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Black History Month 2016 – Access the Black History Records

February 4, 2016 by | Comments Off on Black History Month 2016 – Access the Black History Records

Black History Month

Recontruction and Jim Crow Laws

In honor of Black History Month, Fold3 is making the records in its Black History collection available for free through the end of February.

Whether you’re looking for your ancestors or doing broader research, the Black History collection gives you access to more than a million documents, records, and photos that help to capture the African-American experience during five eras of American history:

Examples of interesting finds in the Black History collection include:

  • A letter from Thomas Jefferson to the governor of Georgia about slaves running away to Florida
  • An 1810 inventory for the estate of Joseph Morton, a “free black man”
  • An 1827 inventory for the estate of Thomas Drayton that lists his 160 slaves by family group
  • A Civil War—era photograph of black laborers
  • The service record of Christian A. Fleetwood of the US Colored Infantry, who earned the Medal of Honor during the Civil War
  • Documents relating to the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery
  • A photograph of 3 members of the original black fighter squadron in WWII
  • A photograph of President Eisenhower meeting with civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Get started searching Fold3’s Black History records here. Or look for individual collections by name here.

You can also check out two interesting posts about Martin Luther King, Jr., over on the Newspapers.com blog: “The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” and “Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

Stephen Decatur Burns the USS Philadelphia:
February 16, 1804

February 3, 2016 by | 100 Comments

Stephen Decatur short bio
On February 16, 1804, American naval lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a covert mission to burn the USS Philadelphia, an American ship that had fallen into Tripolitan hands, during the First Barbary War.

At the time, the Barbary states—Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli—made money through state-sponsored piracy in the Mediterranean, raiding merchant ships unless their governments paid huge sums to the Barbary leaders. In 1801, Tripoli had declared war on the United States, and President Thomas Jefferson sent the American Navy as a show of force against Tripoli (in present-day Libya).

Unfortunately, one of the two big American frigates that had been sent, the USS Philadelphia, ran aground on a reef off the shore of Tripoli in October 1803. The captain of the Philadelphia tried to dislodge the ship but was unable to do so before Tripolitan sailors arrived and captured the ship’s officers and crew and took them prisoner. Despite the Americans’ attempts to scuttle their ship, the Tripolitans were able to refloat it during a storm and move the Philadelphia to their harbor.

When the commodore of the American forces heard about the Philadelphia, a plan was formed wherein a group of Americans would sneak into the harbor at Tripoli and burn the Philadelphia so it couldn’t be used against them. Chosen to lead the mission was Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, a well-liked and respected officer.

Together with a crew of 84 men, Decatur sailed into the harbor aboard a previously captured Tripolitan boat, pretending to be a Maltese vessel that had lost its anchor. The Tripolitans aboard the Philadelphia agreed to let the “Maltese” boat tie up next to them for the night, but when the boat drew close enough, Decatur and his men stormed the Philadelphia and quickly dispatched the Tripolitan crew. Then the Americans set the ship ablaze and returned to their own boat and fled, barely escaping being caught in the flames themselves.

Decatur’s exploits made him an instant hero, and he was promoted to captain at the young age of 25. He would later go on to become one of America’s great naval heroes during the War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War.

Do you have any ancestors who fought in the Barbary Wars? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the conflicts by searching on Fold3.

Distinguished Conduct Medals

January 18, 2016 by | 11 Comments

Distinguished Conduct
Did you have a family member who served with the British Commonwealth during World War I? Look for them in Fold3’s new collection of more than 24,000 WWI Distinguished Conduct Medal citations (via the Naval and Military Press), which is part of our British Commonwealth Military Collection.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal was Britain’s second-highest medal for gallantry in action for non-commissioned officers and enlisted men (until it was discontinued in 1993). Recipients of this award came from regiments across the Commonwealth, including Australia, the British West Indies, Canada, India, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Rhodesia, South and East Africa, and the United Kingdom.

The collection is organized by country, then regiment. The citations give a brief description of the action the medal is being awarded for, as well as basic information about the recipient.

Below are a couple examples of the types of information you can learn from the citations:

McCann R. Cpl. 3786 4th Div. attd. 13th Fld. Amb. [Australia]
On 25th April 1918, during the night attack by the 13th Brigade on Villers Brettoneux he was driving an ambulance car which was engaged in evacuating casualties from the advancing infantry along the Amiens Road to the advance dressing station at Blangy Cabaret. About 10 p.m., shortly after the advance had commenced, he made many trips with wounded along a section of the road which was exposed to heavy shell fire and his careful and expert management of his car have been responsible for saving the life of many a wounded man. 3.9.19

21479 1st Cl. A./M. S.W. Egan, R.F.C. (Catford, S.E.) [United Kingdom]
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While engaged with his pilot on a photographic reconnaissance over the enemy’s lines they were attacked in a most persistent manner by six enemy scouts. His left thumb was shot off at the beginning of the fight, but he continued to engage the enemy with his Lewis gun, and when the gun jammed he succeeded in getting it into action again, and continued to fight until he became unconscious. It was undoubtedly due to his splendid pluck and determination that the pilot was enabled to bring his machine back safely to our lines.

Did you have any family members who were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal? Tell us about them! Or get started searching or browsing the collection here. You can also explore the other titles in Fold3’s new British Commonwealth Military Collection.

The Battle of New Orleans: January 8, 1815

January 1, 2016 by | 100 Comments

Louisiana soldier participated in Battle of New Orleans
On the morning of January 8, 1815, British forces attacked American positions outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, resulting in a bloody defeat for the British in the last major battle of the War of 1812.

In the days leading up to January 8, the British and Americans (under Andrew Jackson) had clashed in a series of smaller conflicts, as the British landed in the area to capture New Orleans and continue their campaign to gain a toehold in the Gulf.

In late December, Jackson had his main force dig in south of New Orleans at Chalmette Plantation, building defensive breastworks along a canal that stretched from the Mississippi River to the cypress swamp not far to the east. He also had a smaller force of men man a line across the Mississippi on the west bank.

The British plan was to use their greater number of men to launch an attack on both sides of the river simultaneously, with the British forces on the more heavily defended east bank aiming to hit both the right and left flanks of the American line.

Things didn’t go as planned for the British, however. The smaller group of British troops who were to attack the west bank were delayed, and over on the east bank, the ladders and fascines needed to scale the American defenses failed to arrive when needed. In addition, the bulk of the British forces were commanded to attack the Americans’ left flank on the east bank because it was believed to be weaker, but in reality it was actually more heavily defended.

Soldier served in Tennessee Militia during Battle of New Orleans

Intense fire and a stalwart defense from the Americans on the east bank—combined with the British problems mentioned above—resulted in mass casualties for the British, who in most cases failed to even reach the American line on that side of the river. The British commanding general, Edward Pakenham, was killed during the battle, and other high-ranking field officers—as well as a significant number of the officer corps—were also wounded or killed, leaving the British troops on the field essentially leaderless. When the commander of the British reserves found himself unexpectedly in charge of the British attack, seeing his fleeing soldiers and the carnage on the battlefield, he decided to have the troops withdraw.

Over on the west bank, despite the delayed start, the British were successful in routing the Americans and capturing some of their guns. However, their victory came too late to reverse the disaster on the east bank.

Did you have ancestors who fought in the Battle of New Orleans? Tell us about them! Or get started searching or browsing the War of 1812 Collection for more information about the battle.

Christmas in the World War II War Diaries

December 23, 2015 by | 23 Comments

Christmas on VT-44, 1944
Even far from home, servicemen and women during World War II often tried to celebrate the holidays as best as they could. Check out the excerpts below from the World War II War Diaries for descriptions of some Christmas festivities during the war.

Some servicemen were able to enjoy a more traditional Christmas celebration:

“Christmas dinners were served with all the trimmings and carols were sung and the chaplain spoke over the public address system. In the wardroom, a Christmas Eve dinner had been planned. Decorations, designed from materials at hand, consisted of a water fillable bomb for a centerpiece with ‘Merry Christmas’ painted on it and streamers crisscrossing the ceiling made of red tow-sleeves. The occasion was a gala one including the orchestra and even a Santa Claus.” —VT-44, 1944

Other celebrations were simpler:

“Christmas was like other days. We had a Christmas Church Service. Not many came, it was hot and rainy, and we were working at getting those vital supplies aboard. Our Christmas celebration consisted of a huge meal and a good one, followed by candy, cigars, and cigarettes. It was all that we could expect and we were, if not satisfied, at least content.” —USS Amycus, 1944

Some men tried to decorate for the holiday as best as they could:

“One of the radiomen had picked up a sprouting coconut at Guam. This was our Christmas tree. The electricians rigged up a string of lights, and the mess cook tied small boxes of breakfast food to the tree and a signalman painted a Santa Claus.” —USS Tombigee, 1944

For some, Christmas was business as usual:

“Even on Christmas, we did not enjoy a ‘Silent Night,’ however. Manned air defense stations from 1908 to 1945 and from 2135 to 2201; during the last period, bogies closed to 10 miles and a good deal of AA fire was observed from the beach.” —USS Phoenix, 1944

Christmas in Manila, 1941
And for others it was downright terrifying:

“Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were two of the worst days I ever hope to spend in my life. […] On Christmas Eve they [Japanese bombers] put five bombs within 20 feet of the building which we were hiding under. Christmas Day they came back and hit four of those five craters.” —Manila, 1941

Homesickness was common for many during the holidays:

“Everybody tried to be cheerful. But every man knew that he wasn’t fooling anybody, not even himself. For after all, what is Christmas when one is hundreds, or perhaps several thousands of miles from home and loved ones?” —USS Montrose, 1944

But mail from home often cheered them up:

“On arrival, we received our only Christmas presents—mail. What actual Christmas presents we were to receive did not arrive until almost Easter. But the letters from home were a good substitute.” —USS Newman, 1944

Do you have personal or family stories of holidays in the military? Tell us about them! You can find many more stories of holiday experiences in the military by searching on Fold3.

Kate Warne: America’s First Female Detective

December 18, 2015 by | 33 Comments

Born in New York and widowed young, Kate Warne was in her early twenties in 1855 when she walked into Allan Pinkerton‘s office and told him she wanted a job as a detective.Kate Warne Photo The Scottish-born Pinkerton, himself America’s first private eye, was caught off guard that a woman was applying for the position, but despite the lack of precedence for female agents, he decided to hear her out. Kate argued that a female detective would be an asset to Pinkerton’s work, since a woman would be able to go places and get information that men couldn’t—for example, by forming friendships with the wives and girlfriends of suspects to get them to confide information about the crime. After spending a night thinking about it, Pinkerton decided to hire her.

Pinkerton never regretted his decision, and Kate became one of his best agents. Pinkerton described her as “an intelligent, brilliant, accomplished lady”1 who was an “invaluable acquisition to [his] force”2 and said she displayed “tact, readiness of resource, ability to read character, intuitive perceptions of motive, and rare discretion.”3 In fact, Kate proved herself so skilled and able that Pinkerton began hiring other women as well and made Kate the superintendent of the female department of his agency.

Using a wide variety of aliases and disguises, Kate was involved in solving numerous cases, including bank robbery, embezzlement, poisoning, espionage, murder, and beyond. Her best-known case involved working with Pinkerton to protect the life of president-elect Abraham Lincoln from the assassination attempt of the so-called Baltimore Plot in 1861. After Pinkerton learned of the possible plot, he sent Kate to Baltimore to disguise herself as a wealthy Southern woman and gather information. Then, when Lincoln passed through Pennsylvania on his way to his inauguration, Kate was in charge of securing some sleeping berths at the back of a public train, which was part of a plan that would allow Lincoln—disguised as Kate’s invalid brother—to make it through Baltimore without his would-be killers knowing.

Kate Warne ObituaryVery little is known about Kate’s life. Much of the information we know about her today comes from the fictionalized books Pinkerton published detailing the cases his agency solved. Other information and records Pinkerton had relating to Kate were most likely lost when Pinkerton’s archives were destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871.

Kate died from an illness, possibly pneumonia, on 28 January 1868 at age 38 (some sources say 35). Pinkerton had her buried—not far from where he would later be interred—in a section of his family plot reserved for special employees.

Do you have ancestors connected to Pinkerton or the Baltimore Plot? Tell us about it! Or search or browse on Fold3 for other topics that interest you.

1Pinkerton, Allan. The Somnambulist and the Detective: The Murderer and the Fortune Teller. 1875. New York: G. W. Dillingham Co., 1900. 144.
2 Pinkerton, Allan. The Expressman and the Detective. Chicago: W. B. Keen, Cooke & Co., 1874. 95.
3 Pinkerton, The Somnambulist and the Detective: The Murderer and the Fortune Teller. 145.

TMIH – Battle of the Bulge Begins: December 16, 1944

December 2, 2015 by | 265 Comments

Typical Ardennes terrain
On December 16, 1944, Germany launched a massive surprise counter-attack on American lines in the Ardennes (a forested area in Belgium and Luxembourg), breaking through to create a 45-mile salient in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Prior to the attack, 83,000 Americans in four divisions (the 28th, 4th, 106th, and 99th) held an 80-mile, thinly stretched line that crossed through the Ardennes region. It was supposed to be a quiet front, and two of the divisions were there to recover from battle, and the other two were composed of green troops.

At 5:30 a.m. on December 16th, with almost no warning, the Germans attacked the American line, first with artillery and then a rush of infantry. The German goal was to break through the line and charge onward to Antwerp, an important Allied port that had recently been reopened. By doing so, the Germans planned to choke Allied supplies and split their forces in two. American troops in many places along the line were initially overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of German troops (200,000), artillery, and armored vehicles, and German forces were able to create a 45-mile salient into Allied territory, though they failed to reach Antwerp. Due to weather, the Allies couldn’t send in air support for more than a week.

After the weather cleared, the Allies were able to send in powerful air support and to air drop supplies, and Allied forces from the north and south began to fight their way to the middle. However, these ground forces were delayed, which allowed many of the Germans still in the bulge to withdraw before they were trapped. The battle was considered over on 25 January, when the last of the German forces withdrew from the salient.

Capt. James R. Lloyd, 124 E. Walnut St., Lancaster, Pa., a 9th AF Air Liaison officer, stands by a German Tiger tank disabled during the battle of the bulge.

Fighting was fierce in the Battle of the Bulge, and it was the biggest battle on the European western front. In fact, about 1 in 10 American combat casualties in the entire war occurred during the battle. It’s estimated that more than a million men, and 600,000 Americans, participated. Casualty estimates vary, but American dead is usually placed at 20,000 with three or four times that wounded, captured, or missing. German casualties are even harder to pin down, but estimates generally place them at roughly equal to or greater than the Americans’. At least 2,500 civilians were also killed.

The battle was a costly loss for Germany, since the attack didn’t appreciably slow the American invasion of Germany but did cost the Germans large numbers of troops that could have potentially been used later to defend their western border.

Did you have family members who fought in the Battle of the Bulge? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the battle by starting a search on Fold3.