Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dr. Martin Robison Delany

First African American to Receive a Commission as a Major in a Combat Unit

By Robert Slawson, M.D., F.A.C.R.

Martin Delany became interested in medicine later in life. After an apprenticeship, he applied for medical school without acceptance. After an apprenticeship as a dentist and subsequent practice, he applied again to a medical school.

This time, at age 38, he was accepted at Harvard Medical School. Because of student objections when a woman was admitted as well, he and two other African American men were allowed to attend for only that one year.He then opened a medical practice.

From age 19, Delany had been active in the abolitionist movement and he resumed this activity as well. After an abortive effort at colonization in Nicaragua, Delany organized an exploration of the Niger River.
By his return, the Civil War had begun and he campaigned to have African American troops used by the Union. When this was finally begun, Delany was very active in the recruitment of troops for both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Eventually Delany succeeded in obtaining a meeting with President Lincoln. This was followed by a meeting with Secretary of War Stanton, at Lincoln's request, and a Commission of Major of Infantry, United States Colored Troops in March 1865. At the end of the war, Dr. Delany was appointed a Sub-Assistant Commissioner of South Carolina and stayed there for several years.,

Dr. Delany was the first African American to receive a commission as Major in a combat unit. Although his commission was not in the Medical Service, he did practice as a physician on several occasions both before and after the war and must be included in any discussion of African American physicians of this period.

FROM: "The Journal of Civil War Medicine", Vol. 7, No, 2


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