Classic Film Showing to Benefit Civil War Hero's Sword Acquisition
"They Died With Their Boots On,"
Custer Saga, Includes Birney Heroics
January 25, 2003
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By: Dave Rogers
State Theater Showing Set Feb. 22 for Benefit Film
Capt. James G. Birney IV was one of several Civil War heroes from Bay City
The name "Wolverines" will live perhaps forever as the nickname of the University of Michigan athletic teams.
But few probably know that the appelation was first used by a Union Army General, George Armstrong Custer, to inspire his men of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Bay Cityans will have a chance Saturday, Feb. 22, to see a classic film, "They Died With Their Boots On," which depicts how Custer used the term "Wolverines" and contribute to a fund-raising project for a historic artifact.
The State Theater in downtown Bay City will be the site of a 7 p.m. showing of the film which focuses on the life of the famed General George A. Custer, hero of the Civil War and ill-fated Indian fighter.
The film showing will benefit the project to raise $7,500 to acquire the dress sword of Capt. James G. Birney IV. Birney, who enlisted in the Union Army from Bay City at age 19 earned fame, and the sword presented later by Custer, at the battle of Hanover, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.
The sword was found only recently in a basement in Philadelphia, hometown of David Bell Birney, who also was a hero at Gettysburg.
The Battle of Hanover, part of the monumental struggle between the Union and Confederate armies at Gettysburg, is depicted in one of the film's early sequences about Custer's Civil War exploits. Hanover pitted Custer's Michigan troops, including Birney and the 7th Michigan Cavalry, against Gen. J.E.B. Stuart which has been called "the cavalry battle of the war." Custer and his Wolverines foiled Stuart's attempt to turn the Union right flank on the final day of the battle.
The movie stars swashbuckler Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse, and Sydney Greenstreet. Custer's well known demise at the hands of Crazy Horse and his Sioux warriors in the Battle of Little Big Horn is one of the most famous military actions in American history. It is also portrayed in the 1941 film, directed by Raoul Walsh.
Reviewer Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader describes the film: "Errol Flynn makes an effectively vain, overbearing, and ambiguously charming George Armstrong Custer. It is superb filmmaking, personal and vigorous. Worth particular note is the way Walsh's camera carves up the space in the final battle scene, sliding between claustrophobic oppressiveness and agoraphobic horror."
The benefit film project committee is comprised of Tony Dearing, editor of The Bay City Times; attorney Gerald Pergande, a Civil War expert; broadcaster Eric Jylha of WNEM-TV Channel 5; historian Dave Rogers; Bay Medical Center executive Keith Markstrom, and Ron Bloomfield, curator of the Bay County Historical Museum.
"This project will provide the museum with an artifact of national significance," said Bloomfield. The sword will become one of the centerpieces of a new main gallery at the museum, he said.
Birney was a son of Judge James Birney, sponsor of a bill in the State Legislature which organized Bay County. Judge Birney was the son of famed abolitionist candidate for President James G. Birney who was a founder of Bay City in 1842. Judge Birney is buried in Bay City's historic Pine Ridge Cemetery at Columbus Avenue and Tuscola Road.
Tickets for the film are available from organizers of the project or from the State Theater, phone 892-2660, at $5 in advance and $7.50 the day of the showing.
Arts/Theater Article 129
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at email@example.com)
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