U.S. Army Military Records: Understanding Military Organization

Photo: The Michigan 9th Volunteer Infantry guards the infamous Confederate Rebel, Champ Ferguson at trial – Nashville State Prison – 1865. My 2nd great grandfather, William Henry Knowles Sr., served in this regiment as a prison guard under the alias “James Ecmire” in 1864-1865 after serving 3 years on the battlefield in the Indiana 9th Infantry. (Photo – public domain.)

If you are researching ancestors that were in the military in any generation it is helpful to know the terminology associated with military organization.

Terminology: U.S. Army

  1. Army (Regular) – A permanent U.S. army; in peace and war time.
  2. Corps – An organized unit of officers and men or officers alone consisting of two or more divisions. (Revolutionary War corps were one of the nine military subdivisions of the Continental Army.)
  3. Unit – An organized body of soldiers of any size. A division of a larger body.
  4. Division – A major administrative and tactical unit. Larger than a regiment or brigade but smaller than a corp.
  5. Brigade – Unit consisting of several regiments, squadrons, groups or battalions.
  6. Regiment – A ground unit consisting of two or more battalions.
  7. Battalion – A ground force consisting of three or more companies or similar units.
  8. Company – A subdivision of a regiment or battalion.
  9. Platoon – Military unit consisting of two or more squads or sections having a common headquarters.
  10. Squad/Squadrons – A small unit of men (10 or more) with a sergeant and corporal in command. Can consist of a Naval fleet unit or an armed cavalry unit of two or more troops and support units.
  11. Troop – Armed Calvary or two or more platoons and a headquarters group.
  12. Volunteer – One who enters service on his own volition rather than by draft/conscription.
  13. Conscripts – Recruits drafted for military service, compensated by the government for war time enlistment. Also called “draftees”.
  14. Militia – A body of men enrolled for military service, called on for periodic drill and practice but used in actual service only in emergencies. Citizen soldiers. (Army Reserves/National Guard).

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