John Fox Hammond

John Fox Hammond was born on December 7, 1820, in Columbia, South Carolina, to Elisha Hammond and Catherine Spann Hammond. His father was a Dartmouth-trained educator who served as principal of Newberry’s Mount Bethel Academy and steward of South Carolina College. His older brother was James Henry Hammond, an ardent proslavery theorist who served as governor, Congressman, and United States Senator. Their father died in 1829, and James enrolled John in Willington Academy, the most prestigious preparatory school in the state. John preferred playing music to studying, and his brother dismissed him as a “rude lazy fellow.” His grades at Willington were so poor that John hired a tutor from Charleston, but the frustrated teacher soon quit.

Hammond enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1838, studying medicine, chemistry, and anatomy. His academic indifference persisted at UVA, and he often skipped class and ignored the university’s early rising rule. His failing health forced him to withdraw from UVA on November 2, 1839, but he eventually returned to school and earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1841.

He joined the United States Army during the Mexican-American War, receiving an appointment as assistant surgeon on February 16, 1847. He was present at the siege of Vera Cruz and the battles of Churubusco and Molino del Rey, and he served as resident surgeon in the General Hospital after the American army captured Mexico City. He remained in the army after the war, spending most of the next decade stationed across the American West. He participated in Colonel John Washington’s Navajo expedition in 1849, collected bird samples for the Smithsonian in New Mexico in 1852, and treated yellow fever victims in Florida in 1853. He was stationed in California from 1854 to 1858 and served as medical director on an expedition against “hostile Indians” in Wyoming.

On September 6, 1856, while stationed in San Diego, California, Hammond secretly married 13-year-old Victoria Pedrorena. In October, her family removed her from town in order to separate them. He demanded a writ of habeas corpus to force them to return her, but they kept her away until the army relocated Hammond that December. Hammond received a divorce on October 16, 1858. He married his second wife, Caroline E. Lawrence, on April 15, 1863, in New York’s Church of the Incarnation, and together they had two daughters: Katherine Betts, born April 24, 1864; and Elizabeth Percy, born March 17, 1865.

On November 10, 1860, four days after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, the South Carolina legislature called for a state convention to secede from the Union. Hammond debated resigning from the army, informing his brother that he preferred to be “with the state and with the South.” He offered his service to South Carolina Governor William Gist, but he received no reply. James encouraged him to remain in the Union army, fearing he would only drain the family’s resources if he returned home. As James explained, John would “come back here to squat on Mother & the rest of us, requiring $2500 a year & doing nothing. Let him hold on. Damn patriotism if it dont [sic] pay.”

Hammond received a promotion to surgeon in the U.S. Army in February 1861, and in 1862 he became the medical director for the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac. That summer, he participated in the siege of Yorktown, the Battle of Seven Pines, and the Seven Days Battles. In August 1862, he was transferred to New York, where he spent the rest of the war working as the city’s attending surgeon. The army promoted him to brevet lieutenant colonel in November 1865 for his “faithful and meritorious service during the war.”

Once again, Hammond chose to remain in the army after the war, becoming a lieutenant colonel on June 26, 1876, and a colonel on December 14, 1882. His lifetime of military service, however, destroyed his health, and in his later years he suffered from tuberculosis, anemia, and insomnia. In 1883, he took a leave of absence and travelled to France to recover his health. The change of climate, however, had little effect, and he retired from service on December 7, 1884. He died of tuberculosis two years later, on September 29, 1886, in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Image: John F. Hammond (courtesty National Library of Medicine).


South Carolina Legislators Denounce John Fox Hammond

John Fox Hammond Testimony of Health Issues, April 8, 1875

Name:Hammond, John Fox
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
U.S. Army Medical DepartmentF&S
Branch of service:Army
Muster Out1884-12-07Retired
Residence at UVA:Silverton, SC
UVA Begin Year:1838
UVA End Year:1839
Residence at enlistment:Silverton, SC
Rank In:Assistant Surgeon, Assistant Surgeon
Rank Out:Colonel, Surgeon
Highest rank achieved:
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Hammond, John Foxnoneapplication-invalid
Hammond, John Foxnoneapplication-minor
Hammond, John Foxnoneapplication-parent
Hammond, John Fox351861application-widow
Hammond, John Fox247157certificate-widow
Birth date:1820-12-07
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Columbia, SC
Death date:1886-09-29
Death place:Poughkeepsie, NY
Causes of death:disease: tuberculosis, disease: inflammation of the bladder
Occupations:Doctor, Soldier
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Hammond, John Foxparent ofHammond, Katherine Betts
Hammond, John Foxparent ofHammond, Elizabeth Percy
Hammond, Caroline Elizabethwife ofHammond, John Fox
Hammond, Victoria P.wife ofHammond, John Fox

Compiled Service Records for John F. Hammond, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Pension records for John F. Hammond, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration; UVA Student Catalogue, Jefferson's University: Early Life; John Fox Hammond, A Surgeon’s Report on Socorro, N.M., 1852, Together with comments by Other Early Travelers Through Socorro (1966); Guy V. Henry, Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army (1869); Orville V. Burton, In My Father’s House are Many Mansions (2000); The Encyclopedia of American Biography 1800-1902; Mary A. Helmich and Frances McMeeken, “Estudillo Adobe to Ramona’s Marriage Place Chart,” Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, accessed through; Victoria Jacobs, Diary of a San Diego Girl, 1856, ed. Sylvia Arden (Santa Monica, CA: Norton B. Stern, 1974), 55, 67; Drew Gilpin Faust, James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 362; Albert E. Sanders and William Dewey Anderson, Jr., Natural History Investigations in South Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 63.