Determination of Official Army Campaigns

  1. Purpose: To provide information on how official named campaigns have been determined for display on the Army flag and individual unit flags.


    1. Today an official Army campaign recognizes a particular action or series of actions, involving combat, which has historical significance or military importance to the Army and the nation. The time and place of each named campaign have specific parameters, but the number of units or personnel involved is not a determining factor in classifying an action or operation as a campaign. The naming of campaigns has been closely tied to the manner in which they were to be displayed on colors.
    2. Beginning in the Civil War, the War Department instructed regiments and batteries to inscribe on their national colors the names of the battles in which they provided meritorious service. After the war, regimental commanders provided lists of their units' meritorious battles to the Office of The Adjutant General (OTAG), with some of the older regiments including battles dating back to 1791. OTAG published the first combined list of battles in the 1866 Army Register, but this list contained many lesser known actions that would not necessarily be considered battles by today's standards.
    3. In 1877, LTG William T. Sherman questioned the accuracy of the Army Register lists and recommended to Secretary of War George W. McCrary that the names of the battles be omitted from new registers. The Secretary approved this recommendation, but he did not order the battles removed from the units' national colors. Instead, the Army created a board under MG Winfield S. Hancock to examine among other issues, what was a battle; what portion of a regiment had to be engaged to have the name inscribed on the color and be included in the register; and how should the Army handle the passage of honors when units were created through various Army reorganizations and consolidations. The War Department published the board's findings in 1878. The Hancock Board defined a battle as being an important engagement between two opposing independent armies that determined a question of policy or strategy. An action involving only part of the two opposing armies that had similar results was also termed a battle. The board did not, however, offer to develop its own comprehensive list of Army battles. The board also determined that two or more companies of a regiment had to be engaged in order for the battle to be inscribed on the colors. Finally, the board concluded that regiments formed from the consolidation of two or more units inherited the honors of all previous units that comprised the organization. In 1881, revised Army Regulations included the results of the Hancock Board and reaffirmed the policy of inscribing battles on national colors. OTAG, however, was not authorized to resume publishing a list of battles in the register.
    4. By 1890, many units claimed so many battles that they could not all be inscribed on their colors. To help remedy this situation, the War Department directed that regimental honors be engraved on silver rings (later called silver bands) that would be placed on the staff of the regimental colors. This action, however, also actively involved the War Department in the naming of battles, because the OTAG was to announce the inscription for actions determined to be battles. The following year, encouraged by Acting Secretary of War Lewis A. Grant, OTAG began compiling a "complete" list of battles and skirmishes designed to be published in general orders rather than the register, and it submitted this list for approval in 1893. The Secretary of War did not approve it, however, as he questioned the resolution of issues the Hancock Board had considered. In the following decades, the lack of an official list of battles continued to burden the War Department as units requested their silver bands. In 1914, after one regiment submitted a request for 115 silver bands, Army Chief of Staff MG William W. Wotherspoon requested that OTAG furnish a list of all battles in which existing units may have participated and that the Quartermaster General (QMG) provide a list of units that had been issued silver bands. Although the QMG was able to provide its list, OTAG reported it had no approved list of battles.
    5. The issue remained on hold until after World War I, when General Pershing requested permission to compile a list of World War I battles, to include names, inclusive dates, and participating units. In January 1919, the War Department approved Pershing's request and in March the American Expeditionary Forces announced the information in general orders. In August 1919, in an effort to save space, the War Department ordered that a unit's battle credits be embroidered on the regimental colors. On 30 Oct 1919, the War Department published the first list of official Army campaigns containing seventy-six campaigns. The list included eighteen Indian War campaigns, but these inscriptions included just the words "Indian War" and the year(s) the campaigns took place. All these inscriptions still cluttered the colors, so in 1920 the War Department ordered the campaigns embroidered on streamers attached to the staffs. Streamers were to be in the colors of the campaign medal ribbon. Additional research by the Historical Section, Army War College, expanded the list of approved campaigns. As a result, War Department General Orders (WD GO) 16, 5 April 1921, listed ninety-four campaigns and another two were authorized in WD GO 45, 1 September 1921. At this point, the Army recognized fourteen named campaigns fo the Indian Wars. WD GO 16, 1921 also authorized units that participated in actions not included in one of the Army's named campaigns to display their campaign credit by location and date (i.e., New Mexico 1880 or Lorraine 1918). The Army's official list of campaigns remained unchanged until World War II.
    6. Starting with World War II, a more systematic approach to identifying campaigns incorporated the participation of the US Navy and Air Force. The Army added forty-six campaigns for World War II (Asiatic-Pacific Theater --24; European-African-Middle Eastern Theater -- 19; American Theater -- 3), and later added another ten campaigns for Korea. The U.S. Armed Services generally shared the names and dates of campaigns, although some air campaigns from World War II had dates that varied from the ground campaigns with the same designation, and some Korean War campaigns for the Navy and Marine Corps differed from the Army's campaigns. Beginning with Korea, the campaigns were no longer based on separate geographic regions within the operational theater, but were based solely on participation in the war zone between particular dates. For the war in Southeast Asia, the Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, provided recommendations for campaign names and dates through joint and service channels for consideration by the service secretaries. In most cases, the services followed these recommendations, but there are cases in which a service made a unilateral decision on a campaign to fit its individual circumstances. Secretaries of the Army approved seventeen campaigns for the war in Vietnam.
    7. More recently, following the practices of other services, the Army adopted campaign streamers in the colors of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Grenada and Panama. The three campaigns for the war in Southwest Asia, were also recommended by the theater commander (in this case the Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command) and approved by the Chairman, JCS, in consultation with the service chiefs. The Chairman, JCS, announced the designations and dates of the campaigns in a memo to the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management and Personnel), and they are the same for all services.
    8. Several campaigns have been approved out of chronological sequence. In 1955, at the recommendation of Chief of Military History MG Albert Smith, the Army Chief of Staff GEN Maxwell Taylor authorized the Mexican Punitive Expedition as a campaign. In anticipation of the bicentennial of the American Revolution, the Center of Military History reexamined the campaigns identified for Revolutionary War service and recommended adding five additional campaigns and expanding the dates of three others. This action was approved by Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway in April 1975. With the precedent of the Grenada and Panama Armed Forces Expeditions as official Army campaigns, Secretary of the Army Michael Stone in 199 approved the addition of the 1965-66 intervention in the Dominican Republic (DomRep) to the list of Army campaigns. During previous attempts (dating as far back as 1966) to have DomRep recognized, the Army Staff had opposed this action on the grounds that the military operations there did not constitute actions against an armed enemy.
    9. Prior to the establishment of the Army flag in 1956 (authorized by an executive order issued by President Eisenhower), unit battle honors were only meant for display on the colors of participating units. The Army flag provided a means to display all the Army's campaigns. The Chief of Military History identified 145 campaign streamers for the flag. Although the War Department (and later the Department of the Army) had recognized more than that number since 1919, CMH omitted some "war service"campaigns that did not follow a limited campaign definition. To help distinguish Army flag streamers from unit streamers, the former are twelve inches longer and include the year(s) for each campaign. Today the Army flag carries streamers representing 1731 officially named campaigns.

prepared by DAMH-FPO / 29 Jul 99

1At the time this Information Paper was prepared (1999) there were 173 streamers authorized for display on the Army flag. For a current list of streamers authorized for display on the Army flag, please see Listing of the Campaigns of the U.S. Army Displayed on the Army Flag.