Birkett Davenport Fry wasn’t very good at math. In fact, a failing grade in that subject led to his early dismissal from the U.S. Military Academy, denying him a chance to graduate with the famed West Point class of 1846.
Fry’s deficiencies with numbers occasionally worked in his favor, however. After suffering a serious wound at Antietam, he was told that his shattered arm would have to be amputated. His chances of survival without amputation, according to the surgeon, were 1-in-300. “Then I’ll take it,” he replied.
Fry recovered, with the full use of his arm, and went on to play an important role in the Confederate Army for the rest of the war. His curious luck with devastating injuries would continue. He had been wounded at Seven Pines, and after recovering from his Antietam setback he was injured again at Chancellorsville.
On July 3 at Gettysburg, he met misfortune twice within a couple of hours. Commanding the brigade of Brig. Gen. James Archer, who had been captured, Fry was called upon to spearhead Brig. Gen. Johnston Pettigrew’s Division during Pickett’s Charge. In the cannonade that preceded it, Fry was struck in the right shoulder by a shell fragment, but refused to relinquish command. As the Confederate onslaught was falling apart at the Angle, a bullet to the thigh knocked him out of action. All five of his command’s regimental colors would reach the Federal lines, but it wasn’t enough to change the outcome. When the smoke cleared, the wounded Fry had been taken prisoner. After nine months in captivity, he was exchanged. Promoted to brigadier general in May 1864, he led two brigades at Cold Harbor. At the beginning of the Petersburg campaign, he was transferred to command of a military district based in Augusta, Ga., where he served until the end of the war.
Fry, who had studied law upon leaving West Point and practiced in California for several years following the Mexican War, worked in the tobacco business in Cuba after Appomattox. He returned to Alabama in 1868, but moved to Tallahassee, Fla., to work in the cotton trade when his wife died. In 1880 he moved to Richmond, where he eventually became president of Marshall Manufacturing Company, a cotton firm.
On January 21, 1891, Fry died in Richmond. He is buried next to his wife, Martha, in Montgomery, Ala.
Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.