Dr. Mary Elizabeth Walker had been practicing medicine for years when she volunteered to be a U.S. Army surgeon in the American Civil War. She was originally rejected but eventually became the Army’s first female surgeon. She treated soldiers near the front lines, even getting captured as a prisoner of war. She was also the first and so far only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
Now a U.S. Army training post in Virginia has been renamed in her honor.
The U.S. Army base was officially designated Fort Walker on Aug. 25, ahead of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26 and as part of the military’s effort to rename spaces honoring Confederate leaders. Maj. Gen. Trevor J. Brendenkamp, the commanding general of Joint Task Force-National Capital Region and U.S. Army Military District of Washington, led the renaming ceremony.
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The base, which covers approximately 76,000 acres near Bowling Green, Virginia, was originally named for Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill. Hill died in April 1865, in a devastating Confederate defeat. The Army post, set up in 1941, contains various training grounds, including a live-fire training space.
For her services in the American Civil War, Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Andrew Johnson. That was later rescinded in 1916, following a government review of eligibility for military honors. It was reinstated by President Jimmy Carter. Her Medal of Honor citation reads, in part:
“Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, ‘has rendered valuable service to the Government, and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways,’ and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Kentucky, upon the recommendation of Major Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her services and sufferings should be made: It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.”
An abolitionist and a suffragette as well, Walker pushed for equal rights throughout her life. She died in 1919.
Fort Walker is now the eighth base to be renamed as part of the ongoing effort to remove honors to the Confederacy within the military. Other redesignations include Fort Cavazos (previously Fort Hood), Fort Gregg-Adams (previously Fort Lee) and Fort Liberty (previously known as Fort Bragg).
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