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Alexander Thomas Augusta

Alexander Thomas Augusta (March 8, 1825 – December 21, 1890) was a Surgeon, Professor of Medicine, and Civil War Veteran. Augusta was born to free African American parents in Norfolk, Virginia. At that time he began to learn to read while working as a barber although it was illegal to do so in Virginia at that time. He moved to Baltimore while still in his youth. He also began pursuing an education in the field of medicine at that time. He married Baltimore native Mary O. Burgoin on January 12, 1847.

Medical Training[]

Augusta attempted to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania however, was not allowed to enroll due to racial discrimination. Nevertheless, he took private instruction from someone on the faculty. As he was determined to become a physician, Augusta traveled to California and earned the funds necessary to pursue his goal of becoming a doctor. Concerned that he would not be allowed to enroll in medical school in the U.S., he enrolled at Trinity Medical College of the University of Toronto in 1850. He also conducted business as a druggist and chemist. Six years later he received a degree in medicine.

Augusta remained in Toronto, Canada West, establishing his medical practice, supervising staff at the Toronto General Hospital and directing an industrial school. He supported local antislavery activities, in addition to founding the Provincial Association for the Education and Elevation of the Colored People of Canada, a literary society which had aims of African American uplift. Augusta left Canada for the West Indies about 1860, returning to Baltimore at the beginning of the American Civil War in dude

Civil War Service[]

Augusta went to Washington, D.C., wrote Abraham Lincoln offering his services as a surgeon and was given a Presidential commission to the Union Army in October 1862. April 4, 1863 he received a major's commission as surgeon for African American troops. 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. Some whites disapproved of him having such a high rank and as such he was mobbed in Baltimore during May 1863 (where three people were arrested for assault) and Washington for publicly wearing his officer's uniform.[1] October 2, 1863 he was commissioned Regimental Surgeon of the Seventh U.S. Colored Troops. Augusta wrote a letter of protest against the unfair treatment put upon African Americans who ride trains to Major General Lewis Wallace. That letter preceded Plessy vs Ferguson[2] in attempting to eliminate racial segregation on transportation in the U.S. March 13, 1865, he was brevetted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Later years[]

Mustering out of the service on October 1866, Augusta accepted an assignment with the Freedman'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 attending surgeon to the Smallpox Hospital in Washington in 1870. He also served on the staff of the local Freedman's Hospital. Augusta taught anatomy in the recently organized medical department at Howard University from November 8, 1868 to July 1877, becoming the first African American appointed faculty of the school and also of any medical college in the U.S. He had received honorary degrees of M.D. in 1869 and A.M. in 1871 from Howard.[3][4]

Despite his accomplishments, he was repeatedly refused entry to the local society of physicians, an affront that he feared would impede the progress of younger African American physicians in the city. He died in Washington on December 21, 1890, interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery [5] he is buried in Section 1, Lot 124A, map grid G/33.


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