Chaplains have been a part of the United States Army almost from the time it was established. When the Continental Congress authorized the payment of Chaplains at the same rates as Captains and Judge Advocates on July 29, 1775, it marked the de facto establishment of the Chaplain Corps.

Once the office of Chaplain was created, however, the issue of how they were to be uniformed and recognized did seem to be of great importance either to Congress or the Army leaders who crafted uniform regulations. Article 65 of General Regulations for the Army, compiled by Major General Winfield Scott and published 1821, stated that “Chaplains, judge advocates, commissaries of purchase, storekeepers and paymasters have no uniform.” (Interestingly, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun noted that this Article was one of fourteen that had not been formally approved by Congress, but had “received the sanction of the President.”) Chaplains received scant more attention with the regulations released in 1836, which stated merely that a Chaplain’s dress was to consist of a “black button of the corps, round hat and cockade and eagle.”

During the Civil War, Chaplains still had not received an insignia to distinguish their branch. Instead, soldiers were to recognize them by their distinct uniform—“a plain black frock coat with standing collar and one row of nine black buttons; plain black pantaloons; black felt hat or Army forage cap without ornament.” A subsequent revision allowed Chaplains to spruce up this rather severe raiment adding herring bone around the button holes; a “chapeau de bras” was allowed for wear during special ceremonies.

Related Chaplain Corps Items
Chaplain Corps Collar Devices

The very first branch insignia employed by the Chaplain Corps was a shepherd’s crook, which was placed on the shoulder straps. It wasn’t until 1902 that the insignia began to resemble what is worn today, when Chaplains were allowed to add a small cross below the insignia of branch of the unit to which they were attached (cavalry, infantry, etc.). In 1914, Chaplains were given their own branch insignia—the plain silver cross—and until 1918 they were allowed to wear it in addition to rank insignia.

After an eight-year period in which Chaplains were not permitted to wear rank insignia, the regulations were finally changed in 1926 to allow both them to wear both brank and rank devices. For Christians in the Army Chaplain Corps, this meant the small silver Latin cross; the regulations today specify that it is to be in one inch in height.

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