William Alexander Hammond

William Alexander Hammond was born on August 28, 1828, in Annapolis, Maryland. After obtaining his primary education in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he was graduated from New York University Medical College in 1848. In 1849 he was appointed assistant surgeon in the Army Medical Corps and for ten years served at various posts, meantime publishing in 1857 a widely read treatise on nutrition. In 1860 he resigned to accept a professorship at the University of Maryland, which he gave up the following year together with a profitable practice in Baltimore, to go back into the army. A prime example of the evils of the seniority system, "the length of his previous service and the brilliance of his qualifications were . . . ignored [and] he was entered at the bottom of the list of assistant surgeons." In the months that followed, Hammond's abilities were pressed upon the administration by a barrage of letters and physicians' delegations—in the main instigated by the pro-Hammond sanitary commission and General George B. McClellan—with the result that he was appointed surgeon general with rank of brigadier general, U. S. Army, on April 25, 1862. Hammond began at once to revitalize the moribund Medical Department: appropriations were increased tenfold; younger men were promoted to positions of responsibility; red tape was eliminated; and a much-needed ambulance corps was organized. Many of Hammond's edicts conflicted with other vested interests and soon his relations with the all-powerful Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton began to deteriorate. At length, after being ordered away from Washington and an acting successor named, Hammond demanded a court-martial. Having engaged in a game of power politics with Stanton, Hammond should not have been surprised that, upon the flimsiest evidence, he was convicted of ungentlemanly conduct and dismissed from the service. He nevertheless enjoyed a most distinguished postbellum career: he became a pioneer in the treatment of nervous and mental diseases; a most successful practitioner; and wrote largely and authoritatively on a variety of subjects. He died in Washington on January 5, 1900, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.