Army General Officers Button Grouping

The British Army had used different button groupings to indicate various general ranks since the late 1700s. In 1832 the U.S. Army introduced something similar, which lasted into twentieth century. Initially, the senior position of commanding general was recognized by evenly spaced buttons, while other major generals grouped their buttons by threes, and brigadier generals in pairs. When Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general in March, 1864, he kept the same button arrangement as a major general, but when he was promoted to full general in 1866 he adopted buttons in three groups of four. In 1872, Army regulations provided a new arrangement of 3-4-3 to differentiate the lieutenant general from major generals.

General officers' double-breasted blue uniforms were suspended from wear in the First World War and were not re-authorized after the war. However, blue uniforms of the previous regulations were authorized for optional off-duty wear in 1929. In 1936 a new blue dress uniform for officers was prescribed, in a more modern, single-breasted style that did not allow for the generals' distinctive button grouping. In 1938 new blue dress uniforms were required for all officers and the option of wearing the old style was ended.

NOTE: The illustrations in the following table are intended to show the button arrangement only and do not account for variations over time, such as wider, narrower or converging horizontal spacing between the rows.


  18321 – 1841 18412 – 1851 18513 – 1866 18664 – 1872 18725 – 19386
General general officer buttons
Lieutenant General general officer buttons general officer buttons
Major General
Commanding the Army
general officer buttons general officer buttons
Major General general officer buttons
Brigadier General general officer buttons


All text and images © Justin T. Broderick, 2021 unless otherwise indicated.