Military Colonels

The original definition for "Colonel" originates from the word "Colon" referring to Christopher Columbus and the idea of the "Head of a Colony" in 1651 there was only "one colonel" in the 13 colonies, soon thereafter the Title was used to indicate a "Leader" of a colony, company or county. The term company at that time refers to an organized group of people engaged in any sort of activity. During the American Revolution the meaning of what a colonel becomes much different than what it was, and Colonel becomes the greatest title in the Americas once the Revolutionary War was declared.

Original American Title and Rank

This website is focused on all colonels, to be inclusive we include all those who use the title or the rank unofficially, officially or honoraily in their representation in both Canada and the United States, as they can all be traced back to their first use in the American Colonies.

Canadian Colonels

In the Canadian Forces, the rank of colonel (Col) (French: colonel, col) is a rank for officers who wear army or air force uniform, equal to a captain for officers who wear navy uniform. A colonel is the highest rank of senior officer. A colonel is senior to a lieutenant-colonel or naval commander, and junior to a brigadier-general or commodore.

Typical appointments for colonels include:

United States Colonels

In the United States Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, colonel is the most senior field grade military officer rank, immediately above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general. It is equivalent to the naval rank of captain in the other uniformed services. By law, a colonel must have at least 22 years of cumulative service and a minimum of three years as a lieutenant colonel before being promoted.

When worn alone, the insignia of rank seen at right is worn centered on headgear and fatigue uniforms. When worn in pairs, the insignia is worn on the officer's left side while a mirror-image reverse version is worn on the right side, such that both of the eagles faces forward to the wearer's front.

Honorary Colonels

There are also several honorary ranks and appointments associated with the rank of colonel, or containing the word "colonel" in their title.

Personnel holding these honorary ranks are not part of the military operational chain of command. Rather, they serve in a ceremonial manner, often as a guest of honour at parades, mess dinners, or at other military traditions such as during Remembrance Day. Usually, honorary ranks are filled by people who have had a prior association with the battalion, regiment, or squadron they represent. Princess Patricia of Connaught was the colonel-in-chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, one of the most decorated infantry regiments in the Canadian Forces (CF). An honorary colonel of a CF flying or air maintenance squadron may be a past commanding officer of that squadron (who has since retired from active duty), or an air ace during the war.


The United States rank of colonel is a direct successor to the same rank in the British Army. The first colonels in the U.S. were appointed from Colonial militias maintained as reserves to the British Army in the North American colonies. Upon the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, colonial legislatures would grant commissions to men to raise a regiment and serve as its colonel. Thus, the first U.S. colonels were usually respected men with ties in local communities and active in politics.

With the post-war reduction of the U.S. Army, the rank of colonel disappeared, and was not re-introduced until 1802.

The rank of colonel was relatively rare in the early 19th century, partly because the U.S. Army was very small, and the rank was usually obtained only after long years of service. During the War of 1812 the Army grew rapidly and many colonels were appointed, but most of these colonels were discharged when their regiments were disbanded at the war's conclusion. A number of other colonels were appointed by brevet - an honorary promotion usually for distinguished service in combat.

The American Civil War saw a large influx of colonels as the rank was commonly held in both the Confederate army and Union Army by those who commanded a regiment. Since most regiments were state formations and were quickly raised, the colonels in command of the regiments were known by the title "Colonel of Volunteers," in contrast to Regular Army colonels who held permanent commissions.