General Custer wasn't General!

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,398
Italy, Lago Maggiore
It's odd, but it's not that known that George Armstrong Custer, who was General during the Civil War, wasn't General when he died, he was a lieutenant colonel ... after being reduced to simple captain ...

From this comes a historical doubt: why do we keep on calling G.A. Custer "General"? And not "Colonel"?
 

Zhang LaoYong

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
5,123
On the prowl.
Because his highest rank he attained during his career was that of general (brigadier I imagine, but I am not sure).
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
It was common in 19th Century America to refer to a distinguished gentleman by a military title, particularly, though not always, if he had earned that title during a war. For instance, a man who had achieved the rank of 'colonel' during the Civil War was likely to find himself addressed as "Colonel Smith" to his dying day, even if he lived for decades after the war.

As Zhang points out, 'General' stuck to Custer because it was the highest rank he had achieved during the Civil War.
 
May 2015
698
Far From Home
I think in USA at that time there were two "US Army". One was the regular one and another the Civil War one. I forget what their specific names are in English.

Custer was an officer in both armies. He was just Major (IIRC) in the regular army. In the Civil War army he was Brigadier. (Not sure that was a General Officer rank in 1800s. I'm not expert on US military.)
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,398
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I think in USA at that time there were two "US Army". One was the regular one and another the Civil War one. I forget what their specific names are in English.

Custer was an officer in both armies. He was just Major (IIRC) in the regular army. In the Civil War army he was Brigadier. (Not sure that was a General Officer rank in 1800s. I'm not expert on US military.)
With reference to Civil War Armies that "General" is suitable. Let's say that from a knighthood perspective [knighthood in the proper sense of the term] he deserved to carry the title of "General", from a more pedantic historical perspective ... some doubts are licit.
 
Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
It's odd, but it's not that known that George Armstrong Custer, who was General during the Civil War, wasn't General when he died, he was a lieutenant colonel ... after being reduced to simple captain ...
Custer wasn't reduced to a Captain. Captain was his Regular Army rank at the start of the war. When he was promoted during the war, it was with the Volunteer Army. Thus, Custer became a Major General in the Volunteer Army. When the war ended and the Volunteer Army disbanded Custer reverted to his Regular Army rank of Captain.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,398
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Custer wasn't reduced to a Captain. Captain was his Regular Army rank at the start of the war. When he was promoted during the war, it was with the Volunteer Army. Thus, Custer became a Major General in the Volunteer Army. When the war ended and the Volunteer Army disbanded Custer reverted to his Regular Army rank of Captain.
Accuracy welcomes accuracy. So it was kind of automatism due to the reentry in the Regular Army.
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,712
Eastern PA
Custer was brevetted to the rank of General during the civil War. The two articles I have attached explain it better than I could.



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.

Brevet Rank In The Civil War



Brevet, form of military commission formerly used in the U.S. and British armies. Under the system in which an officer was customarily promoted within his regiment or corps, a brevet conferred upon him a rank in the army at large higher than that held in his corps. Frequently it carried with it the pay, right to command, and uniform of the higher grade. In the United States especially, brevet rank was widely bestowed as a reward for outstanding service; it became the subject of extensive confusion and controversy during the American Civil War. After 1865, U.S. brevet rank was gradually stripped of its benefits, and officers were rewarded instead by decorations. Commission by brevet was declared obsolete in 1922. Special commissions bearing some of the characteristics of the brevet have been used in other armies.

brevet | military rank | Britannica.com
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,529
Custer was a brevet major general during the Civil War. They needed way more generals in the Civil War than before, so most officers in the army before the war were made brevet generals or colonels. After the war, the army was much smaller and everyone couldn't be a general. He was generally referred to as general after the war, accept when speaking to superior officers.

As Salah indicated, pretty much everyone who had a brevet or other officer rank in the Civil War was referred to as that afterwards. This was particularly true in the south, where they just loved titles and calling men general, colonel, major or whatever.