“…to be in a position where I can be of use to my race.”
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." With the country embroiled in a civil war since 1861 and military resources strained and dwindling, the recruitment of Black men was now seriously being considered. The news that the U.S. would soon be recruiting Black soldiers prompted Alexander T. Augusta to write letters to the president and the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, in early January requesting a position as surgeon with the newly forming Black regiments.
Augusta wrote: "Having seen that it is intended to garrison the U.S. forts with colored troops, I beg leave to apply to you for an appointment as surgeon to some of the coloured regiments, or as physician to some of the depots of 'freedmen.' I was compelled to leave my native country, and come to this on account of prejudice against colour, for the purpose of obtaining a knowledge of my profession, and having accomplished that object, at one of the principle educational institutions of this province, I am now prepared to practice it, and would like to be in a position where I can be use to my race.[i]
Two weeks later, Augusta received a response from Assistant Secretary of War P. H. Watson letting him know that his application. Though the process was trying with great confusion on the part of the medical board, Augusta was examined and appointed surgeon with a duty assignment at Contraband Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he served as surgeon-in-charge. He was eventually assigned as the regimental surgeon to the 7th Infantry of the U.S.C.T. though he never served directly with his regiment.
[i] Alexander T. Augusta to Abraham Lincoln, January 7, 1863, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Learn more about Alexander T. Augusta in Without Concealment, Without Compromise: The Courageous Lives of Black Civil War Surgeons, available June 2023. Pre-order today at Southern Illinois University Press and use SIUP20 for a 20% discount. Also available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
© Jill L. Newmark 2022