combat writing badge

The History of Rank

by The Institute of Heraldry

History of Enlisted Ranks


"Chevron" is an architectural term denoting the rafters of a roof meeting an angle at the upper apex. The chevron in heraldry was employed as a badge of honor to mark the main supporters of the head of the clan or "top of the house" and it came to be used in various forms as an emblem of rank for knights and men-at-arms in feudal days. One legend is that the chevron was awarded to a knight to show he had taken part in capturing a castle, town, or other building, of which the chevron resembled the roofs. It is believed from this resulted its use as an insignia of grade by the military.

The lozenge or diamond used to indicate first sergeant is a mark of distinction and was used in heraldry to indicate achievement.

Method of Wearing

Chevrons were sewn on the sleeves of uniforms with the point down from approximately 1820 to 1903. They were worn with the points both up and down between 1903 and 1905 after the first reversal from "down" to "up" was authorized on 1 May 1903 in Army Regulation No. 622. This confusion period, from 1903 to 1905, was the result of the color change in the chevrons provided for in the regulation which also directed a standard color for each branch, corps, or organization and replaced the gold-colored chevrons. Because of the number of gold insignia available, troops were permitted to wear the old-type chevron until the supply became exhausted.

To assure uniformity in both color and position of the new colored chevrons, War Department Circular 61, dated 30 November 1905, stated that the points of the chevrons would be worn points upward. It also provided for the following colors as had been directed in Army Regulation No. 622, dated 1 May 1903. The colors were:
              Artillery – scarlet;
              Cavalry – yellow;
              Engineers – scarlet piped with orange;
              Hospital Corps – maroon piped with white;
              Infantry – light blue;
              Ordnance – black piped with scarlet;
              Post QM Sergeant – buff;
              Signal Corps – orange piped with white;
              West Point Band – light blue;
              and West Point Detachment – buff.

As early as 1820, chevrons were worn with the point down, although there was not an official direction of this to appear in regulations until 1821 when chevrons were authorized for both officers and enlisted men. Circular No. 65, 1821, stated that "Chevrons will designate rank (both of officers through the rank of captain and enlisted men) as follows: Captains, one on each arm, above the elbow, and subalterns, on each arm below the elbow. They will be of gold or silver lace, half an inch wide, conforming in colour to the button of their regiment or corps. The angles of the chevron to point upwards."

"Adjutants will be designated by an arc of gold or silver fringe, (according to the colour of their trimmings), connecting the extreme points formed by the ends of the chevron. Sergeant Majors and Quartermaster Sergeants will wear one chevron of worsted braid on each arm, above the elbow. Sergeants and senior musicians, one on each arm, below the elbow, and corporals, one on the right arm, above the elbow. They will conform in colour to the button of their regiment or corps." Before this time, an officerís rank was indicated by epaulettes worn on the shoulder. This regulation also indicated the first use of the arc as part of the chevron.

1884 Post Quartermaster Sergeant
Post Qm Sgt

Chevrons continued to be worn points downward during the 1800ís. AGO Order No. 10, dated 9 February 1833, stated "Chevrons will be worn with the point toward the cuff of the sleeves." Article 1577 of the revised United States Regulations of 1861 stated "The rank of non-commissioned Officers will be marked by chevrons upon both sleeves of the uniform coat and overcoat, above the elbow, of silk worsted binding on-half inch wide, to be the same color as the edgings of the coat, point down."

Titles of Grade


A general order was issued from Headquarters at Cambridge that "Sergeants may be distinguished by an Epaulette or stripe of red cloth, sewed upon the right shoulder; the Corporals by one of green." The organizational charts indicated the enlisted personnel consisted mainly of sergeants, corporals, musicians, and privates.


By early 1776 an approximately standard Continental Infantry Regiment had emerged consisting of a headquarters and eight companies, each company with four sergeants, four corporals, two drummers or fifers and 76 privates. According to the Journals of the Continental Congress, later in that year all battalions were given a non-commissioned headquarters element consisting of a sergeant-major, a quartermaster sergeant, a drum major and a fife major, all to be appointed by the regimental commander. This is the first mention of the rank of sergeant-major.


During this year the military service was expanded to include sergeants-major, quartermaster sergeants, senior musicians, sergeants, corporals, farriers, artificers, saddlers, musicians, trumpeters, dragoons and privates.


Senior musicians disappeared, but principal musicians apparently took their place; farriers and saddlers titles were united; sappers and miners appeared; and trumpeters disappeared.


Principal musicians were succeeded by chief musicians; sappers and miners disappeared; and the titles artificers, saddlers and blacksmiths were combined.


Principal musicians again appeared while chief musician disappeared and the designations of farriers and saddlers, sappers and miners, and a separate title of artificers, were authorized.


Enlisted men were designated sergeants-major, teachers of music, sergeants, corporals, musicians, artificers and privates.


Sergeant-majors, quartermaster sergeants, principal musicians, sergeants, corporals, musicians, artificers, saddlers, farriers and privates were the titles of enlisted personnel.


Blacksmiths and drivers of artillery were added to enlisted grade titles.


Designations of enlisted personnel were again simplified to sergeant-major, quartermaster sergeants, principal musicians, sergeants, corporals, musicians, artificers and privates.


During this year the designation "enlisted men for ordnance" appeared.


The designations of chief bugler, bugler, farrier and blacksmith were additional titles during the year.


The title "enlisted men for ordnance" was changed to "enlisted men of ordnance".


The title of principal or chief musician, principal teamster and teamster were added to the list.


The title of ordnance sergeants came into being.


During the Civil War, many new designations came into being. The following is a complete list of designations:
              sergeant majors;
              quartermaster sergeants;
              commissary sergeants;
              leaders of bands;
              principal or chief musicians;
              chief buglers;
              medical cadets;
              ordnance sergeants;
              hospital stewards;
              regimental hospital stewards;
              battalion sergeant majors;
              battalion quartermaster sergeants;
              battalion hospital stewards;
              battalion saddler sergeants;
              battalion commissary sergeants;
              battalion veterinary sergeants;
              first sergeants;
              company quartermaster sergeants;
              farriers and blacksmiths;
              master wagoners;
              enlisted men of ordnance.


The following titles disappeared: leaders of bands; battalion hospital stewards; chief buglers; medical cadets; battalion commissary sergeants; battalion saddler sergeants, battalion veterinary sergeants; buglers; and enlisted men of ordnance. The following new titles were established:
              saddler sergeants;
              chief trumpeters;
              privates (first class);
              and privates (second class).


The title chief musician again appeared and a first sergeant in the corps of engineers was established.


Post quartermaster sergeants, private hospital corps, general service clerks and general service messengers were established.


Electrician sergeants, sergeants first class, drum majors, stable sergeants, mechanics and cooks were established.

1902 Quartermaster Corps Sergeant
Qm Corps Sgt


The title post commissary sergeant, regimental commissary sergeant, and color sergeant were established.


The designs and titles varied by branch and there were 45 different insignia descriptions in specification 760, dated 31 May 1905, with different colors for different branches. General Order No. 169 dated 14 August 1907 created a wide variety of insignia. Specific pay grades were not yet in use by the Army and their pay rate was based on title. The pay scale approved in 1908 ranged from $13 for a private in the engineers to $75 for a Master Signal Electrician. The system identified the job assignment of the individual, e.g., cooks, mechanics, etc. By the end of World War I, there were 128 different insignia designs in the supply system.

1913 Quartermaster Sergeant First
Qm Corps SFC


Prior to 1919, the insignia of private first class consisted of the insignia of the branch of service without any arcs or chevrons. The Secretary of War approved "an arc of one bar" for privates first class on 22 July 1919.


The number of insignia was reduced to seven and six pay grades were established. War Department Circular No. 303, dated 5 August 1920, stated the chevrons would be worn on the left sleeve, point up, and to be made of olive drab material on a background of dark blue. The designs and titles were as follows:
              Master Sergeant (First Grade): Three chevrons, and an arc of three bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower chevron.
              Technical Sergeant (Second Grade): Three chevrons, and an arc of two bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower chevron.
              First Sergeant (Second Grade): Three chevrons, and an arc of two bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower chevron. In the angle between lower chevron and upper bar a lozenge.
              Staff Sergeant (Third Grade): Three chevrons and an arc of one bar, forming a tie to the lower chevron.
              Sergeant (Fourth Grade): Three chevrons.
              Corporal (Fifth Grade): Two chevrons.
              Privates First Class (Sixth Grade): One chevron.

1942 Technician Third Class
Tech 3rd Class


The grades of Technician in the third, fourth and fifth grades were added by War Department Circular No. 5, dated 8 January 1942. Change 1 to AR 600-35, dated 4 September 1942, added a letter "T" to the formerly prescribed chevrons for grades three, four and five.

The first sergeant was moved from the second grade to the first grade per Change 3, AR 600-35, dated 22 September 1942. This change described the first sergeantís chevron as – Three chevrons and arc of three bars, the upper bar of arc forming a tie to the lower chevron. In the angle between lower chevrons and upper bar, a hollow lozenge. This change also included the material as khaki chevrons, arcs, T, and lozenge on dark blue cotton background or olive-drab wool chevrons, arcs, T, and lozenge on dark blue wool backgrounds.


Changes made by Department of the Army Circular No. 202, dated 7 July 1948, discontinued the Sergeant 4th grade and recruit was added as the 7th grade effective 1 August 1948. The new insignia was smaller (2 inches wide) and the colors changed. Combat insignia worn by combat personnel were gold color background with dark blue chevrons, arc and lozenge. Insignia worn by noncombat personnel were dark blue with gold color chevrons, arcs, and lozenge. The circular also deleted the Technicians effective 1 August 1948.

1948 Staff Sergeant


The size of the chevrons was changed from 2 inches wide to 3 1/8 inches wide for male personnel per War Department Circular No. 9, dated 5 February 1951. The pay grades were reversed with Master Sergeant changing from pay grade 1 to pay grade E7. The insignia continued to remain two inches wide for female personnel. The insignia was authorized to be manufactured in one color: a dark blue background with olive-drab chevrons, arc, and lozenge.


Army Regulation 615-15, dated 2 July 1954, announced a new grade structure effective 1 March 1955. The new titles were:
              E7 Master Sergeant (First Sgt was an occupational title) and Master Specialist
              E6 Sergeant 1st Class; Specialist 1st Class
              E5 Sergeant; Specialist 2d Class
              E4 Corporal; Specialist 3d Class
              E3 Private First Class
              E2 Private E2
              E1 Private E1.

1955 Staff Sergeant

War Department Circular No. 670-3, dated 12 October 1955, stated the effective date for the above change was 1 July 1955. New descriptions contained in AR 670-5, dated 20 September 1956, changed the color of the background to Army Green (the color of the new uniform) or Army Blue with the chevron, arc, lozenge and eagle to be gold. There were no changes in the design for NCO and privates; however, the design for specialists was an embroidered eagle device on a 2 inch wide background arched at the top and shaped like an inverted chevron on the bottom with embroidered arcs as follows:
              Master Specialist (E7). Three arcs above the eagle device.
              Specialist First Class (E-6). Two arcs above the eagle device.
              Specialist Second Class (E-5). One arc above the eagle device.
              Specialist Third Class (E-4). Eagle device only.


Grades E8 and E9 were added and restructuring of titles changed and was announced in DA Message 344303, June 1958. The specialist insignia was also enlarged for male personnel. The insignia remained the same size for female personnel. The new regulation, AR 670-1, dated 28 September 1959, described the insignia as follows:
              Sergeant Major E9. Three chevrons above three arcs with a five pointed star between the chevrons and arcs.
              Specialist Nine E9. Three arcs above the eagle device and two chevrons below.
              First Sergeant E8. Three chevrons above three arcs with a lozenge between the chevrons and arcs.
              Master Sergeant E8. Three chevrons above three arcs.
              Specialist Eight E8. Three arcs above the eagle device and one chevron below.
              Platoon Sgt or Sergeant First Class E7. Three chevrons above two arcs.
              Specialist Seven E7. Three arcs above the eagle device.
              Staff Sergeant E6. Three chevrons above one arc.
              Specialist Six E6. Two arcs above the eagle device.
              Sergeant E5. Three chevrons.
              Specialist Five E5. One arc above the eagle device.
              Corporal E4. Two chevrons.
              Specialist Four E4. Eagle device only.
              Private First Class. One chevron.

Specialists were authorized to continue to wear the smaller insignia. The chevrons formerly authorized for E5, E6 and E7 were authorized for continued wear until the individual was promoted or demoted. They also continued to use the previous title.


The Specialist Eight and Specialist Nine grades were discontinued.


Subdued black metal insignia was authorized for wear on the collar of the work uniforms by DA Message 292128Z, December 1967.


A new insignia was authorized by DA Message 865848, 28 May 1968, for Sergeants Majors assigned at the principal NCO of battalion and higher. This Command Sergeant Major insignia was the same as the Sergeant Major insignia except the star was small and a wreath was placed around the star.


The insignia consisting of a single chevron, which was previously authorized for private first class, was authorized for Privates E2. A new insignia was authorized for Private First Class, which consisted of one chevron above one arc per DA Message 868848, 28 May 1968.


Bright shiny brass metal insignia was authorized for wear on the overcoat, raincoat, and windbreaker per DA Message 212019, February 1975.1978. Specialist Seven was discontinued.


In 1979 an insignia of grade was authorized for the Sergeant Major of the Army. The insignia had three chevrons above three arcs with two stars centered between the bottom chevron and the upper arc.


The Chief of Staff approved a recommendation for shoulder marks for enlisted personnel in the grade of corporal and higher. The shoulder marks were a yellow embroidered device on a black base cloth for wear on the green shirts and black sweaters. Privates and Privates First Class continued to wear the bright metal insignia on the green shirts.

1994 revised Sergeant Major of the


The grades specialist five and specialist six were discontinued effective 1 October 1985.


The insignia for Sergeant Major of the Army was changed to add the Coat of Arms of the United States between the two stars in the center of the insignia. The pin-on insignia is polished gold-plated with a black enamel background.


The designation of male and female insignia was discontinued and the new designations were large and small. The large size insignia were the same as the previously designated male insignia and were 3 1/8 inches wide. The small size insignia was 2 5/8 inches wide.

Origin of Officer Ranks


The size of the Army does not permit Army officers in charge of a large group to know all in their command by their name, nor is it possible to know all the duties of the various individuals of an organization if placed in a command, but by means of insignia of grade anyone trained in military organizations and tactics may quickly have a title by which he or she may address an individual and based on the responsibilities commensurate with each grade, they may issue orders intelligently.

General of the Army rank insignia

General Washington was chosen by the Continental Congress and was informed on June 16, 1775 that he was to be general and commander-in-chief to take supreme command of the forces raised in defense of American liberty. Just thirty days later, on July 14, 1775, a General Order was issued which read: "To prevent mistakes, the General Officers and their aides-de-camp will be distinguished in the following manner: The Commander-in-Chief by a light blue ribband, worn across his breast, between his coat and waistcoat; the major and brigadier generals by a pink ribband worn in a like manner; the Aides-de-Camp by a green ribband."

On July 23, 1775, General Washington states "As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance, that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green."

Our present system of officers' grade insignia began on 18 June 1780 when it was prescribed that Major Generals would wear two stars and Brigadier Generals one star on each epaulette. In 1832, the Colonel's eagle was initiated and in 1836, leaves were adopted for Lieutenant Colonels and Majors, while Captains received two bars and one bar was prescribed for First Lieutenant. Second Lieutenants did not receive the gold bar until December 1917.

Warrant Officers were provided with an insignia of identification on May 12, 1921, which also served as their insignia of grade. In 1942, Warrant Officers were graded and there were created a Chief Warrant Officer and a Warrant Officer (Junior Grade), and separate insignia of grade (gold and brown enamel bars) were approved June 14, 1942. A grade of Flight Officer came into being in 1942, and the insignia was prescribed to be identical to Warrant Officer (Junior Grade) except the enamel was blue instead of brown.

Other than the dates of authorization, nothing has been located as to why the leaf and bar was selected for officer's insignia. Military routinely incorporate the design representing their country in their insignia and the eagle with shield, arrows and olive leaves was taken from the Coat of Arms of the United States.

Use of Silver and Gold Insignia

The precedence of silver over gold in officer insignia of grade was not the result of deliberate intent, but arose from the desire to avoid unnecessary changes. Although the background discussed below is for Army insignia, the Navy and Marine Corps metal insignia of grade for officers have paralleled those of the Army. When the Air Force was established in 1947, it adopted the officers' insignia of grade already in used by the Army.

gold Second Lieutenant rank insignia silver First Lieutenant rank insignia

Since 1780, when insignia was embroidered on the epaulettes, the grade of general officers has been denoted by a number of silver stars. This was the beginning of the present system of officers' grade insignia.

Epaulettes were specified for all officers in 1832; for the infantry they were silver and all others had gold epaulettes. In order that the rank insignia would be clearly discernible, they were of the opposite color; that is, the infantry colonels had an eagle of gold because it was placed on a silver epaulette and all other colonels had silver eagles on gold epaulettes. At that time the only grade insignia were the stars for general officers and eagles for colonels. Epaulettes for lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, and lieutenants had no insignia – the length and size of the fringe showing the difference of grade.

Shoulder straps were adopted to replace the epaulette for field duty in 1836. The straps followed the same color combination as the epaulettes; that is, the border was gold with silver insignia for all officers except those of infantry which had silver border with gold insignia. At that time majors were authorized leaves; captains were authorized two bars and first lieutenants were authorized one bars on the shoulder straps.

In 1851, the colonel's eagle was prescribed in silver only. Apparently when it was decided to use only one color, the silver eagle was selected based on the fact that there were more colonels with the silver eagle that those with gold. At that time on the shoulder straps, lieutenant colonels wore an embroidered silver leaf; majors wore a gold embroidered leaf; and captains and first lieutenants wore gold bars. The second lieutenant had no grade insignia, but the epaulette or shoulder strap identified him as a commissioned officer.

In 1872, epaulettes were abolished for officers and replaced by shoulder knots. As the shoulder knots had no fringe, it was necessary that some change in the insignia on the dress uniform be made in order to distinguish the major from the second lieutenant. It was natural to use the gold leaf which the major had worn on the shoulder strap for the previous twenty-one years. In the same year, the bars on the shoulder straps of the captains and first lieutenants were changed from gold to silver to correspond with the silver devices of the senior officers.

gold Major rank insignia silver Lieutenant Colonel rank insignia

The service uniform of olive drab gradually came to be used more frequently and by the time of World War I, the blue uniform was worn only in the evenings and on dress occasions. As a result, metal insignia was authorized for wear on the service uniform on the shoulder loop and on the collar of the shirt when worn without a jacket. Shortly after the United States entered World War I, only the service olive drab uniform was being worn. The need for an insignia for the second lieutenant became urgent. Among the proposals was one to authorized for that grade one bar, the first lieutenant two bars, and the captain three bars. However, the policy of making as little change as possible prevailed, and a gold bar was adopted in 1917, following the precedent previously established by the adoption of the major's insignia.

Although silver outranks gold insofar as the Armed Forces metal insignia of grade, gold can be considered as outranking silver in medals and decorations and their appurtenances. The order of precedence in establishing medals when using the same design is gold, silver and bronze.