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General of the Armies (or in its full title, General of the Armies of the United States) is the highest possible rank in the United States Army. This should not be confused with the rank of General of the Army, which is the rank immediately below.

This rank is currently vacant, and it has never been used by an active duty Army officer at the same time as General of the Army, so it is not entirely clear how the two ranks would legally compare to each other.


American Revolutionary War era

George Washington
During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed General Officers to lead the Continental Army. They were normally distinguished community leaders and statesmen, with several having served as provincial officers in the British Army. While there were some General Officers who were promoted to the grade from the Colonel ranks, most held their ranks by initial appointment and then with such appointment at the pleasure of the Congress, to be expired or revoked at the end of a particular campaign.

With the exception of George Washington, the General Officers at that point were Brigadier Generals or Major Generals. Their insignia was one or two stars worn on a golden epaulet.

During the American Revolutionary War, George Washington was the highest ranking officer of the Continental Army, and he held the title of "General and Commander in Chief" of the Continental Army. He wore three stars on his epaulets.

A year prior to his death, Washington was appointed by President John Adams to the rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Army during the Quasi-War with France. Washington never exercised active authority under his new rank, however, and Adams made the appointment to frighten the French, with whom war seemed certain.

In an Act of the United States Congress on 3 March 1799, Congress provided "that a Commander of the United States shall be appointed and commissioned by the style of General of the Armies of the United States and the present office and title of Lieutenant General shall thereafter be abolished." The proposed senior general officer rank was not bestowed, however. When George Washington died, he was listed as a lieutenant general on the rolls of the United States Army. After World War II, which saw the introduction of U.S. "5-star" officers, Washington's rank was readdressed (see below).

After the Revolutionary War, the tiny United States Army at first had no active duty general officers. When general officer ranks were recreated, the highest rank was Major General. The senior Major General on the Army rolls was referred to as the Commanding General of the United States Army. The position was abolished at the start of the 20th century and replaced with that of Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

General John Pershing

World War I era

Three star Lieutenant Generals and four star Generals were reauthorized temporarily during Tasker H. Bliss and John J. Pershing were promoted to General in October 1917, and Peyton C. March was promoted in May 1918. Hunter Liggett and Robert Lee Bullard were promoted to Lieutenant General on 16 October 1918. On 3 September 1919 granted Pershing the rank of "General of the Armies" in recognition of his performance as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force. After the war, in 1920, the Lieutenant Generals and Generals reverted to their permanent ranks of Major General, except for Pershing. Pershing retired from the United States Army on 13 September 1924, and retained his rank of General of the Armies of the United States until his death in 1948. Pershing wore four gold stars during his tenure as General of the Armies. Four star Generals were reauthorized in 1929, starting with Charles Pelot Summerall, and five star Generals of the Army were created in 1944. Pershing was deemed senior to both of those ranks, but it remains unclear whether General of the Armies was considered a five or six star rank.

Six Star Rank

A General of the Armies outranks the modern day five star general. A six star rank has been discussed but has never been formalized nor awarded.


Pershing's insignia
General Pershing was offered the option to create his own insignia for the position General of the Armies. He chose to continue to wear the four stars of a General, but in gold, instead of the four silver stars used by a regular general. Army Regulations 600-35, Personnel: The Prescribed Uniform, 12 October 1921, and all subsequent editions during General Pershing's lifetime, made no mention of insignia for General of the Armies but prescribed that generals would wear four stars.

On 14 December 1944, when the rank of General of the Army was established, Army Regulations 600-35 were changed to prescribe that Generals of the Army would wear five silver stars. General Pershing continued to wear only four gold stars, but he remained preeminent among all Army personnel until his death in 1948.

Conjectural Design for General of the Armies
In 1945, the Institute of Heraldry prepared a conjectural insignia which would have incorporated a sixth star into the five-star design of General of the Army. As no proposal to appoint a new General of the Armies was ever firmly developed, the United States Army has never officially approved a six-star general insignia.


During World War II the United States Army established the five-star rank of General of the Army. By order of seniority, 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. The then Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson was asked whether Pershing was therefore a six-star general. Stimson stated:
It appears the intent of the Army was to make the General of the Armies senior in grade to the General of the Army. I have advised Congress that the War Department concurs in such proposed action.

Official Army regulations do not presently declare General of the Armies as a six star rank; however, some military historians and enthusiasts alike have interpreted General Pershing's seniority to five-star generals to mean that General of the Armies is a six-star rank.

Douglas MacArthur

Promotion order for Douglas MacArthur to assume the rank of General of the Armies
In 1945 as part of the preparation for Operation Downfall (the planned invasion of Japan) a proposal was discussed in the War Department to appoint Douglas MacArthur to the rank of General of the Armies. Following the use of the atomic bomb in August 1945 and the subsequent Japanese surrender, the proposal was dropped.

The matter was raised again in 1955, when the United States Congress considered a bill authorizing President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote MacArthur to General of the Armies, in recognition of his many years of service. At that time, the Army Judge Advocate General warned that, should MacArthur accept promotion to the new rank, he would lose a large amount of retirement pay and benefits associated with the much more firmly established rank of five-star General of the Army, which he still held. The Army General Staff was also concerned because George C. Marshall was senior to MacArthur and that, should MacArthur be made a General of the Armies, a similar measure would have to be passed promoting Marshall as well. Because of the various complications, MacArthur declined promotion and the bill to promote him was dropped.

But some people continued to push for MacArthur to be promoted. The MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk has numerous letters on file dating from 1962 to 1964 between advocates (former MacArthur aides and others) and government officials attempting to obtain the six-star promotion. In the letters, in a congressional record appendix from February 1962 (pages A864-A865), and in the bill to promote him, this promotion was referred to alternately as "six-star general" and "general of the armies." The proponents even obtained a vote of neutral support from Harry Truman. (He would neither support nor attempt to scuttle the promotion.) The proponents' promotion attempts were ultimately scuttled by the John F. Kennedy assassinationmarker and then MacArthur's death in 1964.

George Washington

After World War II, which saw the introduction of U.S. "5-star" officers who outranked Washington, both Congress and the President revisited the issue of Washington's rank. To maintain George Washington's position as the first Commanding General of the United States Army, he was posthumously appointed to a new, higher grade of General of the Armies of the United States by congressional joint resolution Public Law 94-479 19 January 1976, approved by President Gerald R. Ford on 11 October 1976. The Department of the Army Orders 31-3, issued on 13 March 1978 had an effective appointment date of 4 July 1976.

The rank ensures that Washington outranks all United States military officers, past or present. This includes outranking Pershing's General of the Armies rank, as it is of a lower grade than that of Washington.

Equivalent ranks

The lower grade of the rank of General of the Armies (held by John J. Pershing) is equivalent to the U.S. Navy's rank of Admiral of the Navy. Admiral of the Navy has only been held by one person in history, George Dewey. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps do not have an equivalent to the rank of General of the Armies.


  1. Only Major Generals Now; March, Liggett and Bullard Lose War Rank The New York Times, 30 June 1920
  2. How many U.S. Army five-star generals have there been and who were they?
  3. Service Record of Douglas MacArthur -- 1945 Promotion Proposal Package.
  4. Congratulations to Joseph J. Frank
  5. Promotion order of George Washington, Military Personnel Records Center (:Image:Orders 31-3.jpg and :Image:Orders 31-3 Cover Letter.jpg).
  6. By George, IT IS Washington's Birthday! By C. L. Arbelbide
  7. Washington's Birthday Holiday Honors "Father of our Country"

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