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Creation of the Seabees: January 5, 1942

January 1, 2015 by | 148 Comments

Tarawa, Gilbert - Bombing
January 5 marks the day in 1942 that Rear Admiral Ben Moreell was given authorization to create the Seabees, the naval force that would carry out an astonishingly diverse array of construction tasks at home and abroad for the Navy during World War II.

The creation of the Seabees (short for Construction Battalions) was deemed essential following America’s entrance into the war, when it became clear that, rather than continuing to use civilian contractors who couldn’t defend themselves against enemy attack, the navy needed military men to build bases, landing strips, and so on in current and potential war zones.

Seabee Personnel Matters
In the beginning, Seabees were recruited on a voluntary basis from over 60 construction trades and ranged in age from 18 to 50, with an average age of 37. But after December 1942, they were drafted via the Selective Service System, and the average age dropped. By the war’s end, about 325,000 men had served in the Seabees.

The motto of the Seabees was “We Build, We Fight,” and build they did. Whether serving in the Pacific or the Atlantic, they took on an amazing range of projects, often using ingenuity and a “can do” attitude to accomplish what seemed to be impossible. Some of their most common projects included unloading ships; building, enlarging, and maintaining bases; building pontoon causeways; cutting roads; serving in demolition units; building piers, wharfs, breakwaters, and offshore docks; operating landing craft; repairing damaged buildings; installing plumbing, lighting, communication lines, and power lines; making and repairing airstrips, airfields, and control towers; and building hospitals, warehouses, chapels, and housing—just to name a few.

Seabees building and airstrip
Although the Seabees weren’t generally used in active combat, they frequently landed with the assault forces and thus were trained to be able to defend themselves if necessary. One famous Seabee, Aurelio Tassone, earned a Silver Star when he used his bulldozer to crush an enemy-occupied pillbox in the Solomon Islands. The comparable bravery of many other Seabees was reflected in the 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses they earned in the war—and by the fact that almost 300 of them were killed in action.

Do you have any Seabee relatives? If so, try looking for them or their battalions on Fold3. Or if the Seabees in general have caught your interest, try doing a broader search to find thousands of documents about the force.

150th Anniversary (1865–2015) This Month in the Civil War: Fall of Fort Fisher

January 1, 2015 by | 11 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher, in North Carolina, fell after a three-day combined land-and-sea assault by Union troops.

In December, Union major general Benjamin Butler had tried to bring down the Confederate fort (known as the “Gibraltar of the South” for its defenses) with the assistance of Rear Admiral David D. Porter but had aborted his attack. Butler was replaced with Major General Alfred H. Terry, who, along with Porter, tried again in January to take the fort, which sat on a peninsula guarding the river entrance to Wilmington, North Carolina, the last major Confederate port on the Atlantic and a supply lifeline for the Confederacy and its army.

Fort FisherOn the 13th, Porter and his 60 ships began a grueling bombardment of the fort. This lasted until 3 o’clock on the 15th, when Terry and half of his 8,000 available troops—along with 2,000 marines and sailors—began the land attack. The marines and sailors, who streamed down the peninsula to attack from the seaward side, suffered heavy losses from Confederate fire in their unsuccessful attempt, but they served as a distraction from Terry’s main force, which came at the fort from the river side.

After bloody hand-to-hand fighting, the Union force managed to take the fort. However, although the Union troops were the victors—and outnumbered the Confederates—they suffered more severe losses: 1,300 killed or wounded compared to the Confederates’ 500. Wilmington would fall into Union hands a month later.

For the full official correspondence regarding the second battle for Fort Fisher, see Fold3’s Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, series 1, volume 11, pages 425–596.

Unbroken: 307th Bomb Group Records

December 22, 2014 by | 20 Comments

Louis Zamperini's Survival Story Part 1
Though you’re probably unfamiliar with the 307th Bomb Group, you may have heard of one of its members: Louis Zamperini, whose World War II survival story is the subject of the popular book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, and the new film of the same title, directed by Angelina Jolie.

If Unbroken has sparked your interest about Zamperini’s life, Fold3’s 307th Bomb Group Records (part of our Contributed Military Group Records collection) gives you access to some fascinating documents related to his life.

  • A three-part article from 1945 detailing Zamperini’s amazing story of survival (part 1, part 2, part 3)
  • A special order from August 25, 1942, assigning Zamperini to bachelor officer quarters
  • A list of Zamperini’s combat crew on October 19, 1942, from a special order for the 307th Bomb Group to move from Iowa to California
  • A list of the crew members of Zamperini’s B-24D on October 24, 1942, from an operations order for the 307th Bomb Group to report to Hawaii
  • A list of Air Force personnel captured by the Japanese

307th Bomb Group Aircraft
But, of course, these records of the 307th that Fold3 is helping to preserve go far beyond only Zamperini’s experiences. Serving in the Pacific, this decorated bomb group received two Distinguished Unit Citations and was also awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, not to mention the silver stars and other medals earned by individual members.

Records from this bomb group include newspaper articles and other publications, flight records, mission reports, personal accounts and letters, photos, service records, and unit records, just to name a few. The collection also includes historical memorabilia like WWII-era advertisements, comics, propaganda, and foreign currency.

307th Bomb Group Personnel Group

So if you have family members who served in the 307th or are interested in learning more about Louis Zamperini, take a look at Fold3’s 307th Bomb Group Records. (You can also find additional records about Zamperini in other Fold3 collections by doing a search for his name from the search box). Or you may want to browse other contributed group records, like those of the 63rd, 70th, and 137th Infantry Divisions and the 497th and 500th Bomb Groups.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Battle of Nashville

December 4, 2014 by | 41 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

Following the Battle of Franklin, which had devastated John Bell Hood‘s Confederate forces, Hood pursued the Union troops to Nashville, where they had joined with those of George H. Thomas. Now vastly outnumbered, Hood’s battered Army of Tennessee took a defensive position parallel to the Union lines on December 2, 1864, and waited for the Union attack.

Thomas finally began his offensive on December 15. He directed part of his troops to attack Hood’s right, while the majority of his forces were sent in a wheeling maneuver to smash into Hood’s left flank. The plan proved successful, but night fell just as Hood’s left crumbled, preventing a rout. During the night, Hood pulled back about two miles from his former position and formed a more compact line.

Mathew Brady Photo of Nashville, TennesseeThe next day, Thomas’s troops again attacked, using much the same tactics as the day before. This time when Hood’s left flank collapsed, it took the rest of the line with it. Confederate soldiers fled despite their commanders’ attempts to halt them, though Stephen D. Lee managed to pull together enough troops to defend the Confederate rear as the army fell back. Thomas’s troops pursued the Confederates for the next 10 days, until Hood crossed the Tennessee River.

After his disastrous Franklin-Nashville Campaign, Hood resigned his command. The Battle of Nashville was the final blow for both the Army of Tennessee and Hood’s military career.

The U.S. Avoids War with Britain: December 26, 1861

December 2, 2014 by | 55 Comments

Charles Wilkes
On December 26, 1861, President Lincoln and his cabinet decided to release imprisoned Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell in order to avoid the possibility of war with Britain, thus concluding the diplomatic uproar known as the Trent Affair.

It all started when an overzealous Union commander, Charles Wilkes, stopped a British mail ship, the Trent, in the Caribbean on November 8. Wilkes knew that the ship was carrying Mason and Slidell on their way to Europe to argue the Confederacy’s case in London and Paris. Wilkes had the Trent boarded, and Mason and Slidell (and their two secretaries) were illegally removed from the ship. (To make it legal, Wilkes would’ve had to capture the ship as well and take it to a maritime prize court to have the legality of the seizure decisively determined—but Wilkes only took the two men and not the ship.)

Letter of congratulations from the Sec. of the Navy to Captain Wilkes
When Wilkes made it back to America with the four Confederates in tow, the nation was ecstatic, with the Secretary of the Navy expressing his thanks and Congress even awarding him a gold medal for his actions. Not only had the United States thumbed its nose at the Confederacy, but at Britain as well, who was seen as having Southern sympathies. But when news reached Britain of the men’s capture, the reaction was opposite of the Americans’—everyone was outraged, particularly since it wasn’t initially clear if this breach of Britain’s neutrality was done with the sanction of the U.S. government.

Tensions escalated until soon both sides were talking about the possibility of war. To show the United States its breach of Britain’s neutrality had been serious, Britain ordered thousands of troops to sail to Canada and sent the Americans a dispatch (via the British minister to the United States) that implied repercussions unless the U.S. government apologized and released Mason, Slidell, and the secretaries.

US gov't agrees to release Mason and SlidellAfter two days of meetings, on December 25 and 26, Secretary of State William Seward convinced Lincoln and his cabinet to agree to release the four Confederates from prison. So on January 1, Mason and Slidell were allowed to resume their journey to Europe, thus averting the threat of war.

For the full official correspondence regarding the Trent Affair, see Fold3’s Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, series 1, volume 1, pages 129–202. Or search Fold3 for other people and topics that interest you.

Compiled Military Service Records of the Civil War

November 18, 2014 by | 40 Comments

Gardner Pasho Civil War Muster Roll
The Compiled Military Service Records (CMSRs) are one of the best places to look for information on the military careers of your Civil War ancestors. Compiled by the Record and Pension Division of the War Department starting in the 1890s, the Civil War CMSRs contain basic military service information for soldiers in the volunteer armies (and in a few cases for women attached to the armies, often via hospital service as matrons, laundresses, etc.).

The information in a soldier’s CMSR was originally consolidated from a variety of sources and summarized on card abstracts, which were then filed using a system of envelopes, with one envelope per soldier per regiment. The sources for the card abstracts included muster rolls, regimental returns, pay vouchers, hospital rolls, and other such records. In addition to the cards, some CMSRs also contain personal papers such as casualty sheets, discharge certificates, enlistment papers, inventories of personal effects, medical records, or even photos, newspaper articles, and letters.

Gardner Paho Enlistment PapersAlthough Fold3 already has many of these CMSRs, our collection is still growing! Whereas previously for some states, Fold3 had index cards rather than the full CMSRs, we’re now adding (or planning to add) the complete documents for Union soldiers from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington DC. We’ve also already added full CMSRs for the U.S. Colored Troops.

The new CMSRs are being scanned directly from the original papers at the National Archives (rather than from microfilm), which means that this the first time these records will be available digitally. However, it also means that the process may be lengthy, since the records have to be carefully scanned page by page.

Gardner Pasho Hospital Stay Record

Just to give you an idea of the type of information you can find in CMSRs, let’s look at the service record of Gardner Pasho, who served in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. From a card abstract of his company’s muster roll we learn that he enlisted as a private at age 18 on 9 December 1863 for a period of 3 years and that he had black eyes and dark hair and was 5’7″. From subsequent card abstracts, we find out that Pasho was absent from his company from May to August 1864 because he was in a dismounted camp and was absent from September to December due to illness. In January 1865, Pasho was back on duty until his company was mustered out in June. In addition to the card abstracts, Pasho’s CMSR also contains some personal documents, like his enlistment papers and records from his hospital stay (which include a photograph of him).

Interested in taking a look at the Civil War CMSRs? Begin searching or browsing them here.

Free Access to the World War II Collection

November 10, 2014 by | 2 Comments

In honor of Veterans Day, Fold3 is offering free access to our World War II Collection November 10-30. Explore the records of the war that shaped America’s “greatest generation”—and look for your family’s own WWII heroes along the way.

WWII DocumentsWhether you’re interested in historical aspects of the war or are searching for specific individuals who fought in it, Fold3’s WWII Collection likely has what you need. A few of the most popular titles in this collection are

If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a look at our WWII Collection, you might be unfamiliar with our new and updated titles, which include

WWII DocumentsYou never know what you might find. For instance, one user recently found their father-in-law’s name in the Pearl Harbor Muster Rolls, while another found their grandfather’s draft card in the WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards. Other fun and interesting user finds have included photos of famous personalities in the WWII US Air Force Photos, like one of actor Clark Gable in England serving as an Air Force captain and one of Eleanor Roosevelt visiting an air base in New Caledonia.

A great way to honor a WWII veteran in your family—or anyone who served in a U.S. conflict—is to make a Memorial Page for them on Fold3’s Honor Wall. If a search of the Honor Wall for the person’s name doesn’t bring up an existing Memorial Page, you can easily create one yourself. Not only can you include documents and images from Fold3’s collections on a Memorial Page, but you can upload records and photos from your own collection and add facts, stories, and memories to the page. Create, expand, or update as many Memorial Pages as you’d like: the Honor Wall is a great way to commemorate your veteran relatives and ancestors and share their stories with family and friends.

Get started searching the Honor Wall here or exploring the World War II Collection here.