GENERAL (Lat. generalis, of or relating to a genus, kind or class), a term which, from its pointing to all or most of the members of a class, the whole of an area, etc. as opposed to "particular" or to "local," is hence used in various shades of meaning, for that which is prevalent, usual, widespread or miscellaneous, indefinite, vague. It has been added to the titles of various officials, military officers and others; thus the head of a religious order is the "superior-general," more usually the "general," and we find the same combination in such offices as that of "accountant-general," "postmaster-general," "attorney-" or "solicitor-general," and many others, the additional word implying that the official in question is of superior rank, as having a wider authority or Sphere of activity. This is the use that accounts for the application of the term, as a substantive, to a military officer of superior rank, a "general officer," or "general," who commands or administers bodies of troops larger than a regiment, or consisting of more than one arm of the service (see also Officers). It was towards the end of the 16th century that the word began to be used in its present sense as a noun, and in the armies of the time the "general" was commander-in-chief, the "lieutenant-general" commander of the horse and second in command of the army, and the "major-general" (strictly "sergeant-major-general") commander of the foot and chief of the staff. Field marshals, who have now the highest rank, were formerly subordinate to the general officers. These titles - general, lieutenant-general and major-general - are still applied in most armies to the first, second and third grades of general officer, and in the French service until 1870 the chief of the staff of the army bore the title of major-general. In the German and Russian services the three grades are qualified by the addition of the words "of cavalry," "of infantry" and "of artillery." The French service possesses only two grades, "general of brigade" and "general of division." The Austrian service has two ranks of general officers peculiar to itself, "lieutenant field marshal," equivalent to lieutenant-general, and Feldzeugmeister (master of the ordnance), equivalent to the German general of infantry or artillery. There is also the rank of "general of cavalry." The Spanish army still retains the old term "captain-general." In the German service General Oberst (colonel-general) and General Feldzeugmeister (master-general of ordnance) are ranks intermediate between that of full general and that of general field marshal. It may be noted that during the 17th century "general" was not confined to a commanding officer of an army, and was also equivalent to "admiral"; thus when under the Protectorate the office of lord high admiral was put into commission, the three first commissioners, Blake, Edward Popham and Richard Deane, were styled "generals at sea."
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)