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Lee Surrenders to Grant: April 9, 1865

April 1, 2015 by | 78 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 | 123 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.

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

March 1, 2015 by | 25 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On March 2, 1865, Philip Sheridan‘s Union troops under the command of George A. Custer defeated Jubal Early‘s Confederate force at Waynesboro, Virginia, ending the last Confederate threat in the Shenandoah Valley.

Both armies had been wintering in the Shenandoah Valley after a series of Union victories that had hit Early’s troops hard. In February, Sheridan received word from U. S. Grant to take his 10,000 men and capture Lynchburg and then meet up with W. T. Sherman‘s forces in North Carolina. However, before he left, Sheridan decided to finish up what was left of Early’s force (which by then had dwindled to about 1,200).

Battle Field of Waynesboro
Early decided to meet the Federals at Waynesboro, hoping to delay them there long enough that he could get his artillery across the mountain and reposition his troops at the more advantageous Rockfish Gap. Early set up his line with the men’s backs toward the South River, leaving his left flank exposed because he thought they would be protected by a dense wood.

Sheridan sent Custer to test Early’s position, and Custer spotted the weakness in Early’s left. On March 2, Custer sent part of his division to attack from the front, while he sent others to hit the left. The left quickly crumbled, and the Confederate line broke. The Federals captured nearly all the Confederate troops, as well as their supplies and artillery, but Early, who had climbed up a nearby hill to reconnoiter, escaped capture.

South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872

February 20, 2015 by | 14 Comments

John Gordon Bill of Sale
Part of Fold3’s Black History Collection is the South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872. Like the title suggests, this item contains bills of sale, inventory and appraisement books, and inventories of estates from the Charleston area of South Carolina between 1732 and 1872. It is a joint project with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Family Search, and the Lowcountry Africana group.

Among other uses, this publication can be invaluable for tracking down African American ancestors in the Charleston area, especially if they were slaves. Because slaves were considered property, when they were sold, a bill of sale was filled out, and when an estate was appraised for tax or probate purposes, slaves were listed and appraised along with the other items belonging to the estate. Such documentation is what makes this collection such a rich resource for finding slave ancestors. However, be aware that since slaves didn’t always have surnames, you’ll most likely need to look for them in this collection through the name of the slave owner.

Some examples of bills of sale and estate inventories include:

  • A bill of sale from 1826 for about 100 slaves, listed by given name
  • A bill of sale from 1804 for 3 slaves that provides both their American and African names
  • A 1757 inventory for the estate of Richard Cochran Ash that lists multiple slaves and their values, including one that was a runaway
  • An 1827 inventory for the estate of Thomas Drayton that lists his 160 slaves by family group

Estate Inventory of Joseph Morton, Free African American, Charleston, SC, 1810
An important thing to remember in African American genealogy is that not all African Americans living in antebellum America were slaves—hundreds of thousands, even in the South, were free. You’ll see this reflected within this collection by the presence of inventories for the estates of free African Americans, which provide interesting insight into the lifestyles and possessions of free blacks.

A few examples are:

  • An 1810 inventory for the estate of Joseph Morton, a “free black man”
  • An 1829 inventory for the estate of John Martin Logan, a “free person”

And even if you don’t have ancestors who appear in this collection—whether slaves, slave owners, or free African Americans—it still provides a fascinating look into America’s slave-owning past. So take some time to search or browse the South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872, on Fold3.