Fold3: Original military records online

Fold3 Blog

The official blog of Fold3

May 30, 1868:
First Official Memorial Day Observance

May 1, 2014 by | 6 Comments

In the years immediately following the Civil War, one way Americans sought to remember the multitudes of war dead was by holding “decoration days”—days on which they would gather to decorate the graves of those who died in the conflict. Although many local groups and communities had their own decoration days, including well-known ones in Waterloo (New York) and Charleston (South Carolina), the first official observance of what would eventually become Memorial Day took place on May 30, 1868.

Memorial Day Ceremony in ChinaThis Decoration Day (it wouldn’t officially be called Memorial Day until 1967) was coordinated by John A. Logan, a former Union general and at the time commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veteran’s association. In his General Order Number 11, dated May 5, 1868, he designated May 30 “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” In addition to the decoration of graves, Decoration Day was also to be observed with “fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit,” according to Logan.

Veterans and their loved ones, as well as widows, orphans, and other bereaved, responded to Logan’s call with alacrity. That year, 183 cemeteries in 27 states celebrated Decoration Day, and observance only grew in the years that followed. By 1890, all the northern states had made it an official state holiday.

The South didn’t celebrate Logan’s Decoration Day until after World War I, when the holiday shifted from honoring Civil War dead to honoring the American dead of all wars. Instead, Southerners memorialized the Confederate dead locally on days throughout spring and early summer, often on important dates such as Joseph Johnston’s surrender, Stonewall Jackson’s death, or Jefferson Davis’ birthday.

Memorial Day, in the form we know it today, came about in 1967, when Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day to better reflect contemporary usage. Then, the following year, it was permanently moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend.

This Memorial Day, find your military ancestors on Fold3 and memorialize them by creating or expanding a page for them on the Honor Wall.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Death of JEB Stuart

May 1, 2014 by | 7 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, JEB Stuart—famed Confederate cavalry commander—was shot during the Battle of Yellow Tavern and died of his wounds the following day, May 12, 1864. During the battle, which would ultimately prove a Confederate loss, Stuart had been firing at a group of Union soldiers, when one Federal, John A. Huff from the 5th Michigan, took aim and shot Stuart. Hit in his right side below the ribs, Stuart was led off the battlefield, having to switch horses when his own became too nervous. He was finally loaded into an ambulance and taken to his brother-in-law’s home in nearby Richmond.

The doctors found that Stuart had sustained severed blood vessels and a perforated intestine, an extremely painful—and fatal—wound. As he lay dying, Stuart got his affairs in order, received visitors (including Jefferson Davis), and led those around him in singing hymns. His final words were, “I am resigned. God’s will be done.” Stuart died at 7:38 p.m., more than 24 hours after being shot. His wife, [] Flora, didn’t arrive until 4 hours after his death due to the difficulty of travel. He was buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

When Robert E. Lee heard about Stuart’s passing, he remarked, “I can scarcely think about him without weeping.” Stuart would be remembered not only for his flamboyant uniform (which included a red-lined cape, golden spurs, and a plumed hat), but also for his skill as a cavalry commander and his ability to provide Lee with up-to-date intelligence on the Union army.

Civil War Photo Collections on Fold3

April 22, 2014 by | 1 Comment

Capturing everything from battlefields to camp life, from enlisted men to generals, photographs from the Civil War document an era that continues to fascinate us 150 years later. The best known of the Civil War photographers was Mathew Brady, but although Brady is practically synonymous with Civil War photography, many of the photographs attributed to him were actually taken by his employees. In addition to Brady and his crew were other photographers, who—like Brady’s men—took their bulky cameras and equipment on the road to document many aspects of the war, making it the first conflict to be so widely photographed.

Andersonville Prison ArtifactsFold3 has three collections of these invaluable glimpses into the past: the Brady Civil War Photos (courtesy of the National Archives), the U.S. Civil War Photos (through the Library of Congress), and the New York State Military Museum Photos—Fold3’s newest addition to its collection of Civil War images. These collections document a vast array of military and non-military subjects, including army and navy life, generals in the field, hospitals, battle sites, prisoners and prisons, railroads, cities, and military equipment. And of course there are multitudes of portraits: of groups and individuals, soldiers and civilians, officers and enlisted men, government officials and women, and many others.

Civil War Photo of PrisonersSome Civil War photographs amuse, like this one of “a muss at headquarters” between a few jokesters in the Army of the Potomac at Falmouth, Virginia, in April 1863. Others educate, like this photograph of artifacts from Andersonville Prison or this image that captures the process of being drummed out of the army. Photos of graves, the newly dead, or those long awaiting burial may shock or sadden, while other images can inspire, such as this photograph of two prisoners of war who escaped twice and traveled nearly 600 miles to reach safety behind Union lines.

No matter the subject, Civil War photographs can provide a powerful connection with the past. Search Fold3’s collection of images for your Civil War ancestors and discover your own connections to this watershed era.

Access the Civil War Collection

April 14, 2014 by | 8 Comments

In remembrance of the Civil War’s commencement in April 1861, Fold3 invites you to explore all records in its Civil War Collection for free April 14–30.

Civil War 150th AnniversaryExplore Civil War documents featuring everything from military records to personal accounts and historic writings. Soldier records include service records, pension index cards, “Widows’ Pension” files, Navy survivors certificates, Army registers, and much more. Other record types include photographs, original war maps, court investigations, slave records, and beyond. Items such as the Lincoln Assassination Papers, Sultana Disaster documents, letters to the Adjutant General and Commission Branch, and the 1860 census are also contained in the Civil War Collection.

Confederate-specific records include Confederate service records, amnesty papers, casualty reports, and citizens files, as well as Confederate Navy subject files and Southern Claims Commission documents.

Join Fold3 in its commemoration of the Civil War. Discover information on famous participants as well as your own Civil War ancestors through documents, photos, and images that capture the experiences and vital information of those involved in America’s deadliest conflict. Then commemorate your ancestors by creating or expanding memorial pages for them on Fold3’s Honor Wall. Get started searching the Civil War Collection here.

George Washington’s First Inauguration

April 1, 2014 by | 2 Comments

April 30 marks the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s presidential inauguration in 1789. Not only was it Washington’s first inauguration, but it was America’s as well, and although not everything went according to plan, the event set precedents for the many other inaugurations that would eventually follow.

Announcement of Washington's inauguration in the London TimesThe inauguration was originally set for the first Wednesday in March, but the counting of the electoral votes, which would decide the presidential race, was delayed for a month due to bad weather. So Washington wasn’t declared the winner until April 6, and with the time it took to inform him of his victory—and for him to travel to New York City from Virginia—the inauguration wasn’t held until April 30.

Washington was administered the oath of office by the Chancellor of New York, Robert R. Livingston, at Federal Hall on a second-story balcony—so he could be seen by the crowds below. He then appeared before Congress to give an inaugural address, during which he was visibly nervous.

Washington largely avoided specific policy recommendations in his 10-minute speech, which was likely drafted by James Madison. Instead he brought up his reservations about being president and acknowledged God’s role in America’s independence. He also discussed how national policy will inevitably reflect the morality and virtues of lawmakers and the American people, and that Congress should take into account “the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for the public harmony” when deciding whether to make amendments to the Constitution. Though the speech wasn’t mandated by the Constitution, every president since Washington has followed his example and given an inaugural speech.

After his address was over, Washington and members of Congress attended a church service at St. Paul’s Church. Later in the evening, the inauguration was celebrated with fireworks and other festivities.

If you’re interested in George Washington’s years as president, you can explore Fold3’s collection of his presidential correspondence. Or browse our Revolutionary War collection for his wartime letters to the Continental Congress, as well as the service records, pension applications, and other documents of the men who served under him.

Records from the New York State Military Museum

March 20, 2014 by | 3 Comments

In a partnership with the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, Fold3 has digitized nine titles documenting hundreds of thousands of men who served in the New York National Guard (NYNG) and other New York regiments for conflicts from the Civil War to World War II, as well as the peace-time years between.

NYSMM - Physical DescriptionPublished lists of commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates of regiments organized in the state of New York during the U.S. Civil War can be found in the 8-volume New York Civil War Regiment Lists. The introductory material in some volumes provides historical context for regimental formation, like this 1861 act authorizing a volunteer militia.

Service records and cards are perhaps the most enlightening records as they typically include physical descriptions like height, weight, hair color, eye color and identifying marks. In addition to enlistment and discharge dates, some cards also provide dates and places of birth, occupations, relationships, and residences. In the New York National Guard Personnel Jackets, a document for 18-year-old John P. Badger of the Malone Armory provides his physical description where he also names his father as emergency contact, and a card with his fingerprints. Other such titles include:

Rosters of the New York National Guard can also be found in the New York State Adjutant General Reports, 1846-1995. Depending upon the year, the volume may include documents and reports of federal agencies, photographs, notes on flight and ground training, personnel, and organizational charts. There are 149 volumes, although not every year from 1846 to 1995 is available.

NYSMM - Pistol MatchShooting matches are a National Guard tradition, supported by the Adjutant General. New York National Guard Shooting Matches are digitized publications which include results of the matches from various years between 1924 and 2008. As an example, in the rifle match within the 1935 Governor’s Match, Capt. Devereux of the 107th Infantry scored 100. He also received the high individual score of 97.5 in a pistol match that year. He must have been quite a shot.

Two photograph collections are also part of the NYSMM publications: New York State Military Museum Photos (Civil War – Vietnam War) and WWII 27th Army Division Photos. They include thousands of images like portraits, group photos, equipment, armories, and other subjects pertinent to the New York regiments.

Each of these nine New York titles brings intriguing historic records of guardsmen and their regiments to Fold3 subscribers.

TMIH: March 27, 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend

March 12, 2014 by | 2 Comments

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend is identified with the War of 1812, but it is also the continuation and culmination of the Creek War of 1813-14. The battle took place two hundred years ago this month on a 100-acre peninsula formed by a horseshoe bend in Alabama’s Tallapoosa River.

Map Image of the Battle of Horseshoe BendOn March 27, 1814, Andrew Jackson and his army of about 2,000 soldiers from the East and West Tennessee militias and the 39th U.S. Infantry surrounded the peninsular and 1,000 Creek Indians, known as Red Stick Creek Warriors. The Red Sticks were fighting against European and American expansion and appropriation of their territory. There were also about 600 “friendly” Native Americans, among Jackson’s men, including 100 Creek.

A couple hours into the battle, a group of Cherokees from Jackson’s ranks swam across the river, stole enemy canoes from the other side, returned for reinforcements, and then paddled back across to burn the village and take women and children prisoners. Jackson’s troops ultimately gained the advantage over the Red Sticks, killing nearly all on the other side. By battle’s end, 557 Creek warriors were dead, another 250-300 more were drowned.

Andrew Jackson was promoted to Major General after the battle and gained a great deal of acclaim which helped propel him to the White House fifteen years later as the seventh president of the United States.

A young Sam Houston, future president of the Republic of Texas wrote of that day: “The sun was going down, and it set on the ruin of the Creek nation. Where, but a few hours before a thousand brave…[warriors] had scowled on death and their assailants, there was nothing to be seen but volumes of dense smoke, rising heavily over the corpses of painted warriors, and the burning ruins of their fortifications.”

Pertinent records on Fold3 include Honor Wall memorials to soldiers who fought at the Battle of Horseshoe bend like John Thrasher, Joseph Beeler and his brother Benjamin, David Beaty’s War of 1812 pension application in which he states he “was at the battle of Horse Shoe,” and index cards for numerous warriors within the final payment vouchers.