these instances the officers ordinarily received pay based on their brevet rank.
        In early 1861 some recent graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were named brevet 2nd lieutenants because there were not enough vacancies in the Regular Army to give them commissions as 2nd lieutenants.  Many officers held brevet commissions higher than their ordinary rank, usually for gallant actions or meritorious service in combat or to allow them to serve in a staff position.
        The Civil War encouraged the granting of hundreds of brevet commissions to both Regular and volunteer army officers and to at least one enlisted man, Pvt. Frederick W. Stowe, who was brevetted a 2nd lieutenant.  About 1,700 Union officers held brevet rank as brigadier or major general.
        The awarding of Numerous new brevets often created confusion, such as in the case of George Armstrong Custer.  In addition to holding rank as major general of volunteers in the the Civil War, Custer was a lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army when in 1876 he was killed at the Little Big Horn, and also held brevet commissions as major general of volunteers and major general in the Regular Army.  For a long time after the war, the army had to determine the official of many an officer and the rank he should show on his uniform.
        Although brevet commissions were provided for in Confederate Army regulation, evidence indicates that officers were not awarded them.
        In the years after the Civil War these commissions were issued to some U.S. Army officers for various reasons, but few were awarded after the Spanish-American War.  In 1918 Tasker H. Bliss received the last brevet commission.
Source:  "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust

This Page last updated 02/17/02


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