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Henry Patrick Birmingham*

Medical Corps

Brigadier General, U.S. Army, Retired

(15 March 1854-4 May 1932)

A strong link between the Army Medical Corps of today and the old Army of the days before the Spanish War was broken by the death in Washington, May 4, 1932, of General Birmingham. General Birmingham was a fine type of that older service in which the medical officers were soldiers as well as surgeons, and, though less learned than our comrades of today in the technique of the laboratory, the clinic, and the operating room, were able to meet emergencies and care for their sick and wounded comrades under the harsh and primitive conditions of Indian warfare. No more fitting tribute to him can be written than that of a comrade, Brig. Gen. Francis A. Winter, who loved him and who, though a much younger man, preceded him by a little over a year into the land of silence. General Winter, in November, 1919, on the occasion of General Birmingham's completion of his year as President of the Association of Military Surgeons wrote a graceful little sketch of his military career from which, with some immaterial changes, this obituary notice is taken.

No man ever finished his active career in the army with a better place in the hearts of his fellow-soldiers than General Henry P. Birmingham of the Medical Corps. Born March 15, 1854, in New York, General Birmingham’s youth was spent in the city of St. Paul. He was graduated in medicine from the University of Michigan in 1876 and began his army career as an acting assistant (contract) surgeon on November 2, 1878. He went at once into that school of hardihood which the Army maintained in the adjustment of conditions on the frontier, and his first service was performed under Generals Hazen and Ruger in the Sioux Indian country. He was appointed a first lieutenant and assistant surgeon in the Regular Army on February 18, 1881, and continued on duty in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico until the latter part of 1885, under Generals Crook and McKenzie. During this service he was complimented in orders for his co-operative spirit and for gallantry in action against hostile Apache Indians, in the Teres Mountains in Old Mexico, September 22, 1895.

The outbreak of the Spanish War found him again on duty in the West, whither he had returned after a short time in the East. He was at once assigned to duty with the First Division, First Corps, at Camp Thomas, Chickamauga Park, and went to Porto Rico with that organization in July, 1898. Arriving in Porto Rico he was given the assemblage and organization of U. S. General Hospital No. 1 at Ponce, and so well was this work accomplished under conditions of great adversity that he received the recommendation of his commanding general that he be given a brevet commission.

In 1899 General Birmingham went to duty in the Philippines, filling various positions of responsibility in command of hospitals as chief surgeon of expeditions, etc., until his return to the United States in 1902.

During the next four years he served on important duties as Chief Surgeon of Maneuver Camps, and as Chief Surgeon of the Department of Texas.

The years between 1906 and 1909 he spent in Cuba as Chief Sanitary Inspector and Chief Surgeon of the Army of Cuban Pacification. This work in Cuba was signally successful, and after two years spent iii Washington as President of the Army Medical Examining Board he was ordered to duty as chief surgeon of the division mobilized at San Antonio, Texas, in 1911. It was in the camp of this division that the world was given the first conclusive demonstration that enteric fever could be entirely eliminated as a disease inevitable to aggregations of soldiers under mobilization by the method of immunization developed by Russell.

It was quite consonant with the estimation of General Birmingham held in the War Department that he should have been ordered to Mexico with the Vera Cruz expedition, as chief surgeon, with General Funston, in 1914. He remained on that duty until November, 1914, when he became Chief Surgeon of the Eastern Department.

In May, 1916, he came to Washington and was acting Surgeon General for six months, during the concentration of troops on the Mexican border.

In 1917 he was sent to France on an inspection trip and while there was promoted Brigadier General in the National Army. In March,1918, he was retired from active service as a Colonel, being then sixty-four years old.

Whether it were the rough-riding cavalryman of the days when saddle pockets were made to carry his reserve wardrobe, or the young medical officer looking to be taught how to do it by the "Old Man," the heart beat the quicker when he came around, and the glow of affection and friendship became the warmer in his presence.

General Birmingham's career epitomizes his character and his aptitudes. He was constantly given new and large responsibilities because his sound practical common sense, his firmness of will, and hisexact compliance with orders made him a man who could always be trusted.

General Birmingham was one of the oldest and most loyal members of our Association. His membership began in 1895, and after holding the vice-presidential and presidential offices, terminated only with his death.

J.R. Kean

*Source:  The Military Surgeon, 70, No. 6 (June, 1932), 647-49.