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Brigadier General Walter D. McCaw


The designation of one of the new Army hospitals as the McCaw General Hospital honors one of the most talented of the former members of the Medical Corps. Walter Drew McCaw was born in Richmond, Virginia, on February 10, 1863. His parents were Dr. James Brown McCaw (1823-1906) and Delia Patterson McCaw, both of Richmond parentage. General McCaw was the fifth of a continuous line of Virginia physicians. An ancestor, James McCaw, a surgeon of Newton Stuart, Wightonshire, Scotland, came to Virginia in 1771 and at the outbreak of the Revolution was commissioned a captain of militia by Lord Dunmore. His son, Dr. James Drew McCaw, an Edinburgh graduate of 1792, practiced in Richmond until his death in 1846 and was succeeded by his son, Dr. William Reed McCaw. The son of the latter was James Brown McCaw, father of the subject of this sketch. He was successively professor of chemistry and the practice of medicine in the Medical College of Virginia, dean of the faculty, and, at the time of his death, president of the board of visitors of the school. He was also a founder and charter member of the Medical Society of Virginia, president of the Richmond Academy of Medicine, and president of the Mozart Society of Richmond. During the Civil War he organized and commanded the Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, and as editor of Virginia Medical Journal during the years 1853-1861, he became the sponsor and editor of its successor, The Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal (1864-1865), the only medical periodical issued under the Confederacy.

Walter, the youngest of a family of nine children, had such exceptional capacity as a student that he was furnished with private instructors, who carried him through a college course in half the customary time. He was thus able to obtain his medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia in 1882 at the age of nineteen. Two years later he received a second degree of M.D. from Columbia University; he then took the examination for the Medical Corps of the Army and was taken into the service on August 20, 1884. From that date until the onset of the Spanish-American War he served mainly in the Southwest, where he participated in much field duty. He was at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, when in April 1898 he accompanied the 6th Infantry to Tampa, Florida, and thence to Cuba.

For service under fire in the battle before Santiago, McCaw was later awarded a Silver Star. Wasted from an attack of yellow fever, he was sent to the base hospital at Montauk Point in August. Transferred to Fort Porter, New York, in October, he was assigned as surgeon of the 42d U. S. Volunteer Infantry and sent to the Philippine Islands, arriving there in January 1900. After two years of duty in and around Manila, he returned to the United States in January 1902. Following a short term of duty at Fort Wadsworth, New York, he was transferred to the office of Surgeon General O’Reilly in Washington, and soon thereafter he was given the post of librarian of the Army Medical Library, in which congenial duty he spent twelve happy and fruitful years.

In 1914, now a colonel, he was sent again to Manila, where he took command of the department hospital, later transfer ring to the post of department surgeon. Upon his return he was assigned to duty at San Antonio, Texas, as surgeon of the corps area. This duty, exacting on account of a border mobilization, was followed by a short tour as corps area surgeon in San Francisco. In January 1918 he was sent to France and to the office of the chief surgeon, A.E.F. Upon the departure of Major General Ireland for home in October 1918, General McCaw succeeded to the post of chief surgeon, which he held until July 1919. Upon his return to the United States he was made commandant of the Army Medical School, and this position he held until September 1923. Having held a temporary grade of brigadier general during the World War, he was given that permanent grade on March 8, 1919. Following his relief from the Army Medical School, he was moved to the office of The Surgeon General, where he was head of the division of plans and training until his retirement, on account of the statutory retirement age, on February 10, 1927.

General McCaw had never married but was fortunate in the companionship of a favorite niece who managed his household. Following his retirement, they took up their residence in a home that General McCaw had acquired in Kingston, New York. There they lived until the death of the General on July 7, 1939, after a long period of illness.

General McCaw was a voracious reader of good literature and was possessed of a most retentive memory. Few men are as well entitled to have their learning described as encyclopedic. He was withal entirely free from pedantry and was one of the most companionable of men. A good conversationalist, he was also a rare raconteur. He had sound and practical judgment, a rare quality in highly brilliant minds. He was indeed both a great scholar and a perfect gentleman.

For his war service he received the Distinguished Service Medal (U. S. A.) and was made a Commander Legion of Honor (French), a Companion of the Bath (British), and an Officer of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italian). He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, a member of the American Medical Association, the Association of Military Surgeons, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, and an honorary member of the Royal Society of Medicine.

While General McCaw could hardly be styled a voluminous writer, he did contribute numerous articles to medical journal literature, mostly to the pages of the Military Surgeon.

Funeral services and burial took place in Arlington Cemetery. A multitude of his associates of the Medical Corps and of other fields saw him laid to rest with the honored host in the National Cemetery.


Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired