The U.S. surgeon general lists

Surgeon General list

On 31 August 1842, the United States Congress passed a Navy appropriation bill that was a blueprint for efficiency. The legislation provided for five Navy bureaus United States Navy bureau system to replace the outdated Board of Navy Commissioners—Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance and Hydrography; and Medicine and Surgery. Heading each of the bureaus was a “Chief” to be appointed by the President of the United States.

The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) became the central administrative headquarters for the Navy Medical Department, and those names became interchangeable. The general order of 26 November 1842, which defined the duties of the new bureaus, charged BUMED with:

  • All medicines and medical stores of every description, used in the treatment of the sick, the diseased and the wounded;
  • All boxes, vials, and other vessels containing the same;
  • All clothing, beds, and bedding for the sick;
  • All surgical instruments of every kind;
  • The management of hospitals, so far as the patients therein are concerned;
  • All appliances of every sort, used in surgical and medical practice;
  • All contracts, accounts, and returns, relating to these and such other subjects as shall hereafter be assigned to this bureau.

Overseeing all of these duties, and directing the medical department, was the Chief of BUMED, William P. C. Barton. Barton served at this post until 1844. He was followed by Thomas Harris, William Whelan, Phineas Horwitz, and William Maxwell Wood. Since the days of Barton’s directorship the most senior ranking physician in the Navy Medical Department has held the title of Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Creation of the title[edit]

On 3 March 1871, Congress passed legislation granting medical and other staff officers of the Navy “relative rank” with grades “equal to but not identical with the grades of the line.” This Naval Appropriations Act went further than any previous Congressional action in transforming and enhancing the Navy Medical Department. The Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery now had the additional title “Surgeon General, ” with the relative rank of Commodore. At the helm of this “revitalized” organization stood the first Surgeon General, William Maxwell Wood (1809–1880), a man entering his 42nd year of a naval service as unusual and varied as could be. Wood had served aboard USS Poinsett, one of the first steam vessels of the Navy, and designated flagship during the “expedition for the suppression of Indian hostilities on the coast of Florida” (a.k.a. the Seminole Wars). Wood served shore duty at Sackets Harbor, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, had duty as Fleet Surgeon of the Pacific Fleet, and served under Commodore John D. Sloat in California during the Mexican–American War. However fitting he may have been as the first Navy Surgeon General, he served less than two years.


  1. ^ "About BUMED". U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Retrieved 19 August 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, "The United States Navy Medical Department at War, 1941-1945." Washington, 1946. 757 pp.; describe the operational role of naval medical units ashore and afloat partly online
  • A History of Medicine in the Early U.S. Navy, Harold D. Langley Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000
  • The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1953) online
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