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Military Abbreviations - A Primer

By Patrick McSherry

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The military has a mirade of abbreviations. The abbreviations are what indicates the organization of the military, and the exact place that a military unit or even an individual played within in. Unfortunately, these abbreviations are so much gobbledegook to many people. This article attempts to explain some of the basic abbreviations and what they can tell you.

Abbreviations and Unit Designations:

First, the navy usually just listed the rank, and the ship. That makes it easy! Most navy personnel were in the regular navy, however, there were some state naval militias that manned some vessels.

The Army was more confusing. The army was made up of regular units and volunteer units. Usually, regular army units were designated “U.S.” units with a regiment number, such as the 10th U.S. Infantry. In some cases, the “U.S.” was dropped, it being understood that if the unit had no other designation that it was a regular army group (i.e., 10th Infantry was the 10th U.S. Infantry).

Volunteer organizations usually were designated by number and state (i.e., the 1st N.Y. infantry). Military units were further broken down by their branch of service - infantry, artillery or cavalry. The basic unit was a regiment. Infantry regiments were subdivided into companies with a letter designation (i.e., “10th U.S. Infantry, Co. A,” or “Co. B, 71st N.Y.” or “1st U.S. art., Co. C”).  Artillery regiments were subdivided into batteries, also designated with a letter. Cavalry regiments were divided into Troops, also designated by a letter.

Use the table below, which contains the most often used abbreviations. Using this, you can find that the "1st USV Cav,. Tr. B" would be the "1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, Troop B."

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Art.  "Artificer" - The artificer was the man charged with the maintenance of a military unit's equipment (basically a mechanic and repair person). Usually one artificer was provided in each infantry company, each cavalry troop, and each artillery battery. 
Art., Art'y  "Artillery" - One of the three branches of the army. It consisted of cannon and the crews that served them. There were both volunteer and U.S. artillery units.
BN "Battalion" - A regiment could be split into two or three smaller groups, each comprising a number of companies. Each of the groups was called a battalion. In some cases, regiments that were only recruited to a fraction of their required strength to be termed a regiment were called a battalion.
C.A., C.A.C. "Coast Artillery," "Coast Artillery Corps" - The Coast Artillery did not exist during the Spanish American War but did come into service during the time of the Philippine American War. To read more aboat this, click here.
Capt. "Captain" - A Captain commanded a battery of artillery, a troop of cavalry or a company of infantry. A Captain in the navy was not equivalent, but was of much higher rank, being just below that of commodore.
Cas. Det. "Casual Detachment" - A group of men "detached" or ordered to operate separate from their regiment or company for a specific duty.
Cav.  "Cavalry" - One of the three branches of the army. It consisted of horsemen. There were both volunteer and U.S. cavalry units. Note the is NOT "Calvary." Calvary refers to Jesus and Golgotha...Cavalry refers to horsemen. Many people complain because they cannot find info. on a specific Calvary regiment on the internet...You can guess why they can't find anything...probably for the same reasons you won't find horses in a Calvary Church.
Co., Comp. "Company" - The is the abbreviation for "Company," a basic component of the army structure. Companies are always designated by a letter (i.e. Co. E). A company theoretically consisted of 100 men, though many had slightly under that number. A company was commanded by a captain. Companies were designated by letters A through K (excluding J) in the regular army, and volunteer regiments by letters A through M (excluding J). "J" was excluded as a company designation since, when a "J" written by hand in cursive, was often confused with an "I".
Col. "Colonel" - The officer in command of a regiment or the equivalent.
Corp., Cpl.  "Corporal" - The lowest non-commissioned officer (NCO) in an army unit. A corporal commanded a squad.
Comsy. "Commissary" - Individuals involved with the commissary, such as commissary sergeants, are involved supply operations often involving food and similar supplies.
CWT "Chief Water Tender" - In the Navy, the highet ranked petty office charged with maintaining boiler pressure in a ship's propulsion system.
H.A. "Heavy Artillery" - Heavy Artillery was unique in artillery in that the regiment was divided into companies (typical of infantry) rather than batteries (typical of artillery). Heavy Artillery geeral served in fortifications manning large cannon that were not mobile enough to be used in the field. The Coast Artillery grew out of the Heavy Artillery following the Spanish American War
Inf.   "Infantry" - One of the three branches of the army. Infantry consisted of riflemen. There were both volunteer and U.S. infantry units.
L.A., Lt. Art. "Light Artillery" - Light Artillery consisted of artillery regiments that had cannon of a size that could be maneuvered on the field in battle (as opposed to heavy artilley, which used fortification-based cannon).
LDS "Landsman" - A naval rank below that of seaman, indicating little experience at sea.
Lt. "Lieutenant" - a rank of commissioned officer. In the army, a lieutenant was the lowest commissioned officer rank (and there were several levels) beneath that of captain, aiding in the day-to-day operations of the the command. In the Navy, lieutenants were not the lowest commissioned officer rank, and were below Lt. Commanders. Naval lieutenants were given command of smaller naval vessels.
Lt. Col. "Lieutenant Colonel" - The second in command of a regiment, serving basically as the executive officer
Maj. "Major" - An officer on the staff of a regiment, below that of Lt. Col.; A major would command a portion of the regiment as needed.
M.O.H. "Medal of Honor" - The highest medal issued by the U.S. government.
Mus., Musc. "Musician"
N.C.O. "Non-commissioned officer" - actually these are no actuallt officers. These are the rank of enlisted men above private (corporal, sergeant)
Pvt. -  "Private" - The lowest rank in the army (infantry, cavalry or artillery; volunteer or U.S.)...the rank held by most of the men. 
QM.  "Quartermaster" - In the Army, this was a person charged with the obtaining and managing supplies. In the Navy the meaning is enitrely different (and does not relate to supplies), and refers to a "petty officer" or non-commissioned officer.
Reg., regt, reg't,  "Regiment" - The is the abbreviation for "Regiment," a basic component of the army structure. Regiments are always numbered (i.e. "2nd U.S. Infantry Reg."). The Regiment, commanded by a colonel, was made up of companies. Regiments in volunteer units were larger than those in the regular army (for political reasons..allowing more National Guardsman to enlist). Regular army regiments consisted of between 700 and 1,000 men and had ten companies. Volunteer regiments had between 1,000 and 1,300 men and usually had twelve companies.
Tr. "Troop" - The is the abbreviation for "Troop" a basic component of the Cavalry regiment. Troops are always designated by a letter (i.e. Tr. E). A troop theoretically consisted of 100 men, though many had slightly under that number. A troop was commanded by a captain. troops were designated by letters A through K (excluding J) in the regular army, and volunteer regiments by letters A through M (excluding J). "J" was excluded as a company designation since, when a "J" written by hand in cursive, was often confused with an "I".
Sgt., Sergt. "Sergeant" - A noncommissioned officer rank above that of corporal. Sergeants include sergeants, quartermaster sergeants, 1st sergeants (highest ranking sergeant in a company) and sergeant major (if used, this was the highest ranking sergeant in a regiment)
S.S.A.W.V. "Sons of Spanish American War Veterans" - A group dedicated to preserving the memory of the Spansih American War Veterans.
U.S.  "United States" - In a military designation, this means that the regiment was part of the standing federal army. It was a regiment that existed before the war, and would continue to exist after the war.
U.S.L.H.S. "United States Lighthouse Service" - Personnel charged with overseaing the nation's lighthouse, etc.; overseen by officers of the Navy
U.S.M.C. "United States Marine Corps" - A branch of the U.S. Navy.
U.S.N.  "United States Navy
U.S.N.M.C. "United States Navy Medical Corps"
U.S.R.C.S. "United States Revenue Cutter Service" - The forerunner to the U.S. Coast Guard
U.S.V., U.S. Vol. "United States Volunteers" - Regiments designated as U.S. Volunteers were not a part of the standing federal army. They were regiments of volunteers raised for the war. The U.S. designation indicates that these regiments accepted men from across the country, not just from a specific state.
U.S.W.V. "United Spanish War Veterans" - This is not a military group but a veterans' organization, similiar to the modern American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. The organization accepted individuals who served in the Spanish American War and the and Philippine American membership does not guarantee that an individual was a veteran of the Spanish American War.

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