Medical Officers in the Military

Who was the first black commissioned medical officer in the army?

In 1863 Alexander T. Augusta (1825–1890) became the first black commissioned, and the highest ranking black officer, in the segregated army. Augusta headed the old Freedmen’s Hospital located at Camp Barker in Washington, D.C., becoming the country’s first black to direct a hospital. There he oversaw the treatment of escaped slaves who were sick and came to Camp Barker for treatment. In 1865 it came under the auspices of the newly created Freedmen’s Bureau. Born free in Norfolk, Virginia, Augusta studied medicine under private tutors in Baltimore. After he was refused admission to the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, a professor at that school, William Gibson, taught him privately. He moved to Canada and in 1856 received his medical degree from the University of Toronto’s medical college. By April 1863, Augusta had received a medical commission and was appointed surgeon of the U.S. Colored Troops. With the rank of major, he became the first of eight black physicians commissioned in the army. In 1868 he taught at Howard University’s newly organized Medical Department. The school awarded him an honorary M.A. degree in 1872.


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