DE LEON , prominent early American Sephardi family. david camden de leon (1816–1872), first surgeon general of the Confederate Army, was born in Camden, South Carolina, eldest of three sons of mordecai h. de leon (1791–1848), a physician. David followed his father's profession, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1836. He entered the U.S. Army as an assistant surgeon in 1838, serving in Florida during the Seminole War and then in frontier posts in the West. During the Mexican War De Leon was assigned to the invading American forces, entering Mexico City when it surrendered to General Scott. De Leon was twice cited for gallantry in action, gaining the sobriquet "the Fighting Doctor." In 1856 he was promoted to full surgeon with the rank of major. With the advent of the Civil War, De Leon, after considerable wrestling with his conscience, resigned from the U.S. Army and offered his services to the Confederacy. On May 6, 1861, he was appointed the first surgeon general of the Confederate Army but held the post only a few weeks. De Leon later served in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, and was named medical director of the army of Northern Virginia under General Lee, but resigned after a month. He has been characterized as an "unhappy and frustrated" man. After the war De Leon took refuge in Mexico and then returned to New Mexico, where he had been stationed and where he owned property. He planted, and also practiced private medicine until his death in Santa Fe. De Leon never married and is said to have ignored his Jewish origins.
edwin de leon (1828–1891), journalist, diplomat, Confederate agent, author, brother of David, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Graduating from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), De Leon became a journalist, and served as editor of several newspapers, including the Savannah Republican, the Columbia (s.c.) Daily Telegraph, and the Washington, d.c., Southern Press. In all of these he strongly advocated the institution of Negro slavery in the South. De Leon worked hard to help elect Franklin Pierce as president, and was rewarded by appointment as American consul general in Egypt, where he served ably for eight years under both Pierce and Buchanan. With the Civil War he resigned and reported to his old friend Jefferson Davis, who appointed him a confidential agent of the Confederate state department to stir up public opinion in Europe for the Confederate cause, and was given $25,000 to spend especially with the press. De Leon held no official title, representing himself as a "private citizen." His propaganda efforts failed to influence opinion in England and France, and his "gratuitous services" were ended in 1862. After the war De Leon was a freelance writer in New York. Later he returned to Egypt to live, and was involved in the installation of the Bell telephone system in Egypt about 1880. De Leon spoke and wrote on Egypt and the new South. His books include his memoirs, Thirty Years of My Life on Three Continents (1878), and The Khedive's Egypt (1878). He was buried in a Catholic cemetery in New York.
thomas cooper de leon (1839–1914), author and editor, brother of David and Edwin, was born in Columbia, South Carolina. After attending Georgetown University, De Leon worked as a clerk in the bureau of typographical engineers in Washington. He served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, apparently in the Confederate capitals, Montgomery and Richmond. His social and military observations were later the basis for a book, Four Years in Rebel Capitals (1890). After the war he edited Cosmopolitan Magazine in Baltimore, translated French novels, and wrote freelance articles. In 1868 he went to Mobile as managing editor (after 1877 editor) of the Mobile Register. In addition to his editorial work, De Leon was a versatile writer, poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright. His best-known book, Civil War reminiscences, was Belles, Beaux and Brains of the '60s (1907). He wrote a successful burlesque play which ran in New York, two parody plays, and two local-color novels. Although blind for the last 11 years of his life, De Leon remained active.
david camden: B.A. Elzas, Jews of South Carolina (1905), 271–3 and passim; S. Kagan, Jewish Contributions to Medicine in America (1934), 3, 43–44; J. Waring, History of Medicine in South Carolina, 2 (1967), 220–1; H. Simonhoff, Jewish Participants in the Civil War (1963), 229–31; Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 2 (1888), 135. edwin: H.K. Hennig, "Edwin De Leon" (Thesis, University of South Carolina, 1928); C.P. Cullop, in: Civil War History, 8 (1962), 386–400; Edwin De Leon, manuscript papers and letters at University of South Carolina Library, Columbia, s.c. thomas cooper: Wade, in: dab, 5 (1930) 224.
[Thomas J. Tobias]