When the Confederate States Army was first established its highest rank was brigadier general. It quickly became apparent that the large size of the armies being created would need larger units and higher ranks to command them. On May 16, 1861 the Confederate Congress authorized the rank of full General for five officers. This would be the highest rank established for the Confederate Army.
On August 31, 1861 Preisdent Davis submitted to Congress a list of the five men to be given the rank of General. He also provided the dates their rank were to be effective, which establised seniority for the officers.
Samuel Cooper – May 16
Albert Sidney Johnston – May 30
Robert E. Lee – June 14
Joseph E. Johnston – July 4
Pierre G.T. Beauregard – July 21
Joseph Johnston immediately wrote an angry 1800 word letter to President Davis arguing that since he had been the highest ranking United States Army officer to resign and joint the Confederacy he should be the highest ranking Confederate officer.
Davis replied with a stiff two sentence rebuke. His reasoning was that Johnston’s high rank as Quartermaster General in the U.S. Army – a position which Davis had helped him obtain – was a staff position. Davis’ decision in the ranking of the seniority of the generals was based on their ranking in line command in the Old Army. The issue poisoned the relationship between the two men from that point on.
Albert Sidney Johnston was mortally wounded at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. On April 12 Braxton Bragg was promoted to General, taking Johnston’s place. Bragg was relieved of his army command by Joseph E. Johnston in February of 1864 but retained his rank in his new position as military advisior to President Davis in Richmond.
On July 18, 1864 John Bell Hood was given the temporary rank of General when he took over the Army of Tennessee from Joseph Johnston. When he asked to be relieved on January 23, 1865 he reverted to lieutenant general.
There was no corresponding rank in the United State Army during the Civil War. Union generals were either brigadier generals or major generals until Grant was award the rank of lieutenant general in March of 1864.