U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History
Skip Navigation, go to content

HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF MEDICAL HISTORY

AMEDD BIOGRAPHIES

AMEDD CORPS HISTORY

BOOKS AND DOCUMENTS

HISTORICAL ART WORK & IMAGES

MEDICAL MEMOIRS

AMEDD MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS External Link, Opens in New Window

ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORIES

THE SURGEONS GENERAL

ANNUAL REPORTS OF THE SURGEON GENERAL

AMEDD UNIT PATCHES AND LINEAGE

THE AMEDD HISTORIAN NEWSLETTER

Brigadier General Charles R. Greenleaf

Biographies

THE MILITARY SURGEON, Volume 29, No. 5 (November 1911)

Brigadier General Charles R. Greenleaf

Medical Corps

U. S. Army, Retired

(1 January 1838-2 September 1911)

CHARLES RAVENSCROFT GREENLEAF, M. D., Brigadier General, U. S. Army, Retired, died at San Jose, Cal., Sept. 2, 1911, of pulmonary tuberculosis, at the age of 73 years. He was born January 1st, 1838, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, being the son of Patrick Henry and Margaret Johnson Greenleaf, and descended from the old New England family of that name. Professor Simon Greenleaf of the faculty of Harvard University was his grandfather. His education was received in Boston and Cincinnati and he graduated in medicine at the Ohio State Medical College in 1860. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the 5th Ohio Infantry as Assistant Surgeon, being the first medical officer commissioned from that State. On August 5th, 1861, he was commissioned Assistant Surgeon in the Medical Corps, U. S. Army, and was not long in receiving recognition of his abilities in the shape of important duties and large responsibilities. He was selected as Assistant by the distinguished Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, Charles S. Tripler, and served under him through the Peninsular campaign, organizing and taking charge at Yorktown in May, 1862, of a hospital for 2,000 sick collected at that base. During the next summer he prepared the plans for the great Mower Hospital at Philadelphia, of which he later became executive officer. The last two years of the Civil War he spent in the office of the Medical Director at Harrisburg and Baltimore actively engaged in arranging for the care of the vast army of sick and wounded which flowed back in a steady stream from the battlefields of Virginia.

After the close of war he served in various parts of the South and West for more than twenty years, including five years at Fort Lapwai, Idaho, and four at Fort Shaw, Montana. In 1887 Major Greenleaf was brought to Washington as assistant to the Surgeon General. He devised the system of personal identification, which was in use in the Army for many years up to the time of the Spanish War, and bore an important part in the legislative and administrative changes by which the Medical Department began its advance from its primitive and inchoate condition after the Civil War towards the wider fields of efficiency and usefulness, to which it has since attained. The Spanish War found Colonel Greenleaf nearing the end of his military career, but in the fullest possession of physical and mental vigor, full of energy and alertness, and with the lessons fresh and undimmed by time of that mighty conflict which Virchow declared to have "begun a new era in military medicine." On May 3d, 1898, he was made Chief Surgeon of all the troops in the field on the staff of the General Commanding the Army and at once proceeded to inspect the sites for the camps of mobilization. He then organized the Medical Service of the Porto Rican Expedition, which he accompanied. Upon his return he proceeded at once to Montauk Point, where he assumed charge of the medical administration of that great hospital camp. Here his administrative ability was soon evident in every direction, and the multitude of sick were cared for and disposed of with the minimum of friction and confusion. On December 2d, 1898, he was detailed Medical Inspector of the Army, but with this most important duty was conferred no increased volunteer rank, although such increased rank was given to a number of officers in staff departments other than the medical, and although he was recommended for commission as brigadier general of volunteers by the Surgeon General of the Army. As Medical Inspector he visited the camps of discharge of volunteers in all parts of the country and contributed much by wise advice and trained criticism to preserve them from the sanitary sins of the camps of mobilization of the year before. To him was due in large part the admirable record of the camp of concentration at San Francisco for the troops sent to the Philippines in i899.

In December of that year he arrived at Manila and assumed the heavy responsibilities of Chief Surgeon of the Army in the Philippines, which was then about to begin the campaign which crushed the insurrection. The medical administration there had not gone smoothly, having been much hampered by unsympathetic interference from higher authority. This Colonel Greenleaf was able to remove by the tact and suavity which were distinguishing characteristics of his manners, and he met successfully the ever increasing demand for medical personnel and supplies caused by the progressive occupation of the country and the establishment of some 650 military posts in more or less hostile territory. This was undoubtedly the largest and most difficult problem of medical administration which the Spanish War and the Philippine Insurrection presented. He returned to the United States in July, 1901, and on January 1st, 1902, was retired from active service with the rank of Colonel at the age of 64, after more than forty years’ active service. He later was advanced to the rank of brigadier general on account of service in the Civil War by virtue of an Act of Congress passed in 1904. The Chief of Staff, General Chaffee, in a letter written to him dated January 13th, 1904, with reference to the findings of a Court of Inquiry, which had investigated certain questions of supplies at Manila, said:

"In transmitting a copy of the findings of the court, with which the Secretary directs that you be furnished, he desires me to say that it gives him great satisfaction to concur in the view entertained by the court as to the character and value of the services rendered by you as Chief Medical Officer of the Division of the Philippines. He is entirely familiar with your long and highly creditable record as a medical officer of the Army, and it is a source of especial gratification to him that the services rendered by you in a distant and difficult field of duty were in keeping with those which have contributed so powerfully to advance the standards of administration in the Medical Department, and to secure the welfare and efficiency of the military establishment."

General Greenleaf's military career began and terminated with the strenuous activities and pressing responsibilities of war. In the long intervening period he saw the rise of aseptic surgery and the swift and wonderful triumphs of bacteriology and preventive medicine. His retentive and logical memory preserved with vivid freshness the great administrative lessons of the Civil War, while his broad and avid intelligence kept pace with the scientific progress of these epoch-making decades. He was by these gifts, together with his industry, studious activity and personal charm of manner well fitted for the conspicuous part which he bore in overcoming the inertia within the medical corps, and the narrow views and antiquated prejudices without it which impeded the progress of military medicine along the new and broader channels, which medical progress and a better conception of its relation to military efficiency have opened up to it.