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Women in WWII Photos

March 14, 2016 by | 33 Comments

Two nurses in the Admiralty Islands
One of Fold3’s popular World War II collections is the WWII US Air Force Photos (via the National Archives). Among other things, this collection is great for finding photos of American women who served in certain capacities during the war. Although women served in a wide variety of roles at home and abroad during WWII, the images of women in this particular collection of photos tend to focus on three types of American female war workers: Army nurses, WACs (members of the Women’s Army Corps), and Red Cross workers.

Below is a sampling of just a fraction of these types of images:

To find more images of women during WWII, try searching the WWII US Air Force Photos collection for terms related to their roles, such as “nurse,” “WAC,” or “Red Cross.” You can also search for terms like “women” and “girl.” Or use this pre-formatted search as a starting point.

Do you have women in your family who served during World War II or any other conflict? Tell us about them! You can also create or expand a Memorial Page to share their story.

The Battle of Hampton Roads: March 8–9, 1862

March 1, 2016 by | 110 Comments

Hampton Roads Map
On March 8–9, 1862, the ironclad CSS Virginia attacked the Union blockade squadron in Hampton Roads, Virginia, changing the course of naval warfare forever.

The CSS Virginia had formerly been the USS Merrimack, but when the Federals had been forced to abandon Gosport Shipyard (the modern-day Norfolk Naval Shipyard) in 1861, they had scuttled the steam frigate. However, it had only burned to the waterline, preserving the hull and engines. The Confederates refloated the hull and built a superstructure on top with sloping wooden sides covered in iron. They planned to use the newly christened Virginia to break the Union blockade.

Nearly simultaneously, the Union was building its own ironclad vessel, but from scratch. The iron steamer, named the USS Monitor, was nearly completely submerged in the water, except for its deck and revolving gun turret.

On the Virginia’s maiden voyage, it decided to attack the Federal ships in Hampton Roads, the Virginian waterway where three rivers converged before entering Chesapeake Bay. On March 8, the Virginia (along with the gunboats sailing with it) steamed into Hampton Roads and launched its attack, decimating some of the Union ships while sustaining only superficial damage itself, as its iron armor caused shots to more or less bounce off it.

Before it could take on the other Union ships, the tide forced the Virginia to retire for the night, and when it returned the following morning, it found that the USS Monitor had arrived in the night to protect the remaining Union ships. The Monitor and the Virginia dueled for about four hours, during which neither ship sustained serious damage, each protected by their iron plates.

USS Merrimack

Finally, the Monitor pulled away to assess the vessel’s damage, leading the Virginia to believe the other ship was leaving the battle. After the Virginia likewise departed, the Monitor returned only to find the Virginia gone. This confusion caused both sides to declare victory, though historians typically agree the battle was a draw.

Though the Battle of Hampton Roads prevented the Virginia from achieving its objective, the real significance of the battle was its demonstration that wooden ships stood no chance against ironclads, almost instantly outdating navies around the globe.

Do you have any ancestors who fought in the Battle of Hampton Roads? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the battle by searching Fold3.

African-American Medal of Honor Recipients

February 19, 2016 by | 71 Comments

Air Force Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest military decoration for valor. There are currently more than 3,400 recipients of this medal, stretching back to 1863 when it was first awarded. This Black History Month, let’s take a closer look at a few of the African-American recipients.

Robert Blake. Blake was the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor, in 1864, for actions while serving with the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. William Harvey Carney is sometimes credited as the first African-American recipient since he performed his Medal of Honor action first. However, since Carney wasn’t awarded the medal until 1900, Blake was the first to physically receive it. Blake, an escaped slave, was awarded the medal for “[carrying] out his duties bravely” during an “engagement with the enemy on John’s Island.”

Robert Sweeney. Sweeney is the only African-American (out of 19 total servicemen) to receive the Medal of Honor twice, both for saving drowning shipmates during peacetime, in 1881 and 1883.

Vernon J. Baker. Baker received the Medal of Honor for his “fighting spirit and daring leadership” during a World War II battle in 1945 in Italy. Baker wasn’t awarded the medal until 1997, as part of a review that upgraded the Distinguished Service Crosses of seven African-American WWII veterans to Medals of Honor. Baker was the only one of the seven still alive to receive the honor in person.

Lawrence Joel. Joel was the first medic to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War, for actions that occurred in 1965. During a 24-hour battle against the Viet Cong, Joel repeatedly risked his life saving wounded men, despite being shot twice himself.

James Anderson, Jr. Anderson was the first African-American U.S. Marine to receive the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the medal posthumously after being killed in action during the Vietnam War when he rolled on top of a grenade to save his fellow Marines.

These are just 5 of the 90 or so African-American Medal of Honor recipients. All Medal of Honor citations up through 2013 can be found in Fold’s collection “Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863-2013.” You can also search the Honor Wall for pages about the recipients.

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 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.