Brevet (military) - United States - American Civil War

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, almost all senior officers received some form of brevet award, mainly during the final months of the war. These awards were made for gallantry or meritorious service, not for command. In addition to the authorization in a previous law for awards of brevet ranks to Regular Army officers, an act of Congress of March 3, 1863 authorized the award of brevet rank to officers of the United States Volunteers . Thus, brevet awards became increasingly common later in the war. Some officers even received more than one award. Because of the existence of both Regular Army and United States Volunteers ranks and the possibility that an officer could hold actual and brevet ranks in both services, some general and other officers could hold as many as four different ranks simultaneously. For example, by the end of the war Ranald S. Mackenzie was a brevet major general of volunteers, an actual, full rank brigadier general of volunteers, a brevet brigadier general in the United States Regular Army, and an actual Regular Army captain.

Brevet rank in the Union Army, whether in the Regular Army or the United States Volunteers, during and at the conclusion of the American Civil War may be regarded as an honorary title which conferred none of the authority, precedence or pay of real or full rank. The vast majority of the Union Army brevet ranks were awarded posthumously or on or as of March 13, 1865 as the war was coming to a close. U.S. Army regulations concerning brevet rank provided that brevet rank could be claimed "in courts-martial and on detachments, when composed of different corps" and when the officer served with provisional formations made up of different regiments or companies, or "on other occasions." These regulation were vague enough to support the positions of some brevet generals who caused controversies by claiming supposed priorities or privileges of brevet ranks that had been awarded to them at earlier dates during the war.

Some full rank brigadier generals in the United States Volunteers (USV) in the American Civil War were awarded brevet brigadier general rank in the USV before they received a promotion to full rank brigadier general of United States Volunteers. Some full rank brigadier generals in the USV were awarded the rank of brevet major general in the USV, but were not promoted to full rank major generals in the USV. Some United States Regular Army officers who served with the USV in ranks below general officer were awarded brevet general officer rank in the USV, but were not promoted to full rank general officers in the USV. On the other hand, at least a few USV general officers also were awarded brevet general officer rank in the Regular Army in addition to their full rank appointments or brevet major general awards in the United States Volunteers. Many of the Regular Army officers of lower rank who became full rank USV generals, however, received neither actual promotions to a general officer rank or brevet general officer awards in the Regular Army in addition to their USV ranks or awards. Some of them who stayed in the United States Regular Army after the war did achieve general officer rank in later years.

In addition to the brevet awards to current (or future) full-rank United States Volunteers (USV) generals during the American Civil War, 1,367 other USV officers of lower ranks were awarded the rank of brevet brigadier general, brevet major general, or both, in the United States Volunteers but not promoted to full-rank USV generals. At least one enlisted man, Private Frederick W. Stowe, was brevetted as a second lieutenant in the Union Army during the Civil War.

The Confederate States of America had legislation and regulations for the use of brevets in their armed forces, provided by Article 61 of the nation's Articles of War, and by their 1861 Army Regulations, which were based on the U.S. Army's 1857 version of their regulations. Although Article 61 was revised in 1862, it ultimately had no practical effect since the Confederate States Army did not use any brevet commissions or awards during its existence.

The United States Marine Corps also issued brevets. After officers became eligible for the Medal of Honor, a rare Marine Corps Brevet Medal was issued to living officers who had been brevetted between 1861 and 1915.

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