Friday, January 16, 2009

Military Terms

When I started doing research involving military records, I had a hard time deciphering documents due to unfamiliar terminology.  I found myself looking up terms, the same terms, over and over.  So I started a list of terms I came across and looked them up one last time and noted them in a cheat-sheet.  I hadn't used it in a while, but the last few days I've been researching my American Revolutionary War ancestor and found myself pulling out my sheet.  I thought I'd share it on my blog for others.

All of these definitions are word-for-word from Wikipedia.  You can click on the term to go to the Wikipedia page where the term is defined to learn more.  I also added links to Wikipedia pages for a few of the wars.

Note:  My research has been American-based in terms of military.  These terms may or may not be relevant to the military of other countries.  Also, this is certainly not an exhaustive list by any means.

Military Terms

Military - An organization authorized by its nation to use force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country (or by attacking other countries) by combating actual or perceived threats. 

Corps - Either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service.

Division - A large military unit or formation usually consisting of between ten to thirty thousand soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions make up a corps.

Brigade - A military unit that is typically composed of two to five regiments or battalions, depending on the era and nationality of a given army.

Regiment - A military unit, composed of variable numbers of battalions, commanded by a Colonel. Depending on the nation, military branch, mission, and organization, a modern regiment resembles a brigade, in that both range in size from a few hundred to 5,000 soldiers (3 to 7 standard battalions). Generally, regiments and brigades are grouped as divisions.

Battalion - A military unit of around 500-1500 men usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. Several battalions are grouped to form a regiment or a brigade.

Company - A military unit, typically consisting of 75-200 soldiers. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure.

Platoon - A military unit typically composed of two to four sections or squads and containing about 30 to 50 soldiers. Platoons are organised into a company, which typically consists of three, four or five platoons. A platoon is typically the smallest military unit led by a commissioned officer — the platoon leader or platoon commander, usually a lieutenant.

Squad - A small military unit led by a non-commissioned officer (NCO) that is subordinate to an infantry platoon.

Commissioned Officers - Derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position. Commissioned officers are typically the only persons, in a military environment, able to act as the commanding officer (according to the most technical definition of the word) of a military unit.  Commissioned officers generally receive training as leadership and management generalists, in addition to training relating to their specific military occupational specialty or function in the military.

Non-commissioned Officer - Also known as an NCO or Noncom, is an enlisted member of an armed force who has been given authority by a commissioned officer. 

Infantry - Soldiers who are primarily trained for the role of fighting on foot.

Cavalry - The second oldest of the Combat Arms, and as soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback in combat, it represents the mobility and offensive power of the armed forces.

Artillery - A military Combat Arm which employs any apparātus, machine, an assortment of tools or instruments, a system or systems used as weapons for the discharge of large projectiles in combat as a major contribution of fire power within the overall military capability of an armed force.

Theater - A specific geographical area of conduct of armed conflict, bordered by areas where no combat is taking place.

Campaign - A large scale, long duration, significant military strategy plan incorporating a series of inter-related military operations or battles forming a distinct part of a larger conflict often called a war.

Links to Various Wars on Wikipedia

While Wikipedia is not the end-all, be-all of sources, it does provide a starting point for research and basic information to aid in research.  Hope this list of terms helps other non-military buffs out there.

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Cindy said...

Julie - great tip with the military terms. I know I struggled with the same terminology when researching my Grandfather's WWII service. Every document brought about a whole new list of words (and questions :-), have you ever looked at a Military Mission Report? Talk about another language! Thanks for sharing!

Also curious if you had any luck with the military on replacement medals?

Julie Cahill Tarr said...


No I have not seen a Military Mission Report...is this something that you'd find in a person's military file?

I haven't had a chance to order the medals yet, but it's on my list. I'll keep ya posted.


Cindy said...

A mission report was written everytime a group went
on a mission - in my case, 331st Squadron, part of the 94th Bomb Group of the Army Air Force. They're not part of any person's file, but part of the files for that Group. They include a list of planes that went on the mission, the damage to every plane, the formation flew, what time they arrived on the "enemy" coast, what target damage was done... you get the point. There were over 45 pages of info - info that may have well been written in another language as far as I was concerned. Thankfully I've got a friend who has Air Force history knowledge and he's helped me decipher them! We're not there yet but closer is better than farther! Mission reports can also be ordered through the Archives site.
Take Care,

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