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Find: Lincoln’s Assassination

April 20, 2015 by | 0 comments

Abraham Lincoln
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was shot on April 14 around 10 o’clock at night while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.

The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, entered the Lincolns’ box and shot the president in the back of the head before jumping out of the box and escaping the theater. President Lincoln, who never regained consciousness, was taken to a boardinghouse across the street, where he died nine hours after being shot, at 7:22 in the morning.

About the same time as Lincoln’s assassination, one of Booth’s co-conspirators seriously wounded Secretary of State William Seward. Vice President Andrew Johnson was also an intended target, but his would-be assassin lost his nerve and did not attack. The final target was allegedly Ulysses S. Grant, though no successful attempt was made on his life.

Sgt. Boston Corbett, who shot John Wilkes Booth
Booth was shot and killed less than two weeks later, on the 26th, after being tracked down in Virginia by Union troops. Eight others suspected of being involved in the plot were tried before a military tribunal that began in May, and the four sentenced to death were hanged in July.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lincoln’s murder and the conspiracy surrounding it, explore Fold3’s Lincoln Assassination Papers, which are part of the Civil War Collection. Here, you’ll find documents from the investigation into the plot, as well as records from the military tribunal that tried the conspirators. These documents include:

  • Letters received by Colonel H. L. Burnett (who was specially assigned to investigate the assassination and later appointed as an assistant judge advocate to the military commission)
  • Letters and telegrams sent by Colonel Burnett’s office, as well as a register of letters received by that office, a record book (of synopses of possible evidence for the trial), and an endorsement book (of letters forwarded from Burnett’s office to other people or offices)
  • Conspirators in the death of President LincolnLetters received and statements of evidence collected by the military commission
  • Issues of the Daily National Intelligencer (a Washington DC newspaper) related to the trial
  • Proceedings of the trial
  • Exhibits used in the trial
  • Defenses of S. Arnold, E. Spangler, L. Payne, M. O’Laughlin, and D. Herold (five of the alleged conspirators)
  • Argument of J. A. Bingham (who was also appointed an assistant judge advocate to the military commission), delivered at the trial

And, of course, additional information about Lincoln can also be found elsewhere in Fold3’s Civil War Collection. So if you want to learn more about Lincoln’s assassination and the trial that followed, search or browse the collections on Fold3.

Free Access to the Civil War Collection

April 16, 2015 by | 1 Comment

Gun squad at drill
April was a big month in the American Civil War. Not only did the conflict begin in April 1861, but this year marks the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Grant, as well as Lincoln’s assassination, in April 1865. In commemoration of the Civil War and Confederate History Month, Fold3 invites you to explore all records in its Civil War Collection for free April 13th to 30th.

There are currently over 43 million records in the Civil War Collection, including everything from military records to personal accounts and historic writings.

Soldier records include (among others):

Other record types include things like photographs, images of artifacts, and original war maps. Items such as the Lincoln Assassination Papers, Sultana Disaster documents, letters to the Adjutant General and Commission Branch, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, and the 1860 census are also contained in the Civil War Collection.

Confederate-specific records in the collection include documents like:

200 lb Gun on Morris Island
Join Fold3 in its commemoration of the Civil War and Confederate History Month, and discover information on famous participants as well as your own Civil War ancestors through documents, photos, and images that capture the experiences of those involved in America’s deadliest conflict. Get started searching the Civil War Collection here.

Lee Surrenders to Grant: April 9, 1865

April 1, 2015 by | 77 Comments

Map of General Lee's Surrender
On April 9, 1865, 150 years ago this month, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, signaling the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

After Lee’s hold on Richmond and Petersburg broke, he hoped to take his army to meet up with Joseph E. Johnston‘s troops. But things came to a head with the Union Army as Lee neared Appomattox Court House. On April 6, he lost 8,000 men to the Federals in engagements at Sailor’s (Sayler’s) Creek. Grant, aware that Lee’s already dwindling army was now at an even further disadvantage, sent him a message suggesting surrender. Lee was not ready to surrender but did ask Grant for his terms.

Appomattox Court House
Lee hoped to break through the Union troops that were blocking his army’s progression and planned a last ditch attempt for the morning of the 9th. When it became clear that this attempt would fail, Lee, having already dismissed the possibility of resorting to guerrilla warfare, arranged to meet with Grant to surrender his army.

The two generals met in a home in Appomattox Court House later that day. Lee dressed in his best, while Grant, whose baggage had gone astray some days prior, arrived in a mud-stained uniform. The terms of surrender stated that all arms, artillery, and public property (except officers’ side arms and horses) were to be turned over, and that the paroled men, both officers and enlisted, were to return to their homes and not take up arms again until properly exchanged. Grant also allowed Lee’s two requests: that the enlisted men also be permitted to keep their own horses and that rations be provided for his starving army.

Description of what constituted the Army of Northern Virginia at time of surrender
The official surrender ceremony occurred a few days later, on the 12th. Though Lee’s army had surrendered, the war wasn’t over. There were still other Confederate troops in the field. But the Army of Northern Virginia had not only been the most successful of the Confederate armies, it—and Lee—had also taken on a symbolic power. So as other Confederate generals heard of Lee’s surrender, they too began to capitulate over the next month. President Andrew Johnson officially declared an end to hostilities on May 9.

Interested in learning more about Lee’s surrender or about other aspects of the Civil War? Explore Fold3’s Civil War Collection.

150th Anniversary (1865–2015) This Month in the Civil War: Sultana Disaster

April 1, 2015 by | 18 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

In the early morning of April 27, 1865, boilers on the steamboat SS Sultana exploded, killing more than a thousand recently released POWs in what is often called the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

Toward the end of the Civil War, huge numbers of paroled military prisoners needed to be sent home, which was often done via steamboats with government contracts. Imprisoned Union soldiers at Cahaba (Alabama) and Andersonville (Georgia) prisons were sent to Camp Fisk, near Vicksburg, Mississippi, to be released. Because steamboat captains were paid per head, more than 2,000 of these soldiers were crammed aboard the Sultana, which had the legal capacity to carry only 376. Between the private passengers (including women and children), the soldiers, and crew, some estimates place the number aboard the boat as high as 2,600. There were so many people that the decks of the multi-level steamboat had to be reinforced to keep them from collapsing under the weight.

Sultana Inspector's Certificate
After leaving Vicksburg, the now overcrowded and top-heavy Sultana made its way up the Mississippi River toward Cairo, Illinois, picking up and letting off a few private passengers along the way. Shortly after leaving Memphis, however, around 2 a.m. on the 27th, the boat’s boilers exploded (though some later suggested it was sabotage), releasing scalding steam and setting the boat on fire. Most of the people jumped into the water, but since many of the POWs were in a weakened condition, they quickly drowned.

About an hour and a half later, the first survivors drifted downriver to Memphis, where their cries summoned help. Rescue parties were sent out, but by the time they were called off that afternoon, only about 700 had been saved, 200 to 300 of which died soon after from injuries and exposure. Estimates vary, but one commonly accepted death toll for the disaster is 1,700.

No one was ever really held responsible for the Sultana‘s fate. Captain Frederick Speed, assistant adjutant general for the region, was found guilty at a court-martial for his role in overcrowding the boat, but the verdict was later reversed.

To learn more about the Sultana Disaster, browse Fold3’s Sultana Disaster collection to see original documents and records.

Content Update: WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files

March 19, 2015 by | 13 Comments

WWII Cadet Nursing Corps
One new collection on Fold3 is the WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, which contains membership cards of women who joined the corps.

The Cadet Nursing Corps was created in 1943 under the U.S. Public Health Service to help fill a growing need for nurses that had been compounded by World War II. Between 1943 and 1948 (the years the program ran), about 179,000 students between the ages of 17 and 35 joined the corps, with roughly 124,000 of them graduating.

The program was federally funded, and the majority of nursing schools in the nation participated. The normal 36-month nursing program was condensed to a maximum of 30 months, with hands-on hospital or health-agency experience constituting the last 6 months. Cadets committed to serve upon graduation in either civilian or military healthcare positions for the duration of the war; in return, they received free tuition and fees, free uniforms, and a monthly stipend.

Be a Cadet Nurse
The Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files on Fold3 are organized by state, nursing school, and cadet name. There are a few different card formats. Some cards include the date of admission to the school, date of admission to the corps, and date of graduation (or date of other reason for termination from the school). Other cards contain details like the woman’s marital status, father’s/husband’s name and profession, years of college completed, place of residence, and how they heard about the corps. Still others also record the woman’s age in addition to the previously mentioned information.

Do you have a mother, grandmother, or other relative who was a member of the Cadet Nursing Corps? If so, look for them in the WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files!

Find: The Women’s Army Corps

March 13, 2015 by | 58 Comments

Join the WAC
Did you know that Fold3 has a huge number of documents from World War II about the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), including hundreds of photos? If you’re not already familiar with the WAC, you might be surprised to find out just how versatile this group was during the war.

The WAC was originally formed as the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) in 1942 as an auxiliary to the Army, but in 1943 it was incorporated into that military branch and renamed the WAC. The goal of the WAC was to free up men for WWII combat by replacing them with women in noncombatant military jobs. The women of the WAC (called WACs) worked with the Army in over 200 types of positions, including as clerks, stenographers, secretaries, teletype operators, mechanics, instructors, weather forecasters, course plotters, photo analysts, telephone operators, parachute riggers, drivers, radio operators, electricians, and cryptographers. However, within this diverse array of jobs, WACs were most often assigned to clerical and communications jobs, which the Army deemed appropriate for women.

Over the course WAAC becomes WAC in 1943 of the war, around 150,000 WACs served at home and abroad, in places like England, France, Italy, New Guinea, the South Pacific, North Africa, China, and India—just to name a few. Although they sometimes faced discrimination and criticism, WACs were in high demand, and the officers they worked with—including General Eisenhower—often praised them for their hard work and skill. Their admirable qualities were proven by the fact that at the end of the war, 657 WACs received citations and medals.
Do you have any family members who served in the WAAC or WAC? You can find all sorts of information and images from the Corps on Fold3.

Spanish Flu Pandemic Begins: March 1918

March 1, 2015 by | 122 Comments

Spanish Flu: 401st Ponton Park
In early March 1918, soldiers with the flu began reporting to the infirmary at Camp Funston, an army training camp in Kansas. Within three weeks, 1,100 men at that camp had also come down with the flu. It was the start of a pandemic that would kill as many as 100 million people worldwide.

Though commonly called the Spanish flu (because of a highly publicized outbreak in Spain), it likely began in Haskell, Kansas, where it spread to Camp Funston and from there to the rest of the world. Wartime conditions, like troop movements and overcrowded cantonments, accelerated and aggravated the spread of the virus, which proved to be much deadlier than the normal flu, in part because of a particularly tough strain of pneumonia that often accompanied it.

119 out of 204 soldiers sick with Spanish flu; 3 die
The Spanish flu afflicted cities across the nation and around the world, but since it disproportionately hit young adults in their prime, the military felt its effects strongly. The US Navy would later estimate that 40 percent of its men had gotten the Spanish flu, while the Army reported 36 percent. Of the three waves of the flu (March–June, September–November, December–March), the second wave was the deadliest for both civilians and for the military. In fact, between September and November, the flu killed about as many soldiers as World War I did in that same time period.

The Spanish flu affected the war itself as it ravaged the armies of both the Allies and the Axis. While many soldiers were sick for three days or so and then began to recover, a substantial number either developed the deadly pneumonia as well or contracted a version of the flu that could kill in as little as 24 hours. For every soldier that died, another four or five were too sick for weeks afterward to carry out their duties. Military attacks and operations on both sides had to be postponed because of the huge number of soldiers incapacitated by the flu.

35 squadron members sick with Spanish flu; 3 of them die
Despite failed attempts by the medical community to control the virus, the pandemic eventually began to die down on its own, with the worst of the third wave finished in the United States by the end of March 1919. By 1920, the danger was finally over.

Learn more about the Spanish flu pandemic on Fold3. The WWI Officer Experience Reports are an especially good source for first-hand accounts about life in the military during the flu pandemic.