Please pardon my ignorance about military ranks and titles

+10 votes
176 views

Please pardon my ignorance; when I was young the only roles a woman could have in the military were typing and nursing, so I never had occasion to learn the lingo. As a result, whenever I delve into creating and editing profiles for military personnel, I find myself dealing with terminology and protocol for ranks (and terminology for military units) that I do not fully understand.

Today I added the US Civil War and Roll of Honor templates to the profile of J. Bowman Bell. He went into the U.S. Army as a captain in the 15th U.S. Infantry. So far so good!

According to a source he was transferred into the Western Army under General Buell; I know that terminology like Western Army was used in the Civil War, but does that mean he was no longer in the 15th Infantry Regiment?

The next bits of information are that he was breveted a Major for his actions at the Battle of Shiloh and was posthumously breveted a Lieutenant Colonel for his actions at the Battle of Stones River (where he died). So what was his rank? Before he died, was he a Major or a Brevet Major? Should the profile label him with his posthumous rank, and if so, was he a Lieutenant Colonel or a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel?

in The Tree House by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Thanks, Melanie. I learned some interesting things, but it doesn't help a whole lot!

That's how I felt when I read it.  cheeky

I knew some of it (from years ago when I looked up Col-not-Gen Custer), learnt some more, but didn't actually get an answer.  (I figured I'd post it anyway, because it might help someone else in the future.)

Nice discussion on ranks from 2015 ... History of military ranks - WikiTree G2G

If the 15th regiment were shifted to the Western Army, he would still be in the regiment.

If he were shifted individually to another unit in the Western Army, say to command another regiment, he would be in that unit.

For genealogical purposes, I would used the highest rank achieved, even if posthumous.  That's essentially what it was for. Tombstones are a good source of this, or military cemetery records.

3 Answers

+8 votes

As far as I can see it’s an honorary rank

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brevet_(military)

But it would still be one he would be known by. Bit like that old guy who recently raised all those millions of pounds for COVID in England, he got knighted and a honorary promotion.

by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
+5 votes

>when I was young the only roles a woman could have in the military were typing and nursing

That is simply not true, unless you are very, very old. In World War II, "Women in uniform took office and clerical jobs in the armed forces in order to free men to fight. They also drove trucks, repaired airplanes, worked as laboratory technicians, rigged parachutes, served as radio operators, analyzed photographs, flew military aircraft across the country, test-flew newly repaired planes, and even trained anti-aircraft artillery gunners by acting as flying targets." See "History At a Glance: Women in World War II."

My mother, Lieutenant junior grade Dorothy Stuart, USNR, served in Washington in the Office of Naval Intelligence as a censor and interpreter.

by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 7 (71.5k points)

laughAh, Stu, bless you for catching Ellen's disclaimer as not quite accurate ... you are correct ... if I recall correctly, women also piloted planes that carried cargo; and served as medical personnel in and near battlefields 

World War Two was before I was born. After the war, women were sent home to be wives and mothers. When I was in high school and college, military recruiters were hungry for young men, but military careers offered to women were limited to what I  described.
That's strange, because when I was in electronics technician school in the Navy in 1966 I was sitting in classrooms with young women who were training for the same specialty.
And women have been accepted into all enlisted ratings in the Navy since 1972. All but a very few of those ratings have nothing to do with typing or nursing.

Awww, Ellen, you're just a kid! smiley Actually the U.S. Civil War was before my time too, but I think it should be noted that ranks, titles, military lingo, and even the abbreviations of ranks, don't necessarily remain constant over the years.  I don't think the U.S. has used brevet ranks in our lifetimes (although I heard of one case in WWII of an NCO receiving a "battlefield commission.")  If you are looking for a rank to use as the prefix in a profile, I think I would use the highest permanent rank (Captain, from your description) and then explain the additional brevet ranks in the Bio, just as you did in the question.  And yes, I think transfer to Western Army would mean he was no longer in 15th Reg't.

Queen Elizabeth II of England was a driver and a mechanic in World War II.
+9 votes
Your question concerning the unit of Bell-1280.

He was member of the 15th Infantry Regiment. At that times a regiment was a standardized unit.

An infantry regiment usually consisted of 10-12 companies (~ 100 - 120 soldier); usually four companies were combined into a battalion.

Chief of a regiment was a Colonel, his deputy was the Lieutenant Colonel. The battalions were led by a Major.

Head of the company was a captain and his deputy was a First Lieutenant.

This of course only concerns the target strengths; during wartime, the strengths were sometimes considerably lower and military leaders sometimes had considerably lower ranks.

For war missions, 3-6 regiments were combined into a brigade, 2-3 brigades into a division, 3 divisions into an army corps and several corps into an army.

This is the reason why your captain (probably a company commander in the 15th infantry regiment) continued to be captain in the 15th infantry as a member of the Western Army.

In his brevet rank he could have been battalion commander or even (deputy) regiment commander.
by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)

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