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General of the Armies

From Academic Kids

In the United States Army military hierarchy, General of the Armies is traditionally considered a rank superior to a five-star general, also known as "General of the Army" (note the difference between the two ranks). The full title of the military rank is "General of the Armies of the United States." The only people in history to hold the title General of the Armies were John J. Pershing and George Washington.

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John Pershing

Pershing as a Brigadier General

John Pershing, the senior U.S. Army General of the First World War, was granted the rank of General of the Armies in 1919 in recognition of his performance as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force. General Pershing was offered the option to create his own insignia for the new position, but continued to wear the four stars of a regular General. At the time of Pershing's appointment to the rank, the position was considered more of a title, more comparable to the Civil War title "General of the Army."

The tradition of General of the Armies being considered a six-star rank only began in the Second World War with the establishment of the five-star rank General of the Army. By order of senority, it was decided that General Pershing (still living when the rank of General of the Army was created in 1944) would be senior to all the newly appointed General of the Army officers. Thus, it is argued by some that Pershing has become considered a six-star general in that he was superior to all five-star generals, others simply regard him as a precursor to the five star rank and therefore equivalent.

George Washington

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During his lifetime, George Washington never held the rank General of the Armies. During the American Revolution he held the title of "General and Commander in Chief" in the Continental Army. After his death, Washington was listed as a Lieutenant General on the Continental rolls, since Washington never wore more than three stars on his military uniform.

A year prior to his death, Washington was appointed to the rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Army during the Quasi War, after he had left office as President of the United States. Washington never exercised active authority under his new rank, and the appointment was mainly to frighten the French, with whom war seemed certain.

In 1976, George Washington was posthumously appointed to the rank General of the Armies. The appointment was not considered a promotion to six star general, but rather a symbolic promotion that made Washington the senior United States military officer. By Presidential Decree of President Gerald Ford, it was proclaimed that George Washington would always remain senior and could never be outranked by another officer of the U.S. military.

Six Star Rank?

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Conjectural Design for General of the Armies

The question as to whether or not General of the Armies is a six star rank will most likely remain unanswered unless the United States Congress ever again appoints anyone to the position. This almost occurred in 1945, as part of the preparation for the invasion of Japan, in that a proposal was raised in the War Department to appoint Douglas MacArthur to the rank of General of the Armies. At that time, the Institute of Heraldry issued a conjectural insignia which would have incorporated a sixth star into the five star design of General of the Army. The proposal to appoint a new General of the Armies was dropped, however, and the United States Army has never officially approved a six star general insignia.

United States Navy

In the United States Navy the equivalent of General of the Armies was the rank Admiral of the Navy. It has only been held by one person in history, George Dewey. As with General of the Armies, a proposal was raised during the Second World War to bring back the rank as a six star equivalent, under the title Flag Admiral. Chester Nimitz was briefly considered for the position, but the proposal was dropped by the United States Navy Department.

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