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General Henry W. Birge of Norwich
Biography and Artifacts Donated to Leffingwell Inn

   From the Norwich, CT Bulletin, December 31, 1961 regarding General Henry W. Birge's items:

Sword, Pistols Carried by Gen. Birge Property Now of Leffingwell Inn

    Dr. Robert L. Johnson, ex-president of Temple University in Philadelphia and a former resident of Huntington Pl., Norwich has given to the Leffingwell Inn a fine pair of dueling pistols and an officer’s dress sword of rare distinction with strong Norwich associations.  These were the property of General Henry W. Birge of Norwich whose record in the Civil war was distinguished by fine leadership and gallantry.

    In the “History of Connecticut during the War 1861-65” by W. A. Croffutt and John M. Morris, the following information appears relative to General Birge.  “First as Colonel Birge he was in command of the Thirteenth regiment, Connecticut Volunteers.  He was a strict, if not severe, disciplinarian, an accurate drill master, proud of his men, and possessed of a quick military mind.  He especially enjoined neatness, cleanliness and martial bearing.  Every belt, shoe and box must be neatly polished; every gun barrel and bayonet must shine like a mirror; every hand must wear a glove of spotless white; every form must be erect and manly.” This led spectators to comment “This regiment is composed only of rich men’s sons.”  After a hot battle Colonel Birge replied, “Well, I notice they didn't run away like some of the dirty regiments”

    March 18, 1862, the regiment was shipped out of New York by boat to join Farragut and Butler at New Orleans.  Before leaving, Colonel Birge “was presented with an expensive pair of pistols by Robert H. McCurdy, the constant
friend of our troops.”  Mr. McCurdy was formerly of Lyme, but at the time a successful merchant in New York.

    On June 15, 1863, General Banks promulgated a call for a storming column of 1,000 volunteers to take Port Hudson, a strongly fortified rebel stronghold in Louisiana.  The commanding general summons the bold men of the corps to the organization of a storming column.  At Col. Birge’s special request he was assigned to lead the column and his old regiment, the Thirteenth, furnished for the perilous service one quarter of the whole number.  Fort Hudson surrendered on July 8 and the storming column led by Col. Birge was accorded the honor of being the first to enter the captured stronghold.  This
episode was characteristic of the dynamic qualities of Col. Birge’s leadership and the splendid courage of his men.

Sword Presented
    On New Year’s eve, 1863-64 a special party was given to General Birge by his old regiment.  At that time a handsome sword and equipment were presented to General Birge.  Captain Mccord had selected them at Tiffany’s at an expense of five hundred dollars.

    In August 1864, General Sheridan took command at Shenandoah. In that army, Brigadier General Henry W. Birge commanded a division.  He later received a brevet commission as major general, a promotion recommended by Sheridan
for conspicuous gallantry at Cedar Creek.

    The presentation dress sword is one of the finest to come to light for many years and is one of the best of its type to be found in the entire country.  The blade was made in Germany, where the best steel came from at that time, and is inlaid, etched and plated in gold.  The guard is the shell pattern and the hilt is decorated with pearls, amethysts, a diamond and gold
plate.  The scabbard is decorated with the figure of St. George slaying the dragon in three quarter relief and in gold plate, as is the rest of the scabbard.  A pair of gold plated spurs accompanies the sword.  These spurs are most unusual and of great interest to collectors.  They are shaped like an American eagle and gold plated.

    The unusually fine dueling pistols were made by H. W. Mortimer & Son, 89 Fleet St., London, gun makers to His Majesty, probably around 1820.  This firm was known for making the best quality fire arms.  All the metal parts are engraved with decorative scrolls.  The pistols have saw handle stocks of Circassian walnut, golden flash pans and platinum touchholes.  The street address is engraved on the trigger guard.

Norwich native
    General Birge’s son, William B. Birge, lived on Huntington Pl. He married the mother of Dr. Johnson, a widow.  Dr. Johnson inherited these rare pieces as Mr. Birge’s step-son and has given them to the Leffingwell Inn to be added to its collection of important Norwich items.  While the inn is officially open during the winter only on Saturday afternoons, it can be visited any time by appointment and by calling TU9-9440.  ***


Leffingwell House Museum
348 Washington Street
Norwich, CT 06360
(86) 889-9440  




This file was contributed for use by the New London County CTGenWeb Project  by:
Majohnson1737@cs.com <Majohnson1737@cs.com>
October 25, 2011

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