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Sinking of the USS Indianapolis: July 30, 1945

July 1, 2016 by | 132 Comments

In the early morning of July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis, on its way from Guam to the Philippines, was struck by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarineFold3 Image - First page of summary of USS Indianapolis's service and quickly sank, resulting in the largest loss of life at sea in U.S. Navy history.

On July 16, the Indianapolis, a cruiser, left San Francisco headed for the island of Tinian in the Marianas. On board was a secret cargo that included parts to be used in the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Japan. Having received repairs in San Francisco for damage done by a kamikaze attack, the Indianapolis made record time to Tinian, then headed for the Philippines by way of Guam.

Forced to sail without an escort—and uninformed that there was a likelihood of Japanese subs in the area—the Indianapolis generally maintained the mandated zigzagging course, except on the night of the 29–30, when visibility was poor.

Just after midnight, in the early morning of the 30th, 300 miles from the closest land, the Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese sub. After the extent of the damage to the ship became clear, the commander, Charles McVay III, gave the orders to send out distress signals and abandon ship.

The ship sank fast, going under in 12 minutes. The speed at which it sank meant that about 300 men of the crew of nearly 1,200 went down with the ship; the remaining roughly 900 made it into the water. Although about half of the men had life jackets and 12 of the ship’s 35 life rafts (as well as some floater nets) were deployed, many men drowned or died of injuries, dehydration, or exposure while they were in the water. Others were killed in attacks by the sharks that swarmed the area.

Fold3 Image - Rescue of the men of the USS Indianapolis
The men were in the water for four days, since the Navy had not found it remarkable that the Indianapolis had not arrived to the Philippines on time and did not know to look for them. Finally, on the afternoon of August 2, the men were noticed by chance by an American patrol plane that observed first the oil slick, then the men in the water. Once the men of the Indianapolis were spotted, a rescue effort was launched, but the length of time since the sinking meant that when the last man was pulled from the ocean on August 3, only 317 men had survived.

Did you have family who served on the USS Indianapolis? Share their story with us! Or learn more about the ship by searching or browsing on Fold3.

Access Revolutionary War Records for Free*

July 1, 2016 by | 2 Comments

Revolutionary War Signing for Payment Vouchers
Did you have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War? Come check out Fold3’s more than 5 million Revolutionary War records, which you can explore for free July 1–15.

Popular among the 21 titles in this collection are:

Full access to the Revolutionary War collection can help you find even more information on the people or events you’re researching. For example, let’s say you’re researching James Morris of Connecticut. You can learn from his Revolutionary War pension file that he served in the Battle of Germantown, where he was taken prisoner of war for three years.

George Washington
But your research doesn’t have to stop there. If you wanted to discover more about Morris than you found in his pension file, you could look in the Revolutionary War Rolls to find him listed on a muster roll during his time as a prisoner. If you were interested in learning more what Morris’s time as a prisoner of war may have been like, you could search for accounts of other Revolutionary War POWs—in places like the pension files, the Pennsylvania Archives, the papers of the Continental Congress, and elsewhere. Or if you’d rather flesh out your understanding of the battle Morris was captured in, then you could read George Washington’s own account of the Battle of Germantown in the papers of the Continental Congress.

There’s a lot to discover in the Revolutionary War Collection. Start your own exploration here.

*Access to the records in the featured collections will be free until July 15, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. MT. Free access requires registration for a free Fold3 account. After the free access period ends, you will only be able to view the records in the featured collections using a paid Fold3 membership.

Australia WWI Service Records

June 20, 2016 by | 7 Comments

Fold3 Image - Attestation Paper for Arthur Eeles
Do you have ancestors who served with the Australian armed forces during World War I? Look for them in Fold3’s Australia WWI Service Records collection!

This collection (via the National Archives of Australia) contains service dossiers for Australians who served during World War I in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train (RANBT), Australian Flying Corps (AFC), or Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). It also includes depot records for personnel who served at home rather than abroad during the war. Navy records are not included. The service records in this collection are not meant to cover all aspects of a person’s military service; rather they are administrative files that provide a general overview of that individual’s service.

Maintaining these service records was originally the responsibility of the Base Records Office in Melbourne. The office was created in October 1914 to manage the high number of military personnel records resulting from Britain’s (and thus Australia’s) entrance into World War I. Besides managing the records, the office also fielded questions relating to casualties, wills, medals, pensions, mail, and personal effects.

Two of the most common documents that can be found in most of the service records are an Attestation Paper and a Service and Casualty Form. The Attestation Paper, filled out by the individual when they enlisted, provides basic biographical information, such as place of birth, age, marital status, religion, employment, next-of-kin details, prior military service, and physical description. The Service and Casualty Form contains rudimentary details of the person’s service, including movements and transfers, promotions and awards, and details of illness, injuries, and death.

Fold3 Image - Service and Casualty Form
In the 1950s, the Department of the Army culled extraneous documents from many of the service records, leaving behind only those deemed essential. Thus, the types of documents remaining in the service records can vary widely but may include notifications to next-of-kin regarding death or injury, letters concerning a soldier’s location, details of awards and medals, pay information, wills, information about wartime marriages, medical reports, and burial information.

On Fold3, the service records are organized alphabetically by surname, then by given name and service number. Get started searching or browsing the Australia WWI Service Records here.

WWII Japanese American Military Service

June 13, 2016 by | 22 Comments

Fold3 Image - Nisei army interpreter talks with Japanese family
Did you know that roughly 30,000 Japanese Americans served with the U.S. military during World War II? Many of them served with the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated unit relative to size and service length in U.S. military history.

The predecessor of the 442nd was the 100th Infantry Battalion, formed in 1942 predominantly from Japanese Americans serving in the Hawaiian National Guard. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government was leery of allowing Japanese Americans to serve in the military, but the 100th helped pave the way for government approval of the formation of the Japanese American 442nd in 1943. The two groups were combined in June 1944. Also attached to the 442nd were the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion and the 232nd Engineer Company, as well as an anti-tank company, a medical detachment, and even the 206th Army Band.

The men in the 442nd/100th were known for their bravery and skill, and they fought in various European campaigns, particularly in Italy and France. The group had a high casualty rate and was highly decorated, with members receiving 18,143 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses. Twenty-one eventually received the Medal of Honor.

Beyond the 442nd/100th, a few Japanese Americans who had been inducted into the army prior to Pearl Harbor served in integrated units. Thousands of other Japanese Americans joined the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) as translators and interpreters and served mainly in the Pacific. A few dozen Japanese American women also served in the MIS, and hundreds more joined the Women’s Army Corps and the Cadet Nurse Corps.

You can find many interesting documents related to Japanese American military service in World War II on Fold3. Below are a few examples:

Find more records about Japanese Americans’ role in the military during WWII by searching or browsing on Fold3.

The Battle of Cold Harbor Ends: June 12, 1864

June 1, 2016 by | 109 Comments

Fold3 Image - Plan of the Battle of Cold Harbor
On June 12, 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor ended when General Ulysses S. Grant withdrew his Union troops following a failed attempt to break through Confederate lines to push on to Richmond. Though the battle had resulted in high Union casualties, it would essentially prove to be Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s final victory of the war.

The Battle of Cold Harbor was actually a series of skirmishes and battles that occurred between May 31 and June 12. Grant and Lee had been clashing the entire month of May in the battles of the Wilderness (May 5–7), Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21), and North Anna (May 23–26), as Grant worked his way southeast to try to take Richmond. Finally, the two armies neared Cold Harbor, Virginia, just 10 miles from the Confederate capital.

The first action of the Battle of Cold Harbor occurred on May 31, when Union and Confederate cavalry fought for possession of Cold Harbor. The Union cavalry emerged the victors of that clash as well of the fight the following morning, when the Confederates—reinforced by the arrival of infantry—attacked again. The Union cavalry also shortly received reinforcements of infantry, and both sides began digging in and making entrenchments, creating a line 7 miles long. That same evening, June 1, the Union launched a partial attack to allow them to get in a better position for the battle planned for the following day, June 2.

However, due to the late arrival of a portion of his troops following an exhausting night march, Grant decided to let them rest, and the attack was postponed until the following day. However, this gave Lee’s troops time to get firmly entrenched, and the Union failed to reconnoiter the Confederate position and learn of the well-executed Confederate defenses.

Fold3 Image - Battle of North Anna River Map
Three Union corps attacked the Confederate entrenchments at dawn on June 3, and the result was one of the bloodiest battles of the war for the Union, despite the total number of available Union troops being nearly twice that of the Confederates. Caught in concentrated and overlapping fields of fire, Grant’s troops suffered high casualty rates. Although the battle would last until 1:30 that afternoon, the majority of the damage was done in the opening minutes of the fighting. Casualties for the Federal troops just for that day were estimated at around 7,000, while Confederate troops lost about 1,500.

Following the loss at Cold Harbor, Grant decided not to try for Richmond again but instead headed for the rail center of Petersburg, where both armies would become entrenched for most of the remainder of the war.

Did you have ancestors who fought at Cold Harbor? Tell us about it! Or search for more records about the battle on Fold3.

WWII Draft Registration Cards

May 23, 2016 by | 45 Comments

Example WWII Draft Registration Card
Fold3 has added 8 new U.S. states and territories to its collection of WWII Draft Registration Cards! The collection (via the National Archives) now includes North Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Mexico, Washington DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The cards in this collection are registration cards for the draft and do not necessarily indicate that the individual served in the military.

There were seven draft registration periods in the United States for World War II service. The first draft registration was held on October 16, 1940—before the United States had entered the war. Men ages 21—36 were required to register at their local draft board. The second draft registration was also held prior to the American entrance into the war, on July 1, 1941. This registration was for men who had turned 21 since the previous registration date nine months earlier.

The third (February 16, 1942) and fifth (June 30, 1942) registration periods expanded the ages required to register; the age ranges for the third were extended to 20–21 and 35–44, while the fifth extended them to ages 18–20. The sixth registration (December 10–31, 1942) was for men who had turned 18 since the fifth registration six months prior. There was also a seventh registration, known as the “Extra Registration,” from November 16 to December 31, 1943, which was for American men ages 18–44 who were living abroad.

The cards from the fourth registration (April 27, 1942; for men ages 45–64) are not included in the WWII Draft Registration Cards but in Fold3’s WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards collection.

Information on the WWII Draft Registration Cards may include the man’s name, address, telephone number, age, place of birth, country of citizenship, name and address of the person who will always know the registrant’s address, employer’s name, place of employment, and a description of the registrant.

One example of a draft card is that of John Ralph Brabble of North Carolina, pictured below:

Example of damaged service record

Begin searching or browsing the WWII Draft Registration Cards here.

Clara Barton Founds the American Red Cross: May 21, 1881

May 1, 2016 by | 85 Comments

Fold3 Image - Clara Barton
On May 21, 1881, Clara Barton held the first meeting of the American Red Cross after years of campaigning for the American government’s acceptance of the organization.

Barton had risen to fame for her humanitarian work during the Civil War. Previously a teacher and patent clerk, during the war Barton had—among other contributions—distributed medical supplies and nursed soldiers independently of any organization. Immediately following the war, she had spearheaded an effort to locate tens of thousands of missing soldiers, including helping to identify the thousands of bodies buried at the brutal Confederate Andersonville Prison. While on the lecture circuit to discuss her experiences, Barton—then in her late 40s—began to suffer from poor health, so on a doctor’s suggestion, she traveled to Europe in 1869 to rest.

While in Europe, Barton was introduced to the International Red Cross and got to see the organization in action during the Franco-Prussian War, which occurred while she was in Europe. She helped the International Red Cross with its humanitarian mission during the conflict and decided to create an American branch when she returned home.

Before America could join the International Red Cross, however, it had to sign the First (1864) Geneva Convention, which set up rules governing the protection and neutrality of civilian aid workers during wartime, among other things. America had previously declined to sign the Convention, and Barton had a long road ahead of her as she first battled her own illnesses and then worked for years to gain acceptance for the Convention and the Red Cross in the United States.

Fold3 Image - Organization of the Red Cross in America
Finally, under the administration of President Chester A. Arthur, the First Geneva Convention was ratified in 1882. However, in anticipation of that, Barton had held the first meeting of the American Red Cross a year prior, in May 1881. Part of what led to the acceptance of the Red Cross in America were Barton’s efforts to show that the organization could contribute during peacetime, as well as wartime, by providing relief following natural disasters. During Barton’s time as president of the Red Cross, she headed 18 relief efforts around the country and abroad.

Barton remained president of the American Red Cross until 1904, when she resigned at age 82 amid increasing criticism of her leadership methods and handling of money. She would go on to live another eight years, during which time she founded an organization that taught first aid.

Want to learn more about Clara Barton? Start a search on Fold3!