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The Society of Descendants of Militia Officers

serving from 1607 to 1861

Militia Officer Ranks

We can identify five different categories of ranks, titles, and appointments important to understanding the organization of the Militia.  They include:

First - senior civilian officers with specific responsibilities for organizing, equipping, and recruiting the militia.

Second - Commissioned Officers who held a commission by virtue of appointment by the Governor, or by someone the Governor authorized to raise militia units and appoint officers, or by election of the members of the militia.  Commissioned officers held command authority and were expected to lead militia troops in battle and to perform management duties required to administer their units.

Third - Non-Commissioned Officers elected or appointed within the unit to junior troop leadership positions responsible for ordering the unit in line, maintain unit cohesion, and training individuals in musketry and drill. 

Fourth - individuals who performed duties that were not inherently military in nature, but that were important for the health and well-being of soldiers.

Fifth - appointments to unit staff positions in which the individual was primarily listed in rolls and correspondence by the position held rather than by a specific military rank.  

Three senior civilian titles are associated with the Militia:

(I)  Captain General - a title given to Governors in their military roles of commander-in-chief of state or colony military forces.  Relatively few Governors have exercised their authority as Captain General by leading troops in the field; Governor Tryon of North Carolina in the campaign against the Regulators and as the commanding general at the Battle of Alamance is an example.

(II)  County Lieutenant - a senior official in a County with responsibility for recruiting, organizing, and equipping the Militia.  In Virginia, County Lieutenants may also have had some operational responsibility for command of their County's troops.

(III)  County Sub-Lieutenant - assistants to the County Lieutenants responsible for areas within a County.

There were a number of changes in the rank structure of the commissioned officers of the Militia throughout its history.  The following were the most common ranks:

(1)  Major General - division commander (state or colony level most senior purely military officer)

(2)  Brigadier General - brigade (district of multiple counties) commander

(3)  Colonel - regimental (county) commander

(4)  Lieutenant Colonel - second in command of a regiment 

(5)  Major - third in command in a regiment or an Aide de Camp to a Major General.  Majors are sometimes titled 1st Major or 2nd Major to indicate their relative seniority within the unit.

(6)  Captain - company commander (company within a county)

(7)  Captain-Lieutenant - a Lieutenant holding a company commander position, but paid as a Lieutenant

(8)  Lieutenant - second officer of a company.  Starting in the early 1800s, Lieutenants start to be numbered in order of seniority, 1st through as many as 5th in a company.  By the Civil War this had started to harden into the modern systems of two Lieutenant ranks, 1st and 2nd, with 2nd Lieutenants replacing the Cornet or Ensign.

(9a)  Ensign - third officer of an infantry company

(9b)  Cornet - third officer of a cavalry troop or company

There are five non-commissioned officer ranks:

(10)  Quartermaster - a senior non-commissioned officer rank paid at a rate higher than Sergeants, found in some cavalry troops.

(10a)  Marechal de Logis - the equivalent title to Quartermaster used in at least one Louisiana Militia cavalry company.

(11)  First Sergeant - the senior Sergeant of a Company.  When used this title implies a higher rank than Sergeant, but does not appear to have been paid at a higher pay scale.

(12)  Clerk - an administrative position equivalent to Sergeant, responsible for unit strength reports and other records.

(13)  Sergeant - the most common senior non-commissioned officer rank.  Sergeants and Corporals are responsible for ordering the troops and maintain cohesion in battle, for some between muster administrative duties in some cases, and for instruction in drill and musketry.  Much like Majors and Lieutenants, Sergeants and Corporals are often numbered in order of seniority in the Company as 1st through 4th.

(13a)  Brigadier - the equivalent title to Sergeant used in at least one Louisiana Militia company.

(14)  Corporal - the junior non-commissioned officer rank

(14a)  Sous-Brigadier - the equivalent title to Corporal used in at least one Louisiana Militia company.

There are two essentially civilian positions within Militia organizations that have the status and pay of officers, but do not serve in a combatant role: 

(a)  Surgeon - usually approximately equivalent to a Captain

(a1) Surgeons Mate - a junior surgeon position approximately equivalent to a junior Lieutenant

(b)  Chaplain

In addition to ranks, there are appointments - the actual position an individual filled within the table of organization of the unit or field army.  These may have General added to them, such as the Quartermaster General, or they may be titled as an Assistant.   These include:

Brigade Major - a Major assigned to the brigade staff to assist the Brigadier General.  These may have been ranked as 1st Brigade Major, 2nd Brigade Major, etc. based on seniority.

Fort-Major - the term implies that the holder was in fact a Major and that his duties were in some way associated with a fortification.  The term is rare, and its meaning uncertain.

Aide-de-Camp - an officer who served as an aide to a more senior officer, often serving as messenger with authority of the senior officer, as a gatherer of information, and performing other substantial duties of a tactical and administrative nature.

Adjutant - an officer responsible for administrative and communications functions.  When of the regimental staff, ranks as Lieutenant.

Quartermaster - responsible for the quartering of the unit.  This is actually a tactical function of establishing the location and order of units within a camp so that they preserve unit integrity and are arranged in the order of march or the order of deployment for combat.  When of the regimental staff, ranks as Lieutenant.

Commissary - responsible for the supply services of the unit.

Wagon Master - responsible for the organization and operations of the wagons, carts, and other transportation vehicles that accompanied the army in the field.

Provost Marshal - responsible for the enforcement of discipline and the apprehension of violators of military or civil law.

Judge Advocate - the legal advisor to the commander and primary legal functionary of the unit.

This list highlights the complexity of military organization when the militia went to war.  Most of the key functions in a modern field army are represented, and the various appointments suggest a reasonably sophisticated staff organization. 

Sources:

Duncan, Louis C.; Medical Men in the American Revolution 1775-1783; [monograph]; Medical Field Service School, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; 1931.

Lewis, J. D.; "The American Revolution in North Carolina: The North Carolina Militia;" [Internet page]; at http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_patriots_militia_nc.html; accessed 2015-08-20. 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University Library; Colonial and State Records of North Carolina;  Volumes 8 and 19; [Internet website]; at http://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html; 2010-03-24. 

United States, Second Congress; An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defense, by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States; [legislative act];1792-05-08.