REVOLUTIONARY WAR & EARLY UNITED STATES
The history of the American Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) began in 1775 with the birth of the U.S. Army. The U.S. NCO did not copy the British. He, like the U.S. Army itself, blended traditions of the French, British and Prussian armies into a uniquely American institution. As the years progressed, the American political system, disdain for the aristocracy, social attitudes, and the vast westward expanses further removed the U.S. NCO from his European counterparts and created a truly American NCO.
During the early years of the American Revolution, little standardization of NCO duties or responsibilities existed. In 1778, during the long, hard winter at Valley Forge, Inspector General Friedrich von Steuben standardized NCO duties and responsibilities in his Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. Among other things, this work set down the duties and responsibilities for corporals, sergeants, first sergeants, quartermaster sergeants, and sergeants major, which were the NCO ranks of the period. It also emphasized the importance of selecting quality soldiers for NCO positions. The development of a strong NCO Corps helped sustain the Continental Army through severe hardships to final victory.
From the American Revolution to World War II, the Noncommissioned Officer received his promotion from the regimental commander. Entire careers were often spent within one regiment. If a man was transferred from one regiment to the next he did not take his rank with him. Without permanent promotions of individuals, stripes stayed with the regiment.
In 1821 the first reference to Noncommissioned Officer chevrons was made by the War Department. A General Order directed that sergeants major and quartermaster sergeants wear a worsted chevron on each arm above the elbow; sergeants and senior musicians, one on each arm below the elbow; and corporals, one on the right arm above the elbow. The chevron went through a series of changes between 1840 and 1860. In 1847 the chevron was worn in the inverted “V.” A few years later it was turned point down in the “V.” Epaulets only were worn with the dress uniform. Chevrons remained point down until a new uniform regulation in 1902 again placed the point up, where it remains.
In 1825, the first attempt was made to establish a systematic method for Noncommissioned Officer selection. The appointment of regimental and company NCOs remained the prerogative of the regimental commander. Regimental commanders were expected to accept the company commander's recommendations for company NCOs unless there were overriding considerations.
In 1832, Congress added to the ranks of Noncommissioned Officers, creating the ordnance sergeant. This was a specialized position, with the duties centering on receiving and preserving the ordnance, arms, ammunition, and other military stores of the post to which he was assigned.
In 1840, an effort was made to give the NCO Corps greater prestige by adopting a distinctive sword. The model 1840 NCO sword remains the sword of the NCO Corps and is still used on special ceremonial occasions.