The First Black US Army Surgeon
Major Alexander T. Augusta
On April 4, 1863, Alexander T. Augusta became the first African American commissioned medical officer in the U.S. Army. His appointment as a full surgeon afforded him the rank of major with a salary of $2,230 a year. When his application for a position as surgeon was received, it was met with confusion and resistance. As the first African American to pursue a position as a medical officer in the U.S. Army, those in authority on the Army Medical Board did not know how to act on his application and were disinclined to accept such a request from a Black physician. Several delays occurred as a result of this uncertainty and confusion until secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton directed the medical board to examine Augusta for a position as surgeon.
Following Stanton’s instructions, the board questioned Augusta intensely for three days, before finding him qualified for the position of surgeon in one of the Black regiments. Augusta formally accepted the appointment on April 7, 1863.
In one of his first public appearances in uniform, his presence was singled out. On April 16, 1863, a celebration of the 1862 emancipation of enslaved people in the District of Columbia was held at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. The event was reported by several newspapers including Washington’s Evening Star, which declared that “the appearance of a colored man in the room wearing the gold leaf epaulettes of a Major, was also the occasion of much applause and gratulation with the assembly. The individual thus distinguished was Dr. A. T. Augusta.”
After serving as the surgeon-in-charge of Contraband Hospital in Washington, D.C., Major Augusta was assigned to the 7th Infantry of the United States Colored Troops in October 1863 and reported for duty at Camp Stanton in Benedict, Maryland to muster in with his regiment. He was the ranking surgeon among all surgeons from four USCT regiments.
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.
© Jill L. Newmark
 “The Emancipation Jubilee Last Night,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), April 17, 1863.