Alexander Thomas Augusta was born on March 8, 1825 in Norfolk, Virginia to free African-American parents. After being refused admission to the University of Pennsylvania, Augusta pursued medicine in Canada, where he enrolled at Trinity College of the University of Toronto in 1850, becoming the first black medical student in Canada, and later earning his degree in medicine in 1856.
Following his training at Trinity, Augusta established his own medical practice in Toronto and was also put in charge of an industrial school by the City of Toronto. During his time in Toronto, he founded the Provincial Association for the Education and Elevation of the Coloured People of Canada, a society that promoted literacy by donating books and school supplies to black children. In 1860, Augusta left his life in Canada to move to the West Indies, but returned a year later to serve in the American Civil War.
Alexander Thomas Augusta was given a Presidential commission in the Union Army by Abraham Lincoln in October of 1862 to act as surgeon for the North. Through this commission, he became the first African-American physician out of a total of eight in the Union Army and its highest-ranking African-American officer at the time. Despite some dissent, Augusta was commissioned Regimental Surgeon of the Seventh U.S. Colored Troops on October 2, 1863.
Following the war, Augusta continued his medical career by leading the Freedmen’s Bureau’s Lincoln Hospital in Savannah, Georgia where he encouraged other African-Americans to become self-sufficient in their own success. Other accomplishments include becoming the first black hospital administrator in U.S. History in 1863, becoming the first African-American faculty at Howard University and in any medical college in the U.S. in 1868, and receiving honorary degrees of M.D. and A.M. in 1869 and 1871, respectively, from Howard.
Augusta died on December 21, 1890 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 1, Lot 124A.