What would be the average rate of promotion for US Army officers beginning their career in the mid 1890's as a 2nd Lieutenant? By what age could they expect to be promoted to each successive rank?

From looking at Pershing's career it seems that promotions were few and far between. He didn't make the permanent rank of Captain until he was 41. But Patton starting 23 years later made Captain by the age of 32 (helped along by the start of WWI?). What would someone starting their career between them expect for promotion? What was the career arc of an Army officer at that time?


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I don't have data for actual ranks around the turn of the century, but I do have information on the underlying reason: "supply and demand," specifically the latter.

U.S army strength peaked at over 1 million men in 1865 (Union) for obvious reasons, and fell sharply to less than 40,000 by 1869.

General Pershing was born in 1860, and joined the Army in 1886 at age 26 when U.S. army strength was at its low point. The Spanish-American war brought about a lasting boost of U.S. strength from 27,000 to 80,000-100,000, roughly a tripling. It also brought about a long delayed promotion to Captain. And "the rest is history."

General Patton was born in 1885, would joined the Army in 1909 (aged 24), and was involved in World War I eight years later, at just about the "right" time frame to be promoted to Captain. "Demand" ensured that he would.

One other thing. I forget where I read this, but the average age of an American Captain is in the late 20s, and the average age of a British Captain is in the early 40s. Pershing was promoted in line with the British schedule. Patton was promoted (almost) in line with the current American schedule, which basically began with World War I.

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    Note that Custer’s tank of General was a brevet, that is battlefield, promotion. Post war he reverted to his permanent rank.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 16, 2018 at 18:15
  • @Tom Au - You are wrong about Custer being demoted to captain. At the end of the Civil War Custer was a major general in one army, the United States Volunteers, and a captain in another army, the United States Army. Those two armies were almost as separate as the Florida National Guard and the Alaska National Guard. The United States Volunteers were disbanded, and Custer was discharged, leaving him a captain in the United States Army. There was no demotion.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 17, 2018 at 3:13
  • @Jon Custer - In those days the USA had several armies, the militias of the various states and territories plus the United States Volunteers and the United States Army. Custer rose from 2nd lt. to lt.colonel in the United States Army and from brigadier general to major general in the United States Volunteers. Those were his substantive ranks. Custer also had brevet ranks, largely honorary, in both the USA and the USV. There were no battlefield promotions for officers in the US forces, brevet promotions were made by the president and the senate like substantive ones.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 17, 2018 at 3:22
  • @MAGolding:OK, removed the reference to Custer.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 17, 2018 at 4:24

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