When we think about military ranks, we usually think of lieutenants, generals, majors, colonels, and all those other titles used to indicate and identify the servicemember’s position in the military hierarchy. These ranks would also give you an idea of their authority, position, power, and role within the military. Throughout the years, there had been many ranks that were phased out and no longer used for some reasons. Here are some of them.

Cornet

Cornet was originally a British cavalry troop rank that was the lowest level of a commissioned officer. Interestingly, the name came from the instrument used by a cornet player in each of the cavalry groups. Before it was abolished by the 1871 Cardwell Reforms and replaced with the second lieutenant, the rank was used first during the English Civil War. Among the notable cornets at that time were George Joyce, Ninian Beall, and Robert Stetson.

Winston Churchill while serving as a cornet in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars (1895). Churchill’s formal rank was second lieutenant. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

The rank was also used by other nations’ cavalry troops, like in Denmark called kornet, Sweden with their kornett, and Imperial Russia which was корнет. The Continental Army during the American War of Independence had General Alexander Macomb initially commissioned as a cornet before becoming a Commanding General of the United States Army.

Cornet is still being used in the cavalry divisions of the Netherlands.

Commodore

Commodore was a centuries-old naval rank that was used in many navies comparable to brigadier and air commodore. Commodores were usually above a navy captain but below a rear admiral. The rank could be traced back to France’s orders of knighthood, when the commander was considered one of the highest ranks.

Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, USN. (Mathew Benjamin Brady, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As a title, it referred to those officers in command of more than one ship, regardless of whether it was just a temporary authority. As a rank, it pertained to someone who was in command of a squadron of ships within a fleet. Non-English-speaking countries usually use the ranks of counter admiral, flotilla admiral, or senior captain as the equivalent to commodore, which was usually regarded as a one-star rank with a NATO code of OF-6. The United States dropped the rank in 1899 and then brought it back during World War II, but it only lasted until the end of the war. It was again placed back in the 1980s, but the confusion between those with the ranks and titles made them decide just to replace it with rear admiral instead. The US Navy is a bit unusual in that a Navy Captain wearing a silver eagle like a Colonel in the other branches jumps to wearing two stars upon promotion.  So in a hypothetical situation where a Marine Colonel and a Navy Captain were both promoted to the next rank at the same time, the new two-star Rear Admiral made of the Navy Captain would outrank the one-star Brigadier General just made of that Marine Colonel.

Air Force Chief Warrant Officer

Many of the branches of the military have Warrant Officers, except for the Air Force. Their last Air Force Reserve chief warrant officer, CWO4 Bob Barrow, retired in 1992, and his retirement marked the closing of the rank. As the structure evolved, higher enlisted ranks that no longer limited pilots to jobs or pay structures were added.

Many changes over the years could be attributed to changing rank systems. Perhaps one factor that caused the confusion of ranks, and probably the biggest one, was how the military got its start, which was thrown together, unorganized, and trying to fight the superpower Britain. As they sorted things out over time, ranks were reevaluated, added, or removed as they went along the way and slowly made sense to the branch.

Drum Major

The US Marines’ Drum Major was an actual Marine rank before. Along with it were the Trump Major and Drum Corporals, so it’s safe to say that the Marines took their music quite seriously. These ranks lasted until 1944 before they were finally removed for a more streamlined rank system.

WASHINGTON (Aug. 21, 2008) A drum major in “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band prepares to report to the parade commander during a parade at Marine Barracks Washington. The President’s Own performs in more than 500 ceremonies and concerts across the country annually. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Chris Dobbs/Released)

Although the rank was gone, the role still remained and the drum major today is responsible for the overall appearance, decorum, and drill of the band. He is also responsible for directing the band and wears a bearskin headpiece and mace, which are unique to the rest of the band members.

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