Barnwell R. Legge

Barnwell Rhett Legge
Born (1891-07-09)July 9, 1891
Charleston, South Carolina
Died June 7, 1949(1949-06-07) (aged 57)
Washington, D.C.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1911 – 1948
Rank Brigadier General

World War I

World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star (4)

Barnwell Rhett Legge (July 9, 1891 – June 7, 1949) was a highly decorated U.S. Army officer, who reached the rank of Brigadier General. He is most noted as a Military Attaché to Switzerland during World War II.[1]

Early years

Legge was born in Charleston, South Carolina to Claude Lascelles Legge and Elizabeth Judd Hutchinson Legge. He attended The Citadel and graduated in 1911.[2]

Legge studied law at the University of South Carolina. After the US entered World War I, he was appointed the regimental adjutant of the 26th Infantry Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt). Roosevelt Jr. later wrote in his book "Average Americans":[3]

"All during my service in Europe, Legge served with me. During the latter part he was my second in command in the regiment. I have seen him under all circumstances. He was always cool and decided. No mission was too difficult for him to undertake. His ability as a troop leader was of the highest order. In my opinion no man of his age has a better war record." [4]

Legge participated with the 26th Infantry in the Battle of Soissons, where half of the men of 26th Infantry Regiment were killed in combat. For conspicuous gallantry in action Legge was awarded 4 Silver Stars.

Major Legge subsequently participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and personally led an attack against a strong enemy position. Legge inspired his men by his courage, cutting his way through entanglements and directing the attacks against three different strong points. For this actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in combat.[5]

For his military service during World War I, Legge was also awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership of 26th Infantry regiment and with the Legion of Honour and French Croix de guerre 1914-1918 with Palm by the French government.[5]

World War II

After the War, Legge served at various infantry positions, including the capacity of instructor at Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas from 1936 to 1939.

He subsequently served for a short period as an Assistant Military Attaché to France and then was the Military Attaché to Switzerland at the US Embassy in Zurich. He stayed in Switzerland for the whole period of World War II and in this capacity, he helped arrange the escape of many interned US fliers. For service in this capacity, Legge was awarded with Legion of Merit by the US Government. He also received Order of the British Empire in the grade of Commander by the United Kingdom.[6]

Respected historian Donald Miller regards Legge as an altogether more controversial figure than his post-war accolades would suggest. He is severely critical of Legge's role in Switzerland: "The country’s military police actively hunted down American fliers making for the border, shooting and wounding a number of them. Most of those who were apprehended were sentenced to indeterminate prison terms, with the compliance of General Legge, who was unofficially in charge of American military internees. Using the threat of court-martial, Legge warned American airmen not to escape. Escape attempts would alienate their hosts, Legge told Spaatz’s headquarters in England, and slow down the negotiations he was secretly conducting for the airmen’s release. But Legge was more concerned with appeasing the Swiss than with freeing the American internees, and when fellow Americans were caught escaping and imprisoned by the Swiss, he monitored their deplorable prison conditions with inexcusable indifference. In the last two years of the war, the “benevolent hosts” of the American airmen threw 187 of them into one of the most abhorrent prison compounds in Europe, a punishment camp run by a sadistic Nazi." [7]

Brigadier General Barnwell R. Legge retired in 1948 due to poor health and died on June 7, 1949 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 57. He was buried together with his wife Phyllis B. Legge at Arlington National Cemetery.[2]


Here is Brigadier general Legge´s ribbon bar:

Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
1st Row Distinguished Service Cross Army Distinguished Service Medal Silver Star with three Oak Leaf Clusters
2nd Row Legion of Merit Purple Heart Mexican Border Service Medal World War I Victory Medal with five Battle Clasps
3rd Row American Defense Service Medal American Campaign Medal European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two service stars World War II Victory Medal
4th Row Army of Occupation Medal Commander of the Order of the British Empire Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (France) French Croix de guerre 1914-1918 with Palm


  1. "Biography of Brigadier-General Barnwell Rhett Legge (1891 - 1949), USA". 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  2. 1 2 "Gen Barnwell Rhett Legge (1891 - 1949) - Find a Grave Memorial". 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  3. "Boyhood Recollections". Average Americans In Olive Drab – The War As Seen By Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt. in Life of Theodore Roosevelt
  4. "By Lieutenant Colonel then Captain Barnwell Rhett Legge". 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  5. 1 2 "Valor awards for Barnwell Rhett Legge". 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  6. "OBE citation". 2014-10-17. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  7. (Miller, Donald L (2013-04-25). Eighth Airforce: The American Bomber Crews in Britain (Kindle Locations 6366-6373). Aurum Pres.
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