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Brigadier General Calvin DeWitt

Biographies

THE ARMY MEDICAL BULLETIN, NUMBER 53 (JULY 1940)

Calvin DeWitt

Brigadier General, Medical Corps, U. S. Army

Calvin DeWitt (May 26, 1840-September 2, 1908), Brigadier General, Medical Corps, U. S. Army, was born at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Reverend William Radcliffe DeWitt, a Presbyterian minister, and Mary Elizabeth (Wallace) DeWitt. He attended the Harrisburg public schools and the Harrisburg Academy, after which he went to Princeton College where he graduated with the degree of A. B. in 1860. With the clouds of the Civil War gathering he joined in the organization of an infantry company at Harrisburg, and was elected first lieutenant. With the outbreak of war the company refused to go into Federal service, so DeWitt resigned and in October 1861 he was made captain of Company I, 49th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. His regiment was incorporated into the Army of the Potomac, and with it during the following spring he went through the Peninsular Campaign, taking part in the siege of Yorktown, the battle of Williamsburg, and the seven days of battle in front of Richmond. He participated in the costly attack of the Union forces on Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862, and on January 18, 1863, he tendered his resignation and went back to Princeton College where later that year he was given the degree of A. M. He began the study of medicine in the medical department of New York University, but transferred to Jefferson Medical College where he received his M. D. degree in 1865. He entered the army as an acting assistant surgeon on March 25, 1865, and was sent to duty at the McClellan General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. He had three short terms of service with the army and one with the Freedman’s Bureau before he was appointed to the regular corps on May 24, 1867. He was then at Willett’s Point, New York, serving with an engineer battalion. In April 1869 he accompanied the 21st Infantry to the Presidio of San Francisco and from there he went with two companies of the regiment to Camp McDowell, Arizona, where he served until April 1871. This was followed by short tours at Forts Whipple and Yumor, both in Arizona. In October 1872 he went from the latter post to San Francisco and accompanied the 2d Artillery to Raleigh, North Carolina. Returning to San Francisco he was sent with a troop of the 1st Cavalry to Camp Bidwell, California, in January 1873 participating in the Modoc Campaign until June. Returning to the Presidio, he went east on leave in November 1873 and was assigned to duty in April at Humboldt, Tennessee, and thence to Fort Macon, North Carolina, in July, where he served until May 1875. His next station was Charleston, South Carolina, where he served two years to April 1877. Ordered to the west, he had a short tour at Omaha Barracks and then a longer one (1877-79) at Fort Fred Sterle, Wyoming. He was transferred to Fort Sidney, Nebraska, in June 1879, and later in that year was in the field in the Ute Expedition which had for its purpose the relief of Major Thomas Thornberg’s command. A year’s service at Fort Niobrara, Nebraska, (1880-81) and he was assigned to duty at the United States Soldier’s Home in Washington where he served for four years until May 1885. He next served a year at Newport Barracks, Kentucky. He had been promoted to captain on May 14, 1870, and on July 21, 1885, he was advanced to the grade of major. He served two years (1886-88) at Fort Sully, Dakota, and two more (1888-90) at Fort Missoula, Montana. His service at these posts was marked by much field service with the 25th Infantry. He was ordered to Texas in 1890, first to Fort Hancock and shortly afterward to Fort Sam Houston where he was sanitary inspector at the Department headquarters and frequently in charge of the chief surgeon’s office. He was on duty for a time at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. In November of that year he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he served as surgeon and as instructor in hygiene and first aid in the Infantry and Cavalry School. While serving at this post, he accompanied troops to the scene of the Chicago riots of 1894, represented the army at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Service in Denver in 1895 and at the Pan American Medical Congress in Mexico City in 1896. In December 1896 he was sent to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he served during the Spanish-American War and organized the Josiah Simpson General Hospital. He was promoted to the grade of lieutenant colonel on December 15, 1898, and in December 1899 he was sent to Havana, Cuba, as chief surgeon of the Department of Cuba. Sickness cut short this detail, and he was sent back to the United States in April 1900, where after a sick leave he was assigned in August to the post of chief surgeon of the Department of Dakota at St. Paul Minnesota. In April 1901 he was transferred to the office of The Surgeon General in Washington and placed in charge of the Museum and Library Division. In this capacity he sponsored Volume VIII of the Second Series of the Index Catalogue to perpetuate his name and fame. He was appointed professor of military medicine at the Army Medical School in June 1901 and succeeded to the presidency of the faculty in September 1902 upon the appointment of Surgeon General Forwood. During this last tour of duty in Washington he was president of the Army Medical Board for the examination of candidates for the corps and that for promotion of medical officers. He was acting surgeon general from March to June 1903. He had reached the grade of colonel on May 7, 1901, and on August 9, 1903, he was appointed a brigadier general in recognition of his Civil War service. He was retired the following day in accordance with his own request.

Following his retirement General DeWitt made his home in Washington. While visiting at the home of his son, Wallace, at Fort Yellowstone, Wyoming, he died from a heart ailment in his sixty-ninth year. His remains were returned to Washington for burial in Arlington Cemetery.

While serving in Charleston in 1877 he was married to Josephine Lesesne of that city. They had three sons, all of whom went into the military service. Wallace, the oldest, entered the medical corps and attained the grade of brigadier general. John L. is a major general of the line, and Calvin, a graduate of the Military Academy, is an officer of the cavalry arm. One daughter, Mary, married Robert M. Blanchard, an officer of the medical corps.

(J. Am. M. Ass. September 12, 1908. Military Record of Civilian Appointments (1873). Who’s Who in America, 1908-09. War Department Records.)

James M. Phalen,

Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired.