Brevet (military)

Brevet (military)

In the U.K. and U.S. military, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank. 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

In the 19th century United States Army, brevet promotions were extremely common. New officers received brevet rank until authorized positions were made available. Additionally, officers could be brevetted to fill higher positions or for gallantry. Typically, a brevetted officer would be given the insignia of the brevetted rank, but not the pay or formal authority. During the American Civil War almost all senior officers received one form of brevet or another, particularly during the final months of the war. It was not unheard of for an officer to have several different ranks simultaneously, such as being a brevet major general of volunteers, an actual brigadier general of volunteers, a brevet lieutenant colonel in the regular army, and an actual regular army captain {i.e. Ranald S. Mackenzie}.

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, particularly, though not exclusively, in the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard, United States Marine Corps, and on rare occasions in the United States Air Force.

Although brevetting as such was no longer in effect in the 20th century U.S. military, it was common during the First and Second World Wars for officers in the Regular Army (the peacetime, permanent standing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.

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.

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 to promotion to Colonel were brevetted (frocked) Colonel about six months ahead of their effective dates of promotion due to the high-profile nature of the duties that they were performing.

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.

United Kingdom

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 not lower than the rank of captain or higher than the rank of 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 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. [cite book |last=Holmes |first=Richard |authorlink=Richard Holmes (military historian) |title=Redcoat: the British soldier in the age of horse and musket |origdate= |origyear=2001 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition=Hardback |series= |date=2001 |year= |month= |publisher=HarperCollins |location=London |language= |isbn=0-00-257097-1 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=pp166-179 |chapter= Chapter III - Brothers of the Blade|chapterurl= |quote= ]


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" ("général de brigade à titre provisoire") in 1940 when he was commander of an armoured division.

In French, an "officier breveté" is known between 1870 to 1940 as officier who studied in Ecole supérieure de guerre, where lieutenants and capitaines could have enforce their knowledge. []


* [ National Park Service glossary of military terms]

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