Today In History – Congress Establishes the Rank of “General of the Army of the United States” for General Ulysses S. Grant
Unlike the World War II rank with a similar title, the 1866 rank of General of the Army was a four-star rank. This rank held all the authority and power of a 1799 proposal for a rank of “General of the Armies” even though Grant was never called by this title.
Unlike the modern four-star rank of general, only one officer could hold the 1866–1888 rank of General of the Army at any time.
After Grant became President, he was succeeded as General of the Army by William T. Sherman, effective March 4, 1869. In 1872, Sherman ordered the insignia changed to two stars with the coat of arms of the United States in between.
By an Act of June 1, 1888, the grade was conferred upon Philip Sheridan, who by then was of failing health. (The cover of Sheridan’s autobiography was decorated with four stars within a rectangle evocative of the four-star shoulder strap worn by Grant.) The rank of General of the Army ceased to exist with Sheridan’s death on August 5, 1888.