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Profile: David Camden de Leon

Portrait of David Camden de Leon by painter Solomon Nunes Carvalho, date unknown. (Source: Wikimedia)

David Camden de Leon was born into a prominent Sephardic Jewish family in 1816 in Camden, South Caroline. He followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued a medical career. In 1836 he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School as a doctor, and enlisted in the United States Army as a surgeon in 1838.

During the Mexican-American War in 1845, de Leon earned himself the nickname the “Fighting Doctor” while serving under General Zachary Taylor. On multiple occasions when commanders had been wounded, killed, or otherwise unable to lead the troops, de Leon stepped up to lead the troops, keeping them from panicking and running from the fight ahead. He was able to lead successful counter attacks against the enemy, and received Congressional thanks and Citations for his honorable and courageous leadership.

De Leon also served and fought during the Seminole Wars in Florida, but resigned from the U.S. Army at the start of the Civil War, as he sided with the Confederacy. He served as the Surgeon General for the Confederacy for only a few months, and by the end of the war was living in Mexico, unhappy with the outcome.

After the war, General Ulysses S. Grant personally invited de Leon back to the United States. He moved to New Mexico where he continued practicing medicine, and also began to plant crops. David Camden de Leon died in 1827, but will forever be most well-known and remembered as the “Fighting Doctor.”

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