William A. Hammond

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William A. Hammond
Birth nameWilliam Alexander Hammond
Born(1828-08-28)August 28, 1828
Annapolis, Maryland
DiedJanuary 5, 1900(1900-01-05) (aged 71)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchU.S. Army Medical Corps
Union Army
Years of service1849–1860, 1861–1864
Rank Brigadier General
Commands heldSurgeon General of the U.S. Army
  • Helen Nisbet (married 1849)
  • Esther T. Chapin (married 1886)
Other work

William Alexander Hammond (28 August 1828 – 5 January 1900) was an American military physician and neurologist. During the American Civil War he was the eleventh Surgeon General of the United States Army (1862–1864) and the founder of the Army Medical Museum (now the National Museum of Health and Medicine).[1]

He was the first American physician to devote himself entirely to neurology, the author of the first American treatise about neurology, and one of the founders of the American Neurological Association.[2][3][4]


Born in Annapolis (Maryland), Hammond grew up in Harrisburg (Pennsylvania). He received his M.D. from New York University[5] at the age of 20.[3] After his internship and a few months in private practice he became assistant-surgeon in the United States Army, serving from 1849 to 1860. He was first sent to New Mexico and took part in the Sioux Wars. While on sick leave, he visited military hospitals in Europe.[6] He conducted research over many years and the resulting paper was awarded a prize by the American Medical Association in 1857.[7] With a common interest in poisons acting on the nervous system (among them snake venom), he wrote a paper with Silas Weir Mitchell that was published in 1859.[8] He was elected to the American Philosophical Society that same year.[9]

While serving at Fort Riley as medical director, Hammond also collected biological specimens.[10] In 1860 he accepted a chair of anatomy and physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and left the army.

Civil War[edit]

When the American Civil War broke out Hammond spent some time at the Baltimore infirmary[11] then joined the army (without recognition of his past service) on 28 May 1861, a month a half after the beginning of the hostilities. Surgeon General Clement Finley soon transferred him to West Virginia under the command of General William Starke Rosecrans command "to lessen his visibility".[12] There Hammond met Jonathan Letterman. Hammond worked with Letterman and Rosecrans on the design of a new ambulance wagon.

The atmosphere in the upper levels of medical services was then one of internal strife and personal conflicts. Hammond—a tall and imposing young man[13]—was no man of intrigue, nor even, according to all accounts, a very flexible person. However, the situation offered him the possibility for advancement. When Finley, the 10th Surgeon General, was fired after an argument with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, against Stanton's advice and the normal rules of promotion,[12][14] named the 34-year-old Hammond to succeed him with the rank of brigadier general. Hammond became Surgeon General of the Army on 25 April 1862, less than a year after rejoining the army.

Surgeon General[edit]

Hammond launched a number of reforms.[15] He raised the requirements for admission into the Army Medical Corps.[16] The number of hospitals was greatly increased and he paid close attention to ventilation[17] He created Satterlee Hospital (which had up to 4,500 beds in hundreds of tents).[18] Hospitals were ordered to maintain much more complete records. In Washington he founded the National Museum of Health and Medicine (then called Army Medical Museum)[19] and put John H. Brinton in charge.[20] Hammond proposed a permanent military medical corps, a permanent hospital for the military, and centralized issuance of medications.[21] He recommended that "the service age of recruits be fixed by law at twenty years".[16] He successfully transferred the responsibility for sanitary trains from private companies to the government and personally oversaw the building of the wagons. He promoted Letterman and supported his reforms on the front.[22] On his initiative, Letterman's ambulance system was thoroughly tested before being extended to the whole Union.[23][24] Mortality decreased significantly. Efficiency increased, as Hammond promoted people on the basis of competence, not rank or connections, and his initiatives were positive and timely.[25]

Removal from office[edit]

On 4 May 1863 Hammond banned the mercury compound calomel from army supplies, as he believed it to be neither safe nor effective (he was later proved correct). He thought it dangerous to make an already debilitated patient vomit.[2][26] A "Calomel Rebellion" ensued,[27] as many of his colleagues had no alternative treatments and resented the move as an infringement on their liberty of practice. Hammond's arrogant nature did not help him solve the problem,[28] and his relations with Secretary of War Stanton became strained. On 3 September 1863 he was sent on a protracted "inspection tour" to the South,[29] which effectively removed him from office. Joseph Barnes, a friend of Stanton's and his personal physician, became acting Surgeon General.[30]

Hammond demanded to be either reinstated or court-martialed. A court-martial found him guilty of "irregularities" in the purchase of medical furniture (Stanton "used false data").[31][32] Hammond was dismissed on 18 August 1864.[10][29]


With the help of friends Hammond established himself in New York City.[33] He became professor of nervous and mental diseases at Bellevue Hospital in 1867 and at the New York University in 1874. He served on the faculty of the University of Vermont at Burlington[34] and was co-founder and faculty member of the Post Graduate Medical School of New York.[10] In the 1870s, he limited his practice to possible cases of nervous or mental diseases, the first American physician to do so.[2] He conducted early experiments on the use of lithium for the treatment of mania.[35]

In 1871 he published his best-known work, Treatise on diseases of the nervous system.[36] In early 1872 he traveled to California to visit his ailing friend Letterman.[37][38] In 1874 he founded, with Silas Weir Mitchell and many others, the American Neurological Association.[39] In 1878 "he was restored to the army [...] with the grade of brigadier general, without pay or allowances".[10][40]

Hammond was the author of many books and articles,[41] some of them published in a journal he had founded.[42] He was energetic, sceptical,[43] moderate,[44] a believer in freedom,[45] and a reformer. He enjoyed writing in his spare time, becoming a science journalist and a naturalist. He also wrote a short biography of Polydore Vergil.

In 1882 he wrote an account of transgender cultural practices among the Pueblo peoples, becoming an early American writer to broach the subject.[46]

In 1888 he returned to Washington, where he founded a hospital[47] for patients with nervous and mental diseases.[3]

He died in Washington on 5 January 1900 of heart failure and was buried with military honors at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Hammond was married twice. On 3 July 1849, the day following his first commission as an assistant surgeon, he married Helen Nisbet. They had five children, two of whom died in infancy.[48] His second spouse was Esther Dyer (d. 1925), who is buried by his side. His son Graeme Hammond also was a neurologist, as well as an Olympic fencer. Hammond co-authored a novel with his daughter, the novelist Clara Lanza.


Hammond was a scientific skeptic. He was a critic of spiritualism and attributed mediumship to suggestion and sleight of hand tricks. He explained the behavior of mediums as symptoms of hypnosis, hysteria, catalepsy and ecstasy. His book The Physics and Physiology of Spiritualism (1871)[49] is an early text on anomalistic psychology and was revised into a larger edition Spiritualism and Allied Causes and Conditions of Nervous Derangement (1876).[50] Hammond also argued that Spiritualism was itself a form of mental illness.[51] His book, Fasting Girls: Their Physiology and Pathology (1879) is still referenced today as a historical example of a skeptical examination of the paranormal claims of fasting girls.[52] In some cases, the fasting girls exhibited the appearance of stigmata. Hammond ascribed the phenomenon to fraud and hysteria on the part of the girl.[53]

Selected works[edit]




Articles in the Popular Science Monthly[edit]

  • (1883) "Perceptional Insanities" . Popular Science Monthly. Vol. 22. April 1883. ISSN 0161-7370 – via Wikisource.
  • (1884) "The Relations Between the Mind and the Nervous System" . Popular Science Monthly. Vol. 26. November 1884. ISSN 0161-7370 – via Wikisource.
  • (1887) "Brain-Forcing in Childhood" . Popular Science Monthly. Vol. 30. April 1887. ISSN 0161-7370 – via Wikisource. (Do you want your child to be a child prodigy?)
  • (1890) "Sumptuary Laws and their Social Influence" . Popular Science Monthly. Vol. 37. May 1890. ISSN 0161-7370 – via Wikisource. (Is it the business of the government to punish sin? Can the government improve society?)


  • "Introduction". Polydori Virgilii De rerum inventoribus. Agathynian Club: v–xvi. 1868. (in English) (Hammond wrote this short biography of Polydore Vergil in 1867)



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About NMHM : Our Story". Retrieved 2013-04-13.
  2. ^ a b c Freemon, FR (December 2001a). "William Alexander Hammond: the centenary of his death". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 10 (3): 293–299. doi:10.1076/jhin. PMID 11770195. S2CID 38248499.
  3. ^ a b c "Reynolds Historical Library: Hammond, William Alexander". Retrieved 2012-04-15.
  4. ^ Scott, GE; Toole, JF (December 1998). "1860 – neurology was there". Arch. Neurol. 55 (12): 1584–1585. doi:10.1001/archneur.55.12.1584. PMID 9865808.
  5. ^ Then known as the University of the City of New York
  6. ^ Hammond left 8 May 1858 and returned in early August. Blustein 1991, p. 49 at Google Books
  7. ^ Hammond (1857)
  8. ^ July 1859 issue of The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. The paper is about corroval and vao, two substances to poison arrows. Brown-Séquard (1859) blamed the authors on a point: subsuming those poisons under the generic name of "curares": Journal de la physiologie de l'homme et des animaux. 2:707–709
  9. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-01-12.
  10. ^ a b c d Phalen 1940
  11. ^ He cared for Massachusetts soldiers wounded in the Baltimore riot. Phalen 1940
  12. ^ a b Greenwood 2003
  13. ^ He was a tall man (1.88 meter, 6'2", which was rare at the time), weighed up to 250 pounds and kept his military bearing all his life.
  14. ^ "[Hammond had] served under two men, Charles Tripler and Jonathan Lettermen, [sic] who were sufficiently impressed with his abilities to serve later as his subordinates without apparent objection." Gillett, Mary C. (1987). The Army Medical Department, 1818–1865. Army Historical Series, Center for Military History Publication. Government Printing Office. Not all were like Letterman and Tripler.
  15. ^ See the account given in U.S. Army Medical Department. (Last Modified May 16, 2009) "Part 6 Archived 2008-02-08 at the Wayback Machine". The Evolution of Preventive Medicine in the United States Army, 1607–1939, especially from p. 104
  16. ^ a b The medical department of the United States Army, p. 90, at Google Books. The medical times and gazette, 1 (1863-01-24) (Review of the Surgeon General's report for the year ending 30 June 1862)
  17. ^ Freemon 2001 p. 89 at Google Books and p. 38
  18. ^ Photograph : Freemon 2001 p. 88 at Google Books. Again in Philadelphia was built the "U. S. Army Hospital for diseases and injuries of the nervous system" (Ibid., p. 89 at Google Books)
  19. ^ Reinarz, Jonathan (December 2005). "The age of museum medicine: the rise and fall of the medical museum at Birmingham's School of Medicine". Social History of Medicine. 18 (3): 419–37. doi:10.1093/shm/hki050. [Medical museums] were central to instruction at medical schools during the nineteenth century
  20. ^ John H. Brinton. Personal memoirs, p. 180 at Google Books
  21. ^ But not for the Army of the Potomac, where Letterman was in charge. p. 84 at Google Books
  22. ^ Freemon 2001 p. 87, p. 87, at Google Books
  23. ^ An ambulance system, p. 10, at Google Books. American medical times 8 (1864-01-02)
  24. ^ "The ambulance corps was eventually taken from the quartermasters and placed under medical authority, but only after Hammond had accused [Stanton] of a disregard of the comfort of the wounded." Freemon 2001 William A. Hammond, p. 142, at Google Books
  25. ^ "There are numerous instances where positive orders were given not to buy of particular houses, whose prices, or the quality or measure of whose goods was found objectionable". Circular in behalf of the surgeon-general, 1863 , p. 11, at Google Books. American Medical Times 8 (1864-01-02), p. 11
  26. ^ Tartar emetic was also banned: Caring for the Men
  27. ^ For a short and lively account of this episode: Jose Llinas, "Only victim of the Calomel Rebellion". Gainesville Sun. 5 June 1987, p. 11. Or this excerpt from Steve Herman's book: Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Cohen: Call Sign Band-Aid Six. William A. Hammond at Google Books
  28. ^ An assistant-surgeon who had seen Hammond inspect his hospital described him as "arrogant and pompous". Freemon, who recounts the incident (Freemon 2001 p. 143 at Google Books), also points to an occasion when Hammond could say: "I was then an assistant surgeon of the army, and rather more puffed up than I am now". (Hammond, Our friends who have passed away)
  29. ^ a b Typewritten Army record, reproduced in Freemon 2001 Gangrene and glory , p. 162, at Google Books
  30. ^ Freemon 2001 p. 142 at Google Books.
  31. ^ Steve Herman, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Cohen: Call Sign Band-Aid Six. p. 171 at Google Books
  32. ^ "Reynolds Historical Library: Hammond, William Alexander". Retrieved 2012-04-15. [T]rumped-up charges
  33. ^ "Hammond found himself in straitened circumstances from the expense of his trial." Phalen 1940
  34. ^ Summer sessions. Hammond worked for free. Blustein 1991, p. 98 at Google Books
  35. ^ Hammond, A Treatise on diseases of the nervous system, p. 381, at Google Books, p. 381 : "I have used the bromide of lithium in cases of acute mania[...] The doses should be large[...]" Comment in a bulletin of the WHO, p. 516 : "it is difficult to determine in retrospect whether it was the lithium or the bromide that was the critical agent."
  36. ^ Translated into French by Frédéric Labadie-Lagrave (Traité des maladies du système nerveux...). Translated into Spanish and Italian: Blustein 1991, p. 280 at Google Books
  37. ^ Greenwood 2003. Letterman died on 15 March 1872.
  38. ^ Bennett A. Clements, Memoir of Jonathan Letterman, p. 24, at Google Books, 1883
  39. ^ Official site of the ANA: "History". Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  40. ^ The bill authorizing the president to reinstate Hammond "was passed by the house unanimously, and by the senate with but one dissenting vote". Appletons' cyclopaedia of American biography, vol. 3, p. 69 at Google Books
  41. ^ The list of his articles in scientific journals given by Blustein 1991, p. 271 at Google Books extends over nine pages with more than twenty articles per page (translations included)
  42. ^ Quarterly journal of psychological medicine and medical jurisprudence
  43. ^ 1871b; 1879b
  44. ^ Popular Science Monthly 1887
  45. ^ 1879a; Popular Science Monthly 1890
  46. ^ Janssen, Diederik F. (2020-04-21). "Transgenderism Before Gender: Nosology from the Sixteenth Through Mid-Twentieth Century". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 49 (5): 1415–1425. doi:10.1007/s10508-020-01715-w. ISSN 0004-0002. PMID 32319033. S2CID 216073926.
  47. ^ Called at the time a sanatorium
  48. ^ Schroeder-Lein, Glenna R. (2008). "Hammond, William Alexander (1828–1900)". The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine. M.E. Sharpe: 123. ISBN 978-0765611710.
  49. ^ "Spiritualism and Science". Scientific American. 23 (23): 360–361. 1870. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican12031870-360a. ISSN 0036-8733.
  50. ^ Braude, Ann. (2001). Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Indiana University Press. p. 158
  51. ^ Caplan, Eric. (2001). Mind Games: American Culture and the Birth of Psychotherapy. University of California Press. p. 187
  52. ^ Nickell, Joe (2017). "Mystery of Mollie Fancher, 'The Fasting Girl,' and Others Who Lived without Eating". Skeptical Inquirer. 41 (6): 18–21.
  53. ^ Blustein 1991, p. 197.
  54. ^ Archiv des Vereins für Gemeinschaftliche Arbeiten zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Heilkunde. 3 1858 p. 590 at Google Books.
  55. ^ French translation : L'impuissance sexuelle chez l'homme et la femme, Paris: Lecrosnier & Babé, 1890
  56. ^ See review no. 67
  57. ^ Putnam TJ (May 1939). "Athetosis". The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 11 (5): 459–65. PMC 2602263. PMID 21433835.
  58. ^ Freemon FR (2010). "Chapter 38: American neurology". Handbook of Clinical Neurology. 95: 605–12. doi:10.1016/S0072-9752(08)02138-6. ISBN 978-0444520098. PMID 19892141.
  59. ^ John Xantus de Vesey met Hammond at Fort Riley and was assistant-surgeon there
  60. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Hammond", p. 115).
  61. ^ Hammond and Xantus de Vesey were not the only "surgeons-ornithologists": Hume, Edgar Erskine. Ornithologists of the United States Army Medical Corps: Thirty-six biographies. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 1942. 583 p.


  • Blustein, Bonnie Ellen (1991). Preserve your love for science: Life of William A. Hammond, American neurologist. New York: Cambridge University Press.
    Preview at Google Books. Includes an extensive list of works. See also Notes on sources, p. 266
  • Freemon, Frank R. (2001). Gangrene and glory: Medical care during the American Civil War — Medical care during the American Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07010-5.
    Preview at Google Books
  • Greenwood, John T. (2003). Hammond and Letterman: A tale of two men who changed army medicine (PDF). Institute of Land Warfare. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  • Phalen, James M. (April 1940). "William Alexander Hammond". Army Medical Bulletin. Chiefs of the Medical Department, U.S. Army 1775–1940. Biographical Sketches (52): 42–46. Retrieved 2012-04-13.
  • Pilcher, James Evelyn, "XI. Brigadier general William Alexander Hammond, surgeon general of the United States Army, 1862–1864", in The surgeon generals of the army of the United States of America; a series of biographical sketches of the senior officers of the military medical service from the American revolution to the Philippine pacification, Carlisle. Pa., The Association of military surgeons, 1905, vi+114 pages. Mainly based on an account by General Smith, a friend and assistant of Hammond

External links[edit]