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Medford man channels history in Civil War swords collection

When you step into the Civil War library in George and Lilliana Berry's comfortable Medford home, be prepared for some stories.

And not just from the vast volume of books on the war between the states.

Consider the old rifle with a fixed bayonet hanging on the wall. "That's a .60-caliber — not .50-caliber — smoothbore Model 1848," Berry said. "It was absolutely used in the Civil War.

"Sometimes I pick it up and look down the sights and think, 'My God, if only this thing could tell me where it has been,' " he added.

A former Marine who later joined the Navy, Berry went to college on the Navy's dime. A class from a history professor at the University of West Florida instilled in him a love of history.

After retiring from the Navy, he began working for an oil company based in Atlanta, becoming a regional manager. He also retired as sales training coordinator for Lithia.

But he never retired from his love of history. "If an item doesn't have a story, chances are it won't catch your notice in the very beginning," he observed.

He can tell you about each of the dozen Civil War swords that hang on the wall next to the rifle. And the bust of President Lincoln.

There are true-to-scale replicas of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, an ironclad made from the Merrimac.

And there is a replica of the H.L. Hunley, the submarine which sank in 1864. Berry is quick to observe that Pacific Survey Supply in Medford provided the specialists and equipment to precisely measure the famous Civil War craft in 2001.

He even has a replica of a bent $20 gold piece carried by submarine commander George E. Dixon as a good luck piece after it deflected a bullet in the battle of Shilow on April 6, 1862. The real 1860 U.S. Gold Eagle $20 coin was found by archaeologists working on the Confederate wreck near Charleston.

Berry knows the stories of each item. But the .60-caliber rifle on the wall is silent. "That gun had to have been in a military arsenal in 1861," he said. "They started out the war using these old-style, .60-caliber smoothbores."

He doesn't know whether the rifle was used by the blue or the gray.

"There was a fire at Harper's Ferry, and there is fire damage on that gun," he said. "But who knows the real story."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.