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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Alexander Thomas Augusta, M.D.

The first African American physician to receive a commission in the Union Army

By Robert G. Slawson, M.D., F.A.C.R.
Reprinted from: The Journal of Civil War Medicine, Vol. 7, No. 2, April/May/June 2003

The first African American to receive a commission in the [Union] Army was Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta. Dr. Augusta was born free in Norfolk, Virginia, on March 8, 1825, and became interested in medicine. He actually journeyed to California searching for gold to finance his training.

When he was unable to gain admittance to an American medical school, Augusta moved to Canada. In 1860 he was graduated from Trinity College of Medicine, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and worked at Toronto General Hospital.

After activation of United States Colored Troops, he applied for and was granted a commission. In April 1863, Dr. Augusta was commissioned Surgeon with the Seventh Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops. He was initially assigned in charge of a hospital in Washington. When two white Assistant surgeons arrived and complained that they could not work under a colored officer since no one else was, Surgeon Augusta was reassigned to examine recruits in Baltimore. Most of his work was apparently examining recruits and in inspection of the camps of colored troops.

When war commissions were terminated in November 1866, he continued to work as a contract surgeon for the army until March 1867. In July 1867, for “faithful and meritorious service”, he received a retroactive promotion to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel to date from March 1865 through separation.

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