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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.

Dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns: November 11, 1921

November 1, 2014 by | 68 Comments

Body of Unknown Soldier taken off the USS OlympiaOn November 11, 1921, President Harding presided over the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns, also commonly called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which originally honored fallen American servicemen from World War I whose remains had not been identified.

Congress approved the creation of the memorial in March 1921. To ensure that the identity of the American really was unknown, the bodies of four unidentified WWI servicemen were disinterred from various French cemeteries. They were placed in identical caskets and brought to Chalons-sur-Marne, France, where Sgt. Edward F. Younger, a war hero, selected one of the four caskets at random during a ceremony at the city hall on October 24.

Pres. Harding and Gen. Pershing participate in funeral procession for Unknown SoldierThe selected casket was placed on board the USS Olympia during another ceremony and sent to the United States, where it arrived on November 9. The casket was brought with much dignity to the Capitol, where the casket was put on public display on the 10th. An estimated 90,000 people came to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier—so many that the rotunda was kept open until midnight to accommodate them all.

On the morning of November 11, the newly declared Armistice Day holiday, the enormous funeral procession for the Unknown Solider proceeded from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery. During the funeral at Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater, President Harding gave a speech and bestowed the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross on the Unknown Soldier; other nations also bestowed their highest honors.

Unknown Soldiers from WWII and Korea interred at ArlingtonThe casket was then moved to the tomb, where a funeral service was read, and then officials and dignitaries laid wreaths and other tributes. The funeral ended with the playing of Taps and a 21-gun salute.

At the time of the burial, the tomb had yet to be completed. The marble structure that now stands was installed in 1932 and bears the inscription “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.” Unknown soldiers representing the fallen of World War II and the Korean War were laid to rest at the monument in 1958. A soldier from the Vietnam War was interred at the monument in 1984, but through DNA testing the body was positively identified in 1998 and returned to his family.

If you’re interested in honoring your own family’s military heroes, consider creating or expanding a Memorial Page for them on Fold3’s Honor Wall.

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

November 1, 2014 by | 35 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

The Battle of Franklin, on November 30, 1864, was the second engagement in two days between John Bell Hood‘s troops and John M. Schofield‘s, the first being the Battle of Spring Hill on the 29th. Following Spring Hill, however, Schofield and his Union soldiers slipped through Hood’s grasp during the night. Schofield’s aim was to join up with George H. Thomas‘s troops in Nashville, but he was slowed in Franklin, Tennessee, by the damaged bridges over the Harpeth River. Schofield’s men repaired the bridges, and the Union wagons were almost all across when Hood and his troops arrived in pursuit.

Battle of Franklin Battle MapDespite the fact that the open terrain was a disadvantage to the Confederates, Hood ordered a frontal attack against the Union defenses that commenced at 4 p.m. After initial, temporary success in breaking through the Union lines, each ensuing Confederate attempt was repulsed. When the battle slowed to a stop long after dark, Hood intended to restart the battle in the morning, but he discovered the next day that Schofield had again slipped away in the night. Hood pursued Schofield but couldn’t catch up to him before his arrival at Nashville.

The battle proved disastrous for Hood’s army. Between Spring Hill and Franklin, casualties for Hood’s troops totaled 7,500 (compared to Schofield’s 2,500), with heavy casualties among the Confederate leadership as well. When combined with the ensuing Battle of Nashville, it was the end of the war in the West for the Confederates.

Find: Baseball on Fold3

October 17, 2014 by | 10 Comments

500th Bomb Group Exhibition Baseball Game
Break out the peanuts and Cracker Jack—it’s time for the World Series! While Fold3 might not be the first place you’d think to find interesting bits of baseball history, in reality it has many quality photos and anecdotes about America’s favorite pastime, especially in the World War II collection.

The World War II collection may strike you as an unusual resource for finding stories and photos about baseball, but in the 1940s, baseball was America’s most popular sport, and the hardships of World War II didn’t change that enthusiasm very much, especially among the nation’s servicemen.

If anything, America’s fighting men—and women—seemed to embrace the sport all the more during the war, as it reminded them of home and gave them a sense of continuity in a new life that was nothing like their civilian one. Baseball also served as a mutual interest for servicemen from widely different backgrounds and situations. In fact, baseball was such a common denominator in the military that answers to questions like “Who won the World Series?” became the basis for various passwords and authenticity tests.

Army Nurses Play BaseballThe military saw baseball as an important morale booster for the men in its ranks. It supplied equipment for pickup games and set up many servicemen’s baseball leagues, particularly stateside but also overseas. The European Theater of Operations even had its own World Series.

The quality of some military baseball teams was helped by the addition of thousands of minor- and major-league baseball players who had either enlisted or been drafted. The most famous of them, players like Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, were largely kept from the frontlines and instead served in more of an entertainment capacity, playing in exhibition games that were attended by tens of thousands of servicemen.

For the men overseas (or on the sea) who couldn’t get to a game or play in one themselves, the military provided delayed broadcasts of the World Series and other major league games, as well as scores and statistics, to help the men maintain their connection to the game they loved. (Although, at least one sailor didn’t let the lack of a field stop him from setting up a game of softball on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.)

Famous Boston Infield of 1900In addition to the World War II collection, you can also find particularly good baseball photos on Fold3 in the Boston Public Library’s McGreevey Collection. This collection has dozens of images of players and games from the early 20th century, including various World Series.

So if baseball’s your game, search Fold3 to find thousands of photos and stories about the sport.

Find: Personal Interviews in the WWII War Diaries

October 10, 2014 by | 10 Comments

Personal Interview of Landon L. Davis Jr.
If you’ve spent any time looking through Fold3’s WWII War Diaries, you probably know it as a huge collection of action reports and day-to-day activity records submitted by Navy and Marine Corps units. But if you dig a little deeper into the collection, you’ll find that it also has more than 800 pages of personal interviews with Navy officers—many of them submarine commanders—as well as a few Marines about their experiences in World War II. Each interview has an introductory page that gives a short summary of the narrative’s highlights, helping you more easily determine if the content would interest you or not.

All the interviews are worth a read, but listed below are some that stand out for the quality of their information and for their readability or humor:

  • An interview with Lt. Commander Landon L. Davis, Jr., of the USS Pampanito (submarine) about rescuing Allied prisoners of war from the water after the Japanese ship they were on was sunk.
  • An interview with Captain Arthur Lawrence Maher, gunnery officer on the USS Houston (heavy cruiser), about the sinking of the Houston in the Battle of Sunda Strait, his subsequent capture by the Japanese, and life in prison camps.
  • An interview with Commander Chester C. Smith of the USS Swordfish (submarine) about evacuating Philippine dignitaries and other occurrences on the sub’s patrols.
  • An interview with A. H. Stegall, chief radioman on the USS Silversides (submarine), about an emergency appendectomy performed (with no experience) on board, as well as an account of the sub getting bombed by a plane.
  • An interview with Captain E. C. Stephan, commander of the USS Grayback (submarine), about another emergency appendectomy (also performed with no experience) and some of the highlights of the Grayback’s fifth war patrol, including a “lighthouse” mission and the rescue of downed airmen.
  • An interview with Commander Kemp Tolley of the USS Lanikai (yacht) about the Japanese air raid on Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines and the schooner’s escape to Australia via the Dutch East Indies.

Interested in reading more? Find additional personal interviews from the WWII War Diaries here.

Surrender at Yorktown: October 19, 1781

October 1, 2014 by | 47 Comments

Greatest harmony prevails between the French and American armiesOn October 19, 1781, after almost 2 weeks of being under siege, the British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, surrendered to combined American and French forces, effectively signaling the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary War.

A few weeks before the American and French troops began their bombardment of the British defenses at Yorktown, the French Admiral de Grasse defeated the British fleet off the Virginia Capes. This victory left the 7,000 troops in Yorktown under British General Cornwallis effectively without naval support, thus enabling the American and French troops to begin their siege without any serious opposition or threat of British escape by sea.

The 8,900 Americans (under General Washington) and 7,800 French (under the Comte de Rochambeau) traveled hundreds of miles south to arrive outside Yorktown on September 28. The combined armies began their bombardment on October 9—after digging a siege trench 600 yards from the British lines—and kept up a near constant barrage of fire from artillery and siege guns.

Americans and French attack the redoubts at YorktownOn October 14, select French and American troops stormed the last two British-held redoubts, and once those were captured, the combined troops completed a second, closer trench. In response, the British made a sortie before sunrise on the 16th to spike their enemies’ guns, but the guns were quickly repaired and soon began firing again.

General Cornwallis, for his part, had been holding out hope that promised reinforcements would arrive, but when it became clear that his troops couldn’t hold out that long, he attempted to send them across the river to try to break out on the other side. Unfortunately for him, after the first group got across, a squall prevented all further crossings.

Realizing his position was hopeless without the reinforcements, Cornwallis sent out a drummer and an officer with a white handkerchief on October 17 to signal their capitulation. On the 18th, the two sides negotiated the terms of the surrender, which formally occurred on the 19th.

Washington Informs Congress of the Victory at YorktownWith the surrender at Yorktown, it became clear that the British were losing ground in America. Indeed, the Siege of Yorktown ended up being the last major land battle of the war, though the war wouldn’t officially be over for another year and a half.

Find out more about the Siege of Yorktown and other people and events of the war in Fold3’s Revolutionary War collection.