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John B. Calhoun Papers 1909-1996
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Biographical Note

Alexander H. Hoff was born in Philadelphia in 1821 and died there in 1876. He was a graduate of Jefferson Medical College and spent some time after graduation working at Blockley Hospital (now the Philadelphia General Hospital). He then moved to New York State, where he married and first set up in practice at the western end of the Erie Canal. He finally settled near Albany, New York, where he continued in practice until the outbreak of the Civil War. He volunteered in the spring of 1861. Interested in general in the military life, he had been surgeon general of New York State from 1854 to 1856 and Examining Surgeon of the U.S. Rendezvous in Albany for a number of years. In May 1861 he was named surgeon of the Third New York Volunteers and took part briefly in battles in Virginia and Maryland; in September 1861 he was ordered to report to General J.C. Fremont in Missouri.

As the fighting around the southern part of the Mississippi River intensified, at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Memphis, Alexander Hoff was detailed to General U.S. Grant's command as superintendent of medical transport on the Mississippi. Here he was in charge of the first Civil War hospital ship owned (not chartered) by the United States government, the D.A. January. He retained this post until 1864. So successful was Hoff in this position that he was next transferred to New York Harbor to oversee the transport of the sick and wounded soldiers along the East Coast.

Toward the end of the Civil War, Hoff decided to stay in the regular Army Medical Department, and he began to solicit letters of recommendation to bolster his chances of receiving such an appointment. He later appears first in the list of "Names of Surgeons of U.S. Volunteers deemed worthy to be retained in the event of an increase or reorganization of the Army" sent to the Surgeon General from the Medical Inspector General on 26 May 1865, so his efforts appear to have had an effect.

Hoff was mustered out of the Volunteers on 31 August 1866 and appointed to the regular Army Medical Department on 1 June 1867. After that he received assignments: (1) in Alaska with the first troops sent there after the United States bought it; (2) in California, and (3) in other places, where he took on various duties, including investigating prisons and the care of insane soldiers. In 1876 he was involved with the centennial exhibits in Philadelphia with Woodward and Otis, and he died in that city before the exhibition opened.

The Alexander H. Hoff medal was established after Hoff's death by his son, John Van R. Hoff, who himself founded the first Hospital Corps in the United States Army. A detailled biography of his father by the younger Hoff is found in Military Surgeon 31 (1912):47-51.

(excerpted from Estelle Brodman and Elizabeth B. Carrick, "American military medicine in the mid nineteenth century: the experience of Alexander H. Hoff, M.D." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 64 (1990): 63-78)