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Charles Henry Alden, Brigadier General,

Medical Corps, U.S. Army

Charles Henry Alden (April 28, 1836-June 7, 1906), Brigadier General, Medical Corps, U. S. Army, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Reverend Charles H. Alden, a chaplain in the navy. He was educated at Brown University where he received the degree of A. M. in 1856 and at Pennsylvania Medical College, Philadelphia, medical department of Pennsylvania College of Gettysburg, where he graduated in 1858. In April 1859 he passed the examination for the medical corps of the army and was immediately employed as a contract surgeon and ordered to accompany recruits to Fort Defiance, N. M., where he participated in a campaign against Navajo Indians. On June 23, 1860, he was commissioned an assistant surgeon. During the next year he served at five different stations in New Mexico. Following the outbreak of the Civil War he was captured together with the greater part of the 7th Infantry on July 27, 1861, at San Augustine Springs, N. M., by a force of Confederates. He was paroled and for the next year served at camps of prisoners of war at Fort Leavenworth, Jefferson Barracks, and Rouse’s Point, N. Y. In July 1862 he was ordered to Washington, where he organized the Georgetown College Hospital. In October, his parole having expired, he was attached to the office of the medical director of the Army of the Potomac, in which capacity he had charge of the evacuation of the wounded of the battle of Fredericksburg in December from Falmouth to Acquia Creek. In April 1863 he was transferred to Philadelphia and placed in charge of Turner’s Lane General Hospital and made recorder of the Army Medical Examining Board. His service in Philadelphia was varied by inspection duty incident to the draft and duty in the offices of medical director and the medical purveyor of the Department of Pennsylvania. He was given the brevets of major and lieutenant colonel on March 13, 1865, for “faithful and meritorious service” and on June 23, 1865, was advanced to the grade of captain in the regular corps, and to the grade of major on July 28, 1866. In May 1867 he was transferred to duty with the 30th Infantry, which was engaged in the protection of the builders of the Union Pacific railroad in Wyoming. He was on this duty and at Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming, for three years, following which he served at Fort Gratiot, Mich. (1870-72), Fort Porter, N. Y. (1872-73), Fort Walla Walla, Wash. (1873-76), and Fort Townsend, Wash. (1876-77). In the meantime he spent four months’ leave in the surgical clinics of Europe in 1873 and participated in field duty in Wallowa Valley, Oregon, in 1875 and in the campaign in Idaho in 1877 against the Nez Perce Indians, where he took part in the engagement on the Clearwater and that at Kamiah.

He was ordered to New York City in November 1877 for duty as recorder of the Army Medical Examining Board in which capacity he served for five years until transferred to Fort Yates, Dakota, in 1882. From here, after two years, he was sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, where he acted as post surgeon and as attending surgeon at the headquarters of the Department of Dakota.

From the beginning of his army career he interested himself in operative surgery and in the natural history of the section in which he was stationed. He contributed Reports on surgical cases to the surgical section of the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and a Report on prison depot, Fort Delaware, to the medical section. A report upon the climate of Fort D. A. Russell together with its flora and fauna was issued as a circular from the office of The Surgeon General in 1870 as was also a similar report on Fort Walla Walla in 1875. A report of surgical cases in 1871 was made the subject of a circular from the same source (S.G.O. Cir. No. 3, August 17, 1871). He was an early convert to antiseptic surgery and reported his experiences in that field in the annual Report of The Surgeon General of that period.

After three years at Fort Snelling Major Alden was transferred to duty at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1887, with additional duty as president of the Army Medical Examining Board in New York. On his recommendation in 1888 a change was made in the procedure of the board by which it met periodically for examination of classes of candidates instead of examining them singly as they presented themselves.

In 1891 Alden, a lieutenant colonel since Nov. 14, 1888, was transferred to St. Paul, Minnesota, as medical director of the Department of Dakota. In that year he was active in the organization of the Association of Military Surgeons of the National Guard in Chicago. Though not eligible for active membership, he was a member of the committee which drew up its constitution and by-laws. He was one of five members of the regular corps elected to honorary membership at this meeting, others being Lieut. Colonel J. B. L. Irwin and Major A. C. Girard. At the 1894 convention of this society at Washington he presented a paper on the Special training of the medical officer.

In August 1892 Colonel Alden was ordered to Washington for duty in the office of The Surgeon General and placed in charge of the Hospital Corps and the division of supply. He performed the exacting duties of these positions with credit during the Spanish-American War. On December 4, 1892, he had reached the grade of colonel. During his later years of service he was General Sternberg’s first assistant and was frequently in charge of the office during the absence of his chief. He was one of the first advocates of a special medical school for the army and when authority for the Army Medical School was obtained in 1893 he was the first president of its faculty and lecturer on the duties of medical officers. He is credited with the recommendation which resulted in the issuance of Circular No. 9 from the Headquarters of the Army, A.G.O., September 9, 1895, authorizing operation upon soldiers subject to hernia instead of their discharge from the service. In 1896 he was a delegate to the Pan-American Medical Congress in Mexico City and in 1899 was official delegate to the Association of Military Surgeons meeting in Kansas City, where he was elected president of the society. During the greater part of his Washington service he was again the president of the board for examination of candidates for the corps. By repeated service on this board he exercised more influence upon the membership of the corps than any man since the retirement of Surgeon Thomas G. Mower.

Colonel Alden reached the statutory age for retirement on April 28, 1900, and took up his residence in Newtonville, Mass. In 1901 the University of Pennsylvania conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Medicine, honoris causa, an honor bestowed but a few times since it was originated to honor French medical officers serving in the Revolutionary army. On April 23, 1904, he was advanced to the grade of brigadier general on the retired list.

Ill health compelled him to migrate to California and take residence at Pasadena where he died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of seventy years. His body was cremated and his ashes sent to Arlington Cemetery for interment.

Colonel Alden was a joiner of societies, medical, scientific, scholastic, and patriotic. To single out a few, he was a member of the Loyal Legion, the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendents, the Old Colony Historical Society, the Order of Indian Wars, the National Society for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, and the American Climatological Association. To the transactions of this latter society he contributed a paper on Climatology of Porto Rico and Some Southern California health resorts. He was a member of the Episcopal Church and interested himself in the affairs of the church wherever he was stationed. He was particularly interested in the mission work in the western part of the country.

He was a genial, whole-souled man, sociable and popular. His portrait, taken in later life, shows strong, clear-cut features, a fringe of white hair and large, square-cut, parted whiskers, with the flowing moustache so much in vogue at the time.

He was married at Philadelphia on October 22, 1864, to Katherine Russell Lincoln of that city, who with two sons and a daughter survived him. A son, Eliot, followed his father in the medical profession and is now a practitioner in Los Angeles California.

(J. A. M. A., 1906, XLVI. Military Surgeon, 1907, XX. Trans. Am. Climat. Assn., 1907, XXIII. Alumni Register, U. of Pa., 1905-06. Records of Living Officers of the U. S. Army, L. R. Hamersly, Phila., 1884. Annual Report of The Surgeon General, 1896, p. 97.)

James M. Phalen,
Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired.