James G. Birney IV (1844-1870)
Civil War soldier. grandson of James G. & Agatha (McDowell) Birney.
by Marvin Kusmierz (March 2003 - Updated Oct. 2007)
Life Span:: 12 Apr. 1844 (New Haven, CT) - 16 Jun. 1870 (Fort Davis, TX)
Spouse: Mary D. Deuel, 1842 - 1 Apr. 1884 (NY, NY)
Son: Newton D., 1867 (NY) - 17 Dec. 1868 (TX)
Burial: All three at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
James was born in 1844 to James and Amanda (Moulton) and is believed to be their first child. His sister, Sophie, arrived on the scene in 1848. Their stay in New Haven was shorten when the family moved to Lower Saginaw (now, Bay City), Michigan some time around 1850. Already in Lower Saginaw were the grandparents of James, James G. and Elizabeth (Fitzhugh). In nearby Saginaw, his uncle Dion and aunt Sarah (Crawford) lived with children only a few years older than him.
Little is known about James youthful years in Lower Saginaw. He grew up at a time when Lower Saginaw was quite a primitive community and the area was still a wilderness. He would have been very familiar with the local Indian population and his white neighbors, which were still very small in numbers. Any schooling or churches serves he may have attended would have been inside someone's home. Lower Saginaw was still a wilderness cover with forests and marshes near water ways. There were no roads other than a few well worn dirt paths to a frequent point. Most everyone living here where near the drinking and cleaning water provided by the river. He was only thirteen year old, when Bay County was organized in 1857, his father and grandfather respected leaders of this growing community. Young James was himself a pioneer, living his life during the early pioneers period of this community.
Civil War Record
1862: Oct 15: Enlisted in 7th MI Infantry, 2nd Lt.
1863 Jul. 7: Wounded and captured at Gettysburg, PA. Escaped same day.
1864 Mar 18: Promoted to captain.
1865 Nov., 17: Assigned to 1st Cavalry Reg.
1865- Honored with sword from Gen. Custer.
1866 Mar 10: Mustered out.
1866 Jul 28: Capt., assigned to 2nd Lt. 9th U.S. Cav., Ft. Davis, TX (Buffalo Soldiers)
1867 Mar 2: Promoted to 1st Lt. & Capt.
1869 Dec. 1: Promoted to Capt.
1870 Jan 16: Died
His father was a prominent citizen and lawyer who spent a considerable amount of time away from home in public service. In 1858, he was elected to the Michigan legislature as a state senator from the Saginaw District and held this position until becoming lieutenant governor in 1860 -- a position he resigned from three months later. He returned to his law practice in Bay City and was home most every night. However, his son, James who would have been sixteen was most likely away attending a boarding school to complete his education.
As a nineteen year old with a bright future, James's destiny would be determined by the Civil War threatening to tear apart the country. On September 14, 1862, he enlisted into the 7th Michigan Infantry Company "C" -- shortly thereafter, he was reassigned to 7th Michigan Cavalry Company "A" as a 2nd lieutenant.
In 2002, the sword of Capt. James G. Birney was put up for sale which came to the attention of some local leaders and led to a funding raising drive to purchase it. The sword will be exhibited in the Bay County Historical Society Museum on Washington St. in Bay City. The sword was offered for sale by the [Blue Grey Relics - Online Catalogue] website which provided an excellent historical background on James in regards to the period he served with the famed 7th Cavalry which was led by General George Custer, also known as Custer's Brigade:
Gen. George Custer
"Captain Birney was transferred from the 7th to the 1st Cavalry Regiment in 1865 and this sword was presented to him at that time. As an officer in the famed 7th Cavalry - Custer's brigade, he valiantly lead his men in a charge at Gettysburg where he was severely wounded by a slash to the head from a Confederate's saber. Minutes before, he valiantly led his color bearer was shot dead and Birney dismounted, took the colors, rallied his men and continued the charge. After emptying his revolver and his horse shot from under him, Captain Birney used the flag staff as a pike and continued in hand to hand combat. He was at that point severely wounded, captured and taken prisoner. He escaped his captors, returned to his regiment and continued to fight.
Captain Birney also received a letter of recommendation from Gen. Custer in which he was praised for his courageous deeds. After the war, Birney chose to remain in the military service. In 1868, he was assigned to the western frontier becoming a member of the 9th Cavalry where he served at their post in Fort Davis, Texas. Fort Davis was home of the "Buffalo Soldiers", a regimented composed mainly of colored soldiers that got its name from the Indians because of the buffalo skins they wore into battle. This was James' last assignment, as he died at Fr. Davis from a sickness.
It wasn't until 2004 that it became known that James was married and had a son. Paul Davis of Midland, Michigan, found this information in a photo album of the Buffalo Soldiers that he purchased, and it included a photo of James and a women identified only as Mrs. Birney. Subsequently, more information on the family was found by local historians, revealing James wife was Mary D. Deule, and they had a son, Newton, who lived a little over a year. James and his family are buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
Birney, Dion (bro./Gen.)
Birney, James (father)
Birney, James G. (g-father)
Birney, Sophie (sister)
Crawford, Sara (aunt)
Custer, George (Gen.)
Fitzhugh, Elizabeth (step-g-mother)
McDowell, Agatha (g-mother)
Moulton, Amanda (mother)
7th MI Inf., Co. C
Battle of Gettysburg
Bay City, MI
Bay Co. Historical Society
Fort Davis, TX
Michigan Lt. Gov.
New Haven, CT
Lower Saginaw, MI
US Congressional Records
Senate Executive Journal: Feb. 8, 1867: James G. Birney, late captain of the Seventh Michigan Volunteers, to be second lieutenant in the Ninth Regiment United States Cavalry, to date from July 28, 1866, to fill an original vacancy.
Dec. 9, 1867: Second Lieutenant James G. Birney to be first lieutenant, April 14, 1867, vice Griffin, deceased.
Dec. 11, 1867: Second Lieutenant James G. Birney, of the Ninth Regiment United States Cavalry, for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa., to date from March 2, 1867. - Breveted First Lieutenant.Dec. 8, 1869: First Lieut. James G. Birney to be captain, December 1, 1869, vice Gamble, resigned.
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