BHM 2021- Major Alexander T. Augusta: Free man and Civil War surgeon


Major Alexander T. Augusta in Union Army uniform

"Many would be surprise to learn that a Black man born 1825 would become a was a surgeon, veteran of the American Civil War, and the first black professor of medicine in the United States. Major Alexander T. Augusta was a man who lived during a time when there certainly was obstacles, yet he did not let that stop him from pursuing his desire to become a doctor. He did not let that stop him from serving his country, and fellow man during the Civil War. The Martin Luther King Republicans encourage you to learn more about the attributes of Black people like Augusta who lived in early America and how they succeeded with much less than we have access to today. And as always, please COMMENT, LIKE, and SHARE. Thank you."- Jimmy Lee Tillman, II founder, and president.


Dr. Major Alexander T. Augusta

Augusta was born to free African-American parents in Norfolk, Virginia. He began to learn to read while working as a barber, although it was illegal to do so in Virginia. Augusta applied to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania but was refused admission. Nevertheless, he took private instruction from someone on the faculty. Augusta traveled to California and earned the funds necessary to pursue his goal of becoming a doctor. He enrolled at Trinity College of the University of Toronto in 1850 and conducted business as a druggist and chemist.



Augusta letter to President Lincoln

Six years later, he received a degree in medicine. Augusta went to Washington, D.C., wrote Abraham Lincoln offering his services as a surgeon, and was given a Presidential commission in the Union Army in October 1862. On April 4, 1863, he received a major's commission as a Black troops surgeon. This made him the United States Army's first African-American physician out of eight in the Union Army and its highest-ranking African-American officer at the time. Augusta returned to private practice in Washington, D.C. He was an attending surgeon to the Smallpox Hospital in Washington in 1870. He also served on the local Freedmen's Hospital staff and was placed in charge of the hospital in 1863.


Freedman hospital

Mustering out of the service in October 1866, Augusta accepted an assignment with the Freedmen's Bureau, heading the agency's Lincoln Hospital in Savannah, Georgia. While there, he encouraged African-American self-help, urged the freedmen to support independent institutions, and gained respect from the city's white physicians.

Augusta returned to private practice in Washington, D.C. He was an attending surgeon to the Smallpox Hospital in Washington in 1870. He also served on the local Freedmen's Hospital staff, which he had directed for a period during the war.


Augusta taught anatomy in the recently organized medical department at Howard University. He led from November 8, 1868, to July 1877, becoming the first African American appointed to the faculty of the school and also of any medical college in the U.S. He received honorary degrees of M.D. in 1869 and A.M. in 1871 from Howard in recognition of his contributions.


Several years later, Augusta testified before a Congressional Committee on behalf of his patient Kate Brown, who was seriously injured when she was forcibly ejected from the "white people's car" on a train bound for Washington.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court; the 1873 Railroad Company v. Brown decision ruled that white and black passengers must be treated equally using the railroad's cars.



Dr. Alexander T. Augusta died at home four days before Christmas, 1890. Even in death, Augusta broke the color barrier. Interred with full military honors, he became the first black officer buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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