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First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas): July 21, 1861

July 1, 2015 by | 0 comments

Manassas and its vicinity
On July 21, 1861, the Confederates defeated the Union army in the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), the first major conflict of the Civil War.

In the months following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, there was increasing political pressure in the North for the Union army to launch an attack against the Rebels and quickly end the war. Despite General Irvin McDowell‘s concerns that his troops weren’t prepared, he made plans to attack the Confederate forces gathered along Bull Run stream, near Manassas Junction, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington DC.

McDowell and his approximately 30,000 troops left Washington DC on July 16, slowly making their way to Centreville, Virginia. Once at Centreville, McDowell delayed for two days, unknowingly allowing time for thousands more Confederate troops under Joseph Johnston to join the main force under PGT Beauregard, bringing the Confederates’ total forces to roughly the same number as the Union’s.

Portrait of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, officer of the Federal Army

McDowell’s plan was to send half his troops in a feint at the Confederate center, while the other half of his force would come from upstream to attack the Confederates’ left flank. Despite problems with synchronizing the two parts of the attack, at first it seemed like the Union would carry the day. However, a strong Confederate defense at Henry House Hill on the Confederate left, as well as a crucial attack on the Union right flank, helped turn the tide of the battle (and it was there that Thomas J. Jackson received his immortal nickname, “Stonewall”). The Union retreat soon turned to panic, and troops fled in chaos back to Washington, as did the spectators from the capital who had come to observe the battle.

Dead on battlefield at 1st Bull Run (Manassas)
The casualties were shockingly high, though they would pale in comparison to those of later battles. Estimates vary, but the Union suffered about 481 dead, 1,011 wounded, and 1,216 missing (many of them taken prisoner), while the Confederates experienced 387 dead, 1,582 wounded, and 12 missing.

Though a disaster for the Union and a triumph for the Confederacy, the battle signaled to both sides that the war would be longer and bloodier than either had anticipated.

Did you have ancestors who served in the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)? Tell us about it! If you want to learn more about the battle, start a search on Fold3.

Free Access to the Revolutionary War Collection

July 1, 2015 by | 3 Comments

Revolutionary War Signing for Payment Vouchers
As we celebrate America’s independence this month, learn more about the people who made it possible by exploring Fold3’s Revolutionary War Collection for free July 1st to 15th.

Popular titles for finding Revolutionary War ancestors include:

If you’re interested in the historical aspects of the war, you can explore the captured vessels prize cases, Revolutionary War Milestone Documents, the Pennsylvania Archives, Constitutional Convention Records, and the papers and records of the Continental Congress, among others.

Full access to the Revolutionary War collection can help you find even more information on the people or events you’re researching. For example, let’s say you’re researching your ancestor James Morris of Connecticut. You can learn from his Revolutionary War pension file that he served in the Battle of Germantown, where he was taken prisoner of war for three years.

George WashingtonBut your research doesn’t have to stop there. If you wanted to discover more about Morris than you found in his pension file, you could look in the Revolutionary War Rolls to find him listed on a muster roll during his time as a prisoner. If you were interested in learning more what Morris’s time as a prisoner of war may have been like, you could search for accounts of other Revolutionary War POWs—in places like the pension files, the Pennsylvania Archives, the papers of the Continental Congress, and elsewhere.

Or if you’d rather flesh out your understanding of the battle Morris was captured in, then you could read George Washington’s own account of the Battle of Germantown in the papers of the Continental Congress.

There’s a lot to discover in the Revolutionary War Collection. Start your own exploration here.

New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts

June 18, 2015 by | 4 Comments

Regiment information for the 2nd Mounted Rifles
Do you have New York ancestors? If so, take some time to explore Fold3’s new collection of New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts.

Like its title suggests, this collection, from microfilm at the New York State Archives, is made up of abstracts compiled from original muster rolls for New York volunteer units (mostly infantry but also some cavalry, artillery, engineers, and USCT) from the Civil War. In addition to information on individual soldiers, the collection also may contain regiment information—including lists of officers—and the occasional unit history. The information in the collection is organized by regiment, then soldier surname.

Information on the abstract forms may include the soldier’s name, date of enlistment, age, place of enlistment, grade, company, regiment, reason for leaving, promotions, participation in engagements, wounds, and physical appearance. Miscellaneous documents related to the soldier’s service are also occasionally included with their abstract, such as enlistment papers, certificates of discharge, reversals of desertion charges, grade adjustments, name clarifications, mustering out notifications, and many others.

Let’s take a look at an example of one of the muster roll abstracts and see what we can learn:

From Andrew Langmade’s abstract we see that he was born in Yorkshire, New York, on 24 May 1848 to parents William and Laura. A farmer by trade, on 12 December 1861, at age 21, Langmade enlisted at Yorkshire for a period of three years. He was mustered in on either 26 or 29 March 1862 as a sergeant in Company K of the 105th Infantry. He served in the battles of Antietam and Second Bull Run and was promoted in either October or December of 1862. In March 1863, he was transferred to Company K of the 94th NY Infantry. He was taken prisoner at Gettysburg in July 1863 but wasn’t paroled until August 1864. He was finally discharged 26 April 1865.

Muster roll abstract for George H Dore

You can find all sorts of fascinating details in the New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, such as that Urbane Lyon played in a brigade band, that Alexander Klaucke enlisted under an assumed name, that George Dore was awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing a Confederate flag, or that Robert McLaughlin was held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Andersonville Prison.

Want to begin looking for your New York Civil War ancestors? Get started searching or browsing the New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts here.

Find: War Dogs of World War II

June 12, 2015 by | 58 Comments

WWII Dogs
Unlike many other countries, when the United States entered World War II, they didn’t have a canine corps. But the military came to believe that dogs would prove an asset, so in 1942 a war dog program was introduced. Since the country was already at war, the military needed a large number of dogs right away, so they asked Americans to volunteer their pet dogs for service in the Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.

In the beginning, they accepted almost any kind of medium- to larger-size dog, but they eventually found that some breeds were better for service than others and limited the accepted breeds mainly to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies, Giant Schnauzers, Airedale Terriers, Rottweilers, Huskies, Malamutes, Eskimo dogs and mutts that were predominantly any of those breeds.

Americans volunteered almost 20,000 of their beloved pets, but only about half of that number were accepted and trained. Of those, only around 2,000 were finally sent overseas; the rest were used stateside.

The vast majority of dogs the military accepted were trained as sentry dogs. These dogs were used as guard dogs at various types of military installations and by the Coast Guard to patrol shorelines. Also highly valued, by both the Army and the Marines, were scout dogs. These dogs went ahead of patrols and silently alerted their handlers if they sensed anyone nearby.

There were other types of dogs trained by the military, but they were used less than sentry and scout dogs. These included sled and pack dogs, mine detection dogs, and messenger dogs.

Sled dogs at work in AlaskaAfter the war ended, the dogs were “demilitarized” and taught to socialize and act like normal dogs again. Dogs that successfully completed that process were sent back to their original owners—if the owners still wanted them. If the dogs were unwanted, they were either adopted by their former handlers or sold to new families. Want to see these war dogs? On Fold3, you can find a few photos of WWII’s canine soldiers and the men who worked with them:

  • A photo of “Ricky,” half collie, half shepherd, of the 6th War Dog Platoon, crawling into mouth of a cave on Iwo Jima
  • A photo of a Huskie sled team helping to rescue the crew of a downed Douglas C-47 in Alaska
  • A photo of Casimir P. “Casey” Gorajec of the U.S. Army’s Canine Corps in New Caledonia

Learn more about Word War II topics in Fold3’s World War II Collection!

The Battle of Bunker Hill: June 17, 1775

June 1, 2015 by | 66 Comments

Battle of Bunker Hill Image
On June 17, 1775, American colonists clashed with the British in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution.

At the time, the British occupying Boston were under siege and thus aimed to take the nearby and strategically valuable Dorchester Heights. In response, the Americans decided to build defenses on the Charlestown peninsula, which was just over the river from Boston. Originally ordered to dig in on Bunker Hill, the senior officers decided instead to build their redoubt on nearby Breed’s Hill, which was closer to Boston. On the night of June 16—17, the Americans worked to build a redoubt and in the morning began a breastwork as well.

The British realized what the Americans were up to and, when morning came, planned an attack. They decided to send some of the British forces in a frontal assault against the redoubt and breastwork while the main attack would hit the American left, which was weak. However, during the time it took for the British to cross the river and then wait for reinforcements, the Americans strengthened their left with last-minute fortifications.

1875 centennial reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill

The majority of the fighting took place at three locations on or near Breed’s Hill: the redoubt and breastwork, a rail fence to the breastwork’s left rear, and a stone wall down on the beach below the rail fence. Americans at the stone wall and rail fence successfully held off the British when they came at the Americans’ left. However, the British attack at the redoubt and breastwork, though repulsed twice, eventually overwhelmed the Americans, once the British artillery joined in and the colonists ran low on gunpowder and ammunition. The British and Americans engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting within the redoubt, and the Americans were forced to abandon their position and retreat off the peninsula.

Excerpt of letter to Congress from American wounded at Battle of Bunker Hill
Despite the British victory, casualties were high. Approximately 1,054 out of 2,500 British were killed or wounded. As for the Americans, they suffered around 450 casualties out of a force of 3,000 (though probably only about half that number were actually engaged in the battle). Although the Battle of Bunker Hill was a loss for the Americans, it eventually came to represent the colonists’ ability to take on the renowned British army.

Did you have ancestors who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill? Tell us about it! Or if you want to learn more about the battle and the people who fought in it, start a search on Fold3.

150th Anniversary (1865–2015) This Month in the Civil War: Final Surrenders of the War

June 1, 2015 by | 14 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

June 1865 was the month of two of the final surrenders of Confederate land forces at the end of the Civil War.

At the beginning of June, Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith signed the documents that surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department—the last unsurrendered Confederate department, comprising approximately 36,000 troops—to the Federals. Although Smith had rejected a surrender proposed by John Pope in mid-May, once Smith began hearing about the surrender of Joseph E. Johnston and the capture of Jefferson Davis, he sent his chief of staff, Simon Buckner, to meet with Union general Edward Canby in New Orleans on May 26 to accept the terms of surrender and sign the agreement. Then, a week later, on June 2, Smith traveled to Galveston, Texas, to put his own signature on the documents.

James Waddell of the CSS Shenandoah says he was unaware of the end of the Civil War
The last Confederate general to surrender was Stand Watie. On June 23, Watie, a Cherokee chief and brigadier general, surrendered his First Indian Brigade (composed of Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, and Osages) at Doaksville, in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

Also in June, the CSS Shenandoah, a Confederate raider, fired the final shot of the Civil War. Unaware that the war had ended, the ship’s commander, James Waddell, continued attacking U.S. shipping and on June 22 fired at a whaling boat in the Bering Sea. On August 2, Waddell learned from a British ship that the war was over and, rather than surrendering in the U.S., sailed 17,000 miles to turn his ship over in Britain on November 5.

Find: WWII Color Photos

May 20, 2015 by | 23 Comments

WWII Color Photo
When many of us think of photos from World War II, we think of black-and-white images. After all, most of the iconic photographs from the war—like those capturing the flag raising on Iwo Jima or the VJ Day kiss in Times Square—are in that medium. But actually, color photography had slowly been becoming more popular and available in the years leading up to the war. So while it was still quicker and easier to shoot and develop black-and-white photos, a growing number of war photographers began using color film to capture the people, places, and events of the World War II, giving us a chance today to see the war how those who lived through it did—in living color.

Fold3’s WWII US Air Force Photos collection includes some of these color images, mainly from US operations in England, Germany, France, Panama, and China. A few of the many color photographs on Fold3 include:

WWII Pilots
Want to find more WWII color photographs on Fold3? Search the WWII US Air Force Photos for the term “color.” Or you can look through the selection highlighted on the Fold3 topic page “Color Photos from World War II.”