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Harry Berthrong

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Henry Washburn Berthrong

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Harry Berthrong enlisted during the Civil War as a musician on August 27, 1862 in Rochester, NY at the age of 18; he enlisted in Company E, 140th Infantry Regiment (New York) on September 13, 1862. He mustered out on June 12, 1865 in Washington, DC.

The following biographical information is provided by Sheila McCreven, great-great-granddaughter of Henry Berthrong (email her at:

From The Boston Globe:

HENRY W. BERTHRONG CLAIMED BY DEATH Civil War Solider, Painter of Note and Athlete Long Employed at Custom House in Boston

Henry W. Berthrong, noted as a portrait painter, athlete, and Custom officer, died yesterday afternoon at the Old Soldiers' Home, Chelsea, MA, where he had been only three weeks. He was a veteran of the Civil War and was 84 years old, having been born January 1, 1844 at Mumford, NY.

Mr. Berthrong's chief fame was derived from his painting of huge portraits of candidates, used far and wide throughout the United States in Presidential campaigns. The great canvases, signed "Berthrong, Boston" once were flaunted in all corners of the country.

In the Civil War he enlisted and went to the front with the 140th New York Volunteers, Co. E. He served through the war in the 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac, taking part in all the battles of that corps. He was discharged July 13, 1865.

During his residence in Washington he caught for the old Olympic Baseball club, using neither a glove nor mask. In 1866 he made the circuit of the bases in 14 and 1/4 seconds, a record which he always insisted stood unbroken.

Following his career in professional baseball, he entered the customs service and after 54 years of service was retired in 1924 under the provisions of the Retirement Act of 1920.

He was a sprinter, never beaten in 26 100-yard dashes. His time frequently was 10 seconds flat. He pulled bow oar on the famous Potomac Four, which won the championship of the United States.

Held Federal Posts After discharge he was appointed a clerkship in the War Department. He married in 1873 Miss Boutwell, niece of the Secretary of the Treasury George S. Boutwell, ex-Governor of Massachusetts. After filling several Federal posts he was transferred to the Boston Customhouse as appraiser of merchandise.

For eight years he held this position, resigning in 1883 to open a studio for portrait painting. Mrs. Berthrong was appointed to fill his position. In 1891 he reentered the Government service as a liquidating clerk, filling that post till August 1898 when the Secretary of the Treasury detailed him to go to Cuba to assist in establishing American ides of collecting revenue.

In Service 54 Years He remained until 1901, the last part of his term instructing Army officers who took over the custom duties. Returning to the Boston Customhouse, he remained until his retirement in 1934, when he was presented a purse of gold by fellow employees. He had been in Government service 54 years.

Headed G.A.R. Post Mr. Berthrong joined the masons at the age of 21. He was a past commander of Post 36, G.A.R., Arlington, where he lived for many years until he moved to Cliftondale. Post 36 had a well-known orchestra in which he played first violin. Mr. and Mrs. Berthrong observed the 50th anniversary of their wedding at Cliftondale, January 2, 1923. Among the guests were two sons, Louis P. and Chester A. Berthrong; a daughter, Mrs. Madge Russell; seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.

For a number of years Mr. Berthrong painted campaign portraits of celebrities, and at one time his portraits of 15 famous actors were in the lobby of the Boston Theater. Portraits painted by him may be seen in many G.A.R. posts throughout the State.

During the Civil War while Berthrong was on furlough, President Lincoln saw the young solider sketching the White House. The President asked if he might have the sketch, and had the War Department add two weeks to Berthrong's furlough. In his later days Berthrong was an enthusiastic bowler, and was president of the Customhouse Bowling League.

From another newspaper obituary:

The name of "Harry" Berthrong was as much a watchword among the youngsters during the reconstruction days after the Civil War as as is that of "Babe" Ruth today. As catcher for the Nationals of Washington from 1865 to 1872, he gained national fame during the pioneering days of the sport. Pal of George Wright and friend of John McGraw, he played the game when padded gloves, masks and chest protectors were unknown accessories. His only method of stopping the delivery of his pitcher was his bare hands. His gnarled hands, in which every joint in both have been broken and twisted, bear testimony to the strenuousness of the game in those days.

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