Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dr. Phineas Horwitz, Chief of BUMED (1865-1869)

Phineas Jonathan Horwitz (1822-1904) joined the Navy in 1847 during the Mexican War. Commended by Commodore M.C. Perry, he directed the temporary naval hospital at Tobasco, Mexico. Dr. Horwitz became Assistant Chief BUMED in 1859 serving in that office throughout the Civil War. He was appointed Chief BUMED in 1865 upon the death of William Whelan. After leaving the Bureau in 1869, Horwitz directed the Naval Hospital at Philadelphia, served at the Naval Asylum in that city, and acted as President of the Medical Examining Board. He became Medical Director (comparable to captain) in 1873.


  1. This man is my great-grandfather. I assume this picture is from the time of the War Between the States. In some other descriptions of his service record, I have found him referred to as "Surgeon General" at the end of his career in 1884, and, indeed, that title is carved into his tombstone. What does this mean?

    If anyone has any more personal references to his life, or anecdotes, I would be most grateful. I have a daguerreotype of him as a young man dressed in what could easily be a uniform from the Mexican War era, but do not know how to get it printed. If anyone has tips on this I would be grateful.
    Jonathan Horwitz

    I also found this more complete description of his naval career: "Surgeon General Phineas J. Horowitz (sic) was the Chief of the Navy Bureau of Medicine, 1865-1869. He was born on March 3, 1822, in Baltimore. Maryland. His parents were Jewish. He graduated from the University of Maryland, in 1845, and then Thomas Jefferson University and obtained a Doctor of Medicine degree.

    On November 8, 1847, he was appointed as an Assistant Surgeon. It was during the war with Mexico, while serving with the Gulf Squadron, he was placed in charge of a temporary naval hospital at Tabasco. He performed his duties so well that Squadron Commander Commodore N.C. Perry thanked him and gave him a commendation.

    Horwitz was promoted to a passed assistant surgeon in January 1853. He was at sea much of the time and had been in South America and Africa. In 1859, he was promoted to assistant to the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. When Dr. Whelan, Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery died, Horwitz replaced him and served for four years.

    During his tenure as Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Horwitz reorganized the disarrayed records of those who were wounded and of those who died. He ordered that each doctor have a writer assigned to him to speed the processes.

    When he ceased to be Chief of the Bureau, Congress approved the highest shore pay for his grade during his term of office. He then served in Philadelphia as a medical officer in command of the naval asylum and as president of the examining board.

    Horwitz was promoted to a medical inspector on March 3, 1871 and medical director, in 1873. He retired from the Navy in 1884. He died on September 28, 1904 and was buried in Philadelphia."

  2. Jonathan, the Surgeon General has traditionally been in charge of the Navy Medical Department, and sets policy and procedures for it. We may have more information on him - to contact me, use my email which is in the upper right corner.