The role of Columbians in the War of 1812 is not fully known. Available records do indicate that doctors with Columbia degrees actively served their country during this period and suggest that nearly 25 percent of the medical commissioned officers in the Navy had some Columbia affiliation, as a faculty member, alumnus, or student. Many of these were involved in actual naval engagements, and some reportedly performed battlefield surgery.
Fearing an invasion of New York City, Columbia students and alumni helped prepare for its defense. In a 1914 history of Columbia, Brander Matthews wrote: “It appears that the students and alumni of the College participated as a body in the preparations for the defence [sic] of the city, against the British by throwing up fortifications at Harlem Heights (site of the present-day campus) as witness the following advertisement that appeared in the Evening Post of October 25, 1814. ‘. . . the students and former graduates of Columbia College, together with such other young gentlemen as are desirous of forming another day’s labour on Harlaem Heights, are requested to assemble in the College Green on Wednesday, the 26th, inst., at half-past six o’clock, for the purpose of proceeding to the same.’”