Call to Service in the Civil War #ThrowbackThursday

Dr. W. W. Mayo (circled) served as a Union Army examining surgeon during the Civil War.

Many people ask, “Why was Mayo Clinic founded in Rochester, Minnesota?” A generation before Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie established the clinic, their father started a medical practice in Rochester during the Civil War.

Dr. W. W. Mayo signed this Oath of Office to serve with the Union Army. (Image courtesy of Mayo Clinic and the U.S. National Archives.)

National events crowded upon the Mayo family during the Civil War. As one of the newest states in the Union, Minnesota had a population of young men who answered the call to arms as volunteers and, later in the conflict, as draftees.

Evaluating who was fit for military duty was an important job. In 1863, shortly before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Dr. W. W. Mayo as an examining surgeon for the Union Army in the First Minnesota District, which encompassed the southern half of the state. The Enrollment Board had its headquarters in Rochester, a thriving agricultural community with good railroad connections.

Dr. Mayo’s military service would prove to be short-lived, but Rochester became an ideal location for the medical practice that he established and passed on to his sons.

Brent Westra

Brent Westra is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. He leads marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing along with new media innovations. Brent has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2011.