Augusta was born to free African-American parents in Norfolk, Virginia. At that time he began to learn to read while working as a barber although it was illegal to do so in Virginia at that time. Augusta applied to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania but was refused admission. Although he faced institutionalized racism in his career, inadequate preparation was cited. Nevertheless, he took private instruction from someone on the faculty. As he was determined to become a physician, Augusta travelled to California and earned the funds necessary to pursue his goal of becoming a doctor. Concerned that he would not be allowed to enroll in medical school in the U.S., he enrolled at Trinity College of the University of Toronto in 1850. He also conducted business as a druggist and chemist. Six years later he received a degree in medicine. Augusta went to Washington, D.C., wrote Abraham Lincoln offering his services as a surgeon and was given a Presidential commission in the Union Army in October 1862. On April 4, 1863, he received a major’s commission as surgeon for African-American troops. This made him the United States Army’s first African-American physician out of eight in the Union Army and its highest-ranking African-American officer at the time.Augusta returned to private practice in Washington, D.C. He was attending surgeon to the Smallpox Hospital in Washington in 1870. He also served on the staff of the local Freedmen’s Hospital and was placed in charge of the hospital in 1863.