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The Burning of Washington: August 24, 1814

August 1, 2014 by | 66 Comments

This August 24 and 25 mark the 200th anniversary of the British burning of Washington DC during the War of 1812.

Prior to the burning, 4,500 British soldiers went up against 5,000 Americans (mostly militiamen) in a battle at Bladensburg, Maryland, just 4 miles northeast of Washington. Though the Americans had the advantage of numbers and artillery, the untried and poorly led militiamen didn’t stand much of a chance against the better trained and disciplined British soldiers. Three hours of battle had the Americans fleeing as fast as they could, while the British commanding officers, General Ross and Admiral Cockburn, led a portion of their men into Washington, which was now undefended.

Leaving private homes and property alone for the most part, the British began burning government buildings, starting with Capitol building, which at the time also housed the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. They then proceeded to the White House, which had been abandoned by President Madison and his wife shortly before. (Dolley Madison is famous for staying at the White House as long as possible and directing the rescue of a portrait of George Washington, among other valuables.)

The following day, Cockburn and Ross organized the burning of other buildings, like the State and War departments and the Treasury, which had started to burn the night before but had been doused by a rainstorm. Cockburn ordered the destruction of the printing presses of a newspaper that had been particularly critical of him, but the U.S. Patent Office was saved from destruction by the pleas of its superintendent. The British went to the Navy Yard, but it had already been burned the previous day by the Americans to keep it from falling into British hands. A contingent of soldiers also went to Greenleaf Point Federal Arsenal to destroy the gunpowder and cannons there but ended up causing an explosion that killed or maimed many of them.

Later that day, a huge storm blew in that wreaked havoc on the city, downing trees and ripping roofs off buildings. After the storm had died down somewhat, the British officers ordered a retreat of their men during the night, before the American forces could regroup.

Discover more about the burning of Washington DC, and other events and people of the war, in Fold3’s War of 1812 collection.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Battle of Mobile Bay

August 1, 2014 by | 6 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On August 5, 1864, Union admiral David Farragut led his ships into Mobile Bay, Alabama, to battle the Confederates for control of the last major port for Confederate blockade runners.

Farragut’s force consisted of 14 wooden ships and 4 ironclad, while Mobile Bay was protected by only 3 gunboats and 1 ironclad, the Tennessee. However, the bay also had 3 forts and a field of floating mines (called torpedoes) for protection.

Farragut began his attack on the morning of the 5th, entering the bay via a route that avoided the torpedoes by instead sailing within range of Fort Morgan‘s guns, which opened fire on the Federals. However, the lead Union ironclad, which had come too near the minefield, hit a torpedo and sank, causing the next ship in line to hesitate. Farragut, tied to the flagship’s mainmast rigging at this point for a better view, uttered his now-famous order, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

The Union ships were met in the bay by the small Confederate force. The Confederate gunboats were soon forced from the battle, leaving the ironclad Tennessee to fight the Union ships by itself. The Tennessee put up a fight but was eventually too damaged to continue.

In the following weeks, the Union naval force bombarded the three Confederate forts on the bay while Federal army troops attacked from land. By the 23rd, the last fort had surrendered, leaving Mobile Bay in the control of the United States.

Always Remember and Never Forget

July 28, 2014 by | 1 Comment

From the vantage point of history, there is consensus: the Great War changed everything. World War I resulted in more than 37 million casualties. Empires were lost. An era of new roles for women and civic rights swept the globe. National boundaries were reshaped. Economies were devastated. The world was never the same.

And now, we commemorate 100 years since the Great War started. None of us are untouched by the changes that touch everyone.

The United States entered World War I in April of 1917 and more than 4 million Americans served their country around the world. Their courage, honor, sacrifice and valiant efforts led to the end of the world’s first global conflict just 20 months later on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (Nov. 11, 1918).

Yet, their bravery remains largely unrecognized.

We are pleased today to announce a new collaboration with the National World War I Museum. This will help the nation always remember and never forget.

We’re calling on you to help us.

  • The National World War I Museum is making a historical collection of unique and identified images available on Fold3. View this unique collection here.
  • Discover where your family fits in this story and share your ancestor’s memories, photos, and stories to help us remember and honor those who fought for America. Click here to get started.
  • Help others discover the story. Over the next four years, the National World War I Museum will educate 1,000,000 students about the Great War and its enduring impact during the Centennial. Remembrance begins with discovering. You can help the Museum reach students across the country. Your charitable gift ensures that children will never forget the heroic Americans who brought an end to World War I. We invite you to join with us and the National World War I Museum in reaching 1,000,000 students across the country. Start by clicking here.

Family stories eventually become our nation’s stories. Through this project, we can remember the forgotten stories, which show us how we became who we are today. Be a part of honoring those who served in the war that forever changed the world. Help create remembrance you’ll never forget.

Content Update: WWI Officer Experience Reports

July 21, 2014 by | 6 Comments

Lieutenant James Metzger's WWI Officer Experience ReportIf you’re interested in getting a first-hand look at what life was like for American soldiers in Europe during World War I, try browsing through Fold3’s collection of Officer Experience Reports. More than simply giving summaries of the dates, places, and technical aspects of the men’s service, these reports by engineering officers of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) are personal narratives that allow us a very human view of situations and events in the war.

These AEF engineers engaged in variety of tasks overseas, like building and maintaining roads, running sawmills and lumber operations, operating narrow-gauge railways, and working on construction projects—just to name a few. Engineers often served near the front lines—as well as farther back—in the course of their duties, frequently while under fire from German artillery or while battling nature. Though individuals’ experiences varied widely, as did attitudes, many of the engineers were proud of their service.

Below are some selected Officer Experience Reports you may enjoy, though they are just the tip of the iceberg.

  • 1st Lieutenant James Metzger’s account of his men’s “constant battle with mud and rain” while building a road in France. He felt his experience was “none of the spectacular, but plenty of hard work.”
  • Captain O.B. Martin’s account of building and running a successful sawmill in France with men who, though inexperienced, rose to the occasion. Low on all supplies at first, including horses, they built a stable by hauling poles from a forest a mile away with “American soldiers hitched to borrowed French wagons.”
  • Captain William Millard’s account of building, maintaining, and operating narrow-gauge railways in France to carry supplies to the British. He also recounts being shelled by the Germans and a battle in which several detachments of engineers took part out of necessity.
  • 2nd Lieutenant J.E. Morelock’s account of being an inspector for the Engineer Purchasing Office. Denied a transfer to a combat regiment, Morelock finished his service disillusioned with his role in the war.
  • 1st Lieutenant Lewis Edwards’ and 2nd Lieutenant August Barreau’s accounts of the Spanish flu epidemic, which hit the men on board their transport ships across the Atlantic.

These accounts are just the beginning. You can find many more in Fold3’s WWI Officer Experience Reports.

Access the Revolutionary War Collection

July 14, 2014 by | 2 Comments

Revolutionary War SoldiersAs we celebrate the founding of America this month, learn more about the people who made it possible by exploring Fold3’s Revolutionary War collection for free July 14–31.

If you have Revolutionary War ancestors, you might find them in the Revolutionary War pension files, service records, war rolls, or payment vouchers, or in the Revolutionary War Manuscript File. If you’re interested in the historical aspects of the war, you can explore the captured vessels prize cases, Revolutionary War milestone documents, Pennsylvania Archives, Constitutional Convention records, and the papers and letters of the Continental Congress, among others.

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

If you want to discover more about Morris, you can look in the war rolls to find a muster roll from Morris’s time as captain of a company in the 5th Connecticut Regiment. If you’re more interested in the Battle of Germantown itself, then you can read George Washington’s account of the battle in the papers of the Continental Congress. But if, on the other hand, you’d rather learn more about prisoner of war experiences in general, you can find other accounts in the pension files as well as in places like the Pennsylvania Archives and papers of the Continental Congress.

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

World War I Begins:
July 28, 1914

July 1, 2014 by | 25 Comments

This July 28 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I in 1914.

WWI PosterA month before the war began, on June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie had been assassinated during a trip to Bosnia. Initial outrage was strong, as were fears that this would be the instigating event for the European war that had been looming for years. But as the days and weeks passed without Austria-Hungary retaliating against Serbia (whom they believed to be behind the assassination plot), some began to breathe a sigh of relief.

But then, on July 23, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia with various demands regarding Serbia’s response to the assassination and the country’s future relationship with Austria-Hungary. Serbia accepted many of the demands but refused to allow Austria-Hungary to be involved in its judicial process for Serbians connected to the assassination. Thus rejected, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia on July 28.

Russia (a champion of Serbia and its Slavic population) began mobilization of its troops, which prompted Germany (an ally of Austria-Hungary) to declare war on Russia. In quick succession, the system of alliances (and territorial ambitions) within Europe led Germany to also declare war on France and Britain, Britain and France to declare war on Germany, and Russia to declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Within a week, five major countries in Europe were embroiled in a war they believed would be over in a matter of months. Many other nations would eventually join the conflict—including the isolationist United States, though not officially until 1917. The bloody war would last more than four years and result in upwards of 37 million dead, missing, or wounded soldiers.

Explore Fold3’s World War I collection to discover more about this conflict and the men who fought in it.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Battle of Fort Stevens

July 1, 2014 by | 8 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On July 11–12, 1864, Confederate general Jubal Early led his troops in an attempt to take Washington DC. The beleaguered Robert E. Lee had sent Early north to create havoc that would draw Federal soldiers away from Petersburg and Richmond, thus relieving some of the pressure on those cities.

Early and his men traveled to the US capital, leaving mid-June and arriving July 11. They were delayed along the way by an engagement (the Battle of Monocacy) with Lew Wallace‘s troops. Though that battle was a Union loss, the delay it created proved critical, as it allowed extra time for Federal soldiers to arrive in DC to shore up the depleted ranks defending the city.

The Battle of Fort Stevens consisted mainly of skirmishes, with no major clashes, though casualties amounted to 874. The battle is most notable, however, for President Abraham Lincoln‘s attendance as he stood atop Fort Stevens to watch the action. He was advised to leave, however, when a sharpshooter‘s bullet hit a man standing nearby. The battle ended when Early decided an attempt on the capital would fail and so withdrew his men during the night of the 12th.