Joseph K. Barnes was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 21, 1817. After graduating from Harvard, he studied at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, graduating in 1838. In 1840, he joined the US Army, serving in the Army Medical Corps in the Seminole and Mexican Wars. In 1861, he was sent to the Pacific Northwest, but was suddenly recalled and posted in the east when the Civil War broke out. Barnes worked as a surgeon in the Washington, D. C. area. Brig. Gen. William H. Hammond was the commander of the US Army Medical Corps, but he clashed with the administration because of his calls for reform and his arguments supporting Gen. George B. McClellan. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, hoping to find a less controversial figure, appointed Barnes "acting surgeon general" in 1862. Hammond was court-martialed; and Barnes was promoted to colonel, while still being listed as "acting surgeon general." Barnes was appointed a brigadier general and Surgeon General on August 22, 1864. Conflicts still racked the US Army Medical Corps, often affecting Barnes personally. Unnoticed by the Department of War, Barnes continued many of the reforms Hammond had proposed. The appropriations for medicines and supplies increased from $9 million in 1863-4 to $20 million a year later. This increase went to improving the quality of medical care, as well as making such care available to the growing number of casualties. Barnes was also able to bring many talented doctors from civilian life to provide medical services in the volunteer army. The medical payroll increased from $437,000 to $949,000 in a little over a year. Barnes' reforms were so effective that he was brevetted a major general in the Regulars in 1865. Barnes attended to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield when each was mortally wounded. After the Civil War, Barnes supervised the publication of several volumes of the "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion." The year after he retired, Barnes died in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 1883.
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