In many of the world's military establishments, a brevet was a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being brevetted. For example, "He was brevetted major general." The promotion would be noted in the officer's title, for example, "Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain".
- United States
- Early use
- American Civil War
- Modern usage
- United Kingdom
- See also
- External links
The Articles of War adopted by the United States Army in 1776 and slightly revised in 1806 established the use and significance of brevet ranks or awards in the U.S. Army. When first used, a brevet commission in the U.S. Army entitled the officer to be identified by a higher rank but the award had limited effect on the right to higher command or pay. A brevet rank had no effect within the officer's current unit, but when assigned duty at the brevet rank by the U.S. President such an officer would command with the brevet rank and be paid at the higher rank. This higher command and pay would last only for the duration of that assignment. The brevet promotion would not affect the officer's seniority and actual permanent rank in the army. Beginning on April 16, 1818, brevet commissions also required confirmation by the United States Senate, just as all other varieties of officer commissions did.
Brevets were first used in the U.S. Army during the American Revolutionary War. Often the nation's Continental Congress could not find suitable positions for foreign officers—mostly from France—who sought commissions. The first U.S. brevet was given to Jacques Antoine de Franchessin on July 20, 1776, allowing him to hold the rank of lieutenant colonel within the Continental Army. Franchessin and another 35 men of foreign birth would hold brevet commissions in the army by the end of the war. By 1784 an additional 50 officers would receive brevets for "meritorious services" during the conflict.
In the 19th century U.S. Army, brevet promotions were quite common because the army had many frontier forts to garrison and other missions to perform but could not always appoint appropriately ranked officers to command these forts or missions. The U.S. Congress permitted only a limited number of each rank of officer. Thus, an officer of lower rank might receive a brevet commission to a rank more appropriate for his assignment. Also, newly commissioned officers often received brevet rank until authorized positions became available. For example an officer might graduate from West Point and be appointed a brevet second lieutenant until a permanent posting opened up. In early 1861, some recent graduates of West Point temporarily were named brevet second lieutenants because not enough Regular Army officer vacancies were available to give them commissions as regular second lieutenants. In addition to officers being appointed to brevet rank to temporarily serve in positions designated for higher-ranked officers (i.e., in lieu of promotion to permanent rank), officers might be awarded brevet rank as recognition for gallantry or meritorious service.
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.
The practice of brevetting disappeared from the (regular) U.S. military at the end of the 19th century; honors were bestowed instead with a series of medals. However, the similar practice of frocking continues in four of the five branches of the U.S. armed forces. The U.S. Air Force does not allow the regular practice of frocking before a promotion date.
Although brevetting as such was no longer in effect in the 20th century U.S. military, it was common during the First and Second World Wars, and for at least four decades after WWII, for officers in the Regular Army (the peacetime, permanent standing army composed of career soldiers) to be given temporary promotion to higher ranks in the wartime National Army or Army of the United States composed primarily of volunteers and draftees. For instance, Dwight D. Eisenhower had the permanent rank of Captain but the effective rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the First World War. At war's end, the National Army was disbanded and he reverted to his permanent rank of Captain. Such quasi-brevet promotions may become permanent: during the Second World War Eisenhower had the permanent rank of Brigadier General but served as General of the Army; at war's end, this promotion was confirmed in the Regular Army.
Today, brevetting still occurs on rare occasions when officers are selected for promotion to a higher rank, but have yet to reach the effective date of promotion. For brevetting to occur today, an unusual set of circumstances must be present to justify wearing the higher rank before the promotion becomes effective. For example, in 2005, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonels selected for promotion to Colonel were brevetted (frocked) Colonel about six months ahead of their effective dates of promotion because of the high-profile nature of the duties that they were performing.
The U.S. National Guard, which depends on the governor of a state to concede its commissions, may still confer brevets. Many states maintain a clause permitting the governor to confer any rank in its defense forces, including the militia and National Guards. Some states provision that the sitting governor may confer any rank, but this appointment is considered valid only for the duration of the governor's own term in office.
Some states also confer brevets as part of their regular honors system. Georgia confers honorary ranks into its state police force. Kentucky is famous for its colonels, and so too is Tennessee, both of which make the appointment as an honorary member of the governor's staff. Alabama, Texas and Nebraska also confer an admiralty within a symbolic navy. Similar honors have been issued for Georgia's militia navy, which has only existed on paper since 1908. In all cases these honorary titles may be considered effective brevets, equal to that of the National Guard, by being conferred by a sitting governor.
In the United Kingdom the brevet commission was only by courtesy. Officially both titles were used, as: "Major and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Cornwallis." Originally the term designated a promotion given on such occasions as a coronation, or the termination of a great war, and had its origin during the reign of James II (1685 88); but it was abused so frequently and used to such an extent by the general award of brevet commissions, that in 1854, during and after the Crimean War, its bestowal was limited strictly to cases of very distinguished service in the field and on the principle of seniority. In the United Kingdom, brevet commissions were confined to grades from captain to lieutenant-colonel.
The Brevet conferred rank in the army, but importantly, not in the regiment. Advancement in the regiment could take place generally only by purchase or by seniority, and when there was a suitable vacancy (caused by the death, retirement or promotion of a more senior officer). When on duty with his regiment, only regimental rank counted; if the regiment was with a larger formation then brevet rank could be used to determine command of temporary units formed for special purposes. In particular Brigadier was not then a permanent rank so command of brigades was determined by seniority, including date of promotion to any brevet rank. Thus it was possible for a regimental Major to hold a brevet Lieutenant-colonelcy with seniority over the commission of his own commanding officer as Lieutenant-Colonel and be given command of a brigade (potentially including his own regiment). Similarly, if the officer was serving in a staff position or as an Aide-de-camp then they could use their brevet rank. Appointment to a brevet also counted towards the requirement to have served for a sufficient time in a lower rank to be eligible for promotion (by purchase) to a more senior one.
In French usage it applies to commissions in general. The French military used provisional commissions much similar to current US brevet ranks, that is, promotions given to officers performing high-profile duties before the effective date of promotion. As an example, Charles de Gaulle was promoted "provisional brigadier general" (g n ral de brigade titre provisoire) in 1940 when he was commander of an armoured division.
In French, an "officier brevet " is known between 1870 to 1940 as an officier who studied in L' cole sup rieure de guerre, where lieutenants and capitaines could enforce their knowledge. 
In the Prussian and German army and navy, it was possible to bestow a Charakter rank on officers that was in many respects similar to a brevet rank. For example, an Oberst could receive the Charakter als Generalmajor. Very often, German officers would be promoted to the next higher Charakter rank on the day of their retirement.
It was not uncommon during the 19th century to distinguish between empleo ("employed") rank and graduaci n ("grade") being the effective command position. In the 1884 rank regulations (which with minor modifications were in force during the Spanish American War) stars marked the rank whilst the actual post was reflected in gold lace on the cuffs.
As in practice both situations coincided the system was dropped in 1908 leaving only the starred system of denoting rank. Nevertheless during the Spanish Civil War the system was revived in the Nationalist side due to the lack of trained officers because of the enlargement of the army. The breveted officers (known as habilitados or estampillados) wore their actual rank on the cuffs but their brevetted one in a rectangular black patch on the left breast of their coats or shirts.
- Boatner, III, Mark M., The Civil War Dictionary. David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1959. ISBN 0-679-50013-8.
- Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Faust, Patricia L., ed. Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 1986. ISBN 0-06-181261-7.
- Fry, James Barnet, The History and Legal Effect of brevets in the armies of Great Britain and the United States, D. Van Nostrand, 1877, Google Books link.
- Hunt, Roger D. and Brown, Jack R., Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue, Olde Soldier Books, 1997, ISBN 1-56013-002-4.
- Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue. Louisiana State University Press, 1964. ISBN 0-8071-0882-7.
- Weinert, Richard P., Jr., The Confederate Regular Army, White Mane Publishing, 1991, ISBN 0-942597-27-3.
- National Park Service glossary of military terms
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