Sergeant E-5 shoulder marks are worn on the black all-weather coat, the black cardigan, and the black pullover; they are also worn on the long- and short-sleeved Service uniform shirt. Sometimes referred to as epaulets or epaulettes, shoulder marks come in two sizes; either size may be worn with the aforementioned garments and are not related to the wearer’s gender.

Sergeants in the Continental Army were originally identified by a red stripe, or epaulette, sewn to their right shoulder, a forerunner of today’s shoulder marks. In 1780, this gave way to a worsted red sash, which was soon replaced by shoulder knots, but precisely when chevrons were introduced to identify Sergeants is unclear. Noted U.S. Army historian and uniform expert William K. Emerson says that chevrons were used as rank insignia “since the beginning of the nineteenth century, but retired Air Force Colonel and former National Air and Space Museum director William J. Boyne points out that the oldest surviving document that refers to them is the 1821 edition of General Regulations for the Army.

Unlike today, chevrons in 1821 were used for the rank insignia of both Officers (Captains and subalterns) and Noncommissioned Officers (Sergeant Majors, Quartermaster Sergeants, Sergeants, Seniors Musicians, and Corporals). A single chevron was worn by all these ranks, with the distinguishing factors being material (gold or silver lace for officers and worsted braid for NCOs) and placement (above or below the elbow).

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One of the earliest mentions of Sergeants wearing three chevrons as rank insignia is found in the 1835 edition of the General Regulations, in a section titled “Non-commissioned officers, Buglers, and Privates of Dragoons” which states “Sergeants to wear chevrons of three bars, points towards the cuff, on each sleeve, above the elbow; Corporals, two bars.”

The only other refence to chevrons in the 1835 manuals regards their use as what we would call “service stripes” or “service bars” today. NCOs, private, and musicians that served “faithfully” for five years were authorized to wear a chevron on both coat sleeves, points up and above the elbow; an additional chevron was permitted for each additional five years of service, and a red stripe was added if the wearer had served in “the war."

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