Thumbnail History of Pharmacy in the U.S. Army

By Bienfang, Ralph | American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Thumbnail History of Pharmacy in the U.S. Army


Bienfang, Ralph, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education


As is indicated by the title, no attempt is here being made to set down the whole glorious history of pharmacy in the United States Army. For that awaits another day, and thorough research. * Rather, it has been thought desirable to record in a short space, certain pertinent historical events which are. at present not generally known. The record of these events then will provide a sound though brief basis for future thought and action with respect to pharmacy in the U. S. Army.

As might have been suspected, medical supplies at the time of the beginning of the Revolutionary War, were brought by the individual physicians who rallied to the defense of their country. Very shortly, of course, these supplies were exhausted, and then and there arose the problem of resupply. That this matter of resupply was handled unsatisfactorily is indicated by the fact that: "A committee was appointed by Congress on the fourteenth of September, 1775, 'to devise ways and means for supplying the Continental army with medicines.' This committee, however, could suggest nothing better than the old system, and only modified it to the extent of requiring all accounts to be audited by the President, before being paid by the Treasurer. The defects in administration, however, became so great, and so many complaints were made that the army was inadequately supplied, that on the twentieth of August, 1776, Congress resolved: 'That a druggist be appointed in Philadelphia, whose business it shall be to receive and deliver all medicines, instruments and shop furniture for the benefit of the United States.'"

To this position Dr. William Smith was elected, with a salary of thirty dollars a month. Thus Dr. Smith, apothecary, became de facto, Chief Medical Purveyor of the United States Army. In the improvement of the organization of the Army which followed, Andrew Craigie of New York was appointed Apothecary General, and J. B. Cutting, New York, and Henry C. Flagg of South Carolina were appointed Apothecaries. These three men served to the close of the Revolution and were honorably discharged in 1783.

In the period from 1789 to 1818, though not all during that time, Francis LeBarron served as Apothecary General, and David Neilson, James Cutbush, Christopher Backus, Richard Brownell, Joseph West, David Low and Cornelius Cunningham were Assistant Apothecary Generals. In the period from 1818 to 1821 Francis LeBarron was still Apothecary General and Christopher Backus, James Cutbush, C. G. Foster, and Robert P. McCalla served as Assistant Apothecaries.

That Apothecary General Francis LeBarron cut quite a figure can be judged from a description of his uniform. It was black, the coat had a standing collar, and on each side of the collar, a star of embroidery within half an inch of the front edge. His coat was furthermore single-breasted, with ten buttons, and had button holes worked in blue twist in front, five inches long at the top and three at the bottom. The standing collar rose to the tip of his ear. His cuffs were between three and a half and four inches wide. The skirt of his coat reached to the bend of his knee. On his collar was one blind hole five inches long with a button on each side. He wore breeches or pantaloons with four buttons on the knee and gilt knee buckles. He was equipped with high military boots and gilt spurs. His stock was variously of black silk or black leather. His chapeaux had a black loop and button, and a black cockade four and a half inches in diameter with a gold eagle in the center. His sword was straight, and yellow mounted, with a black or a yellow gripe. His waist belt was of black leather, and his epaulettes were of gold. He was not allowed to wear a sash.

Though on Tuesday, January 23, 1821, the House of Representatives by a vote of 109 to 48 passed a bill for the reduction of the Army whose section 4 provided "one apothecary general with a salary of fifteen hundred dollars per annum," by the time this bill went through the Military Affairs Committee and the Senate and finally became law on March 2, 1821, any mention whatsoever of Apothecary General had been stricken from it. …

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