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150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: St. Albans Raid

October 1, 2014 by | 24 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On October 19, 1864, a small force of Confederates launched a raid from Canada on St. Albans, Vermont, just 15 miles from the border, in the northernmost engagement of the Civil War. Almost two dozen Confederates—mainly escaped prisoners of war—trickled into the Vermont town over the course of a few days so as not to arouse suspicion. The plan was to rob the town’s banks, and on the afternoon of the 19th they did just that, holding up three banks at the same time. The leader of the raiders, 21-year-old Bennett Young supposedly announced, “I take possession of this town in the name of the Confederate States of America!”

American editorial in response to Canada releasing the raidersWhile some of the Confederates were robbing the banks, others were stealing horses for the getaway and keeping nearby townspeople on the village green at gunpoint so they couldn’t interfere with the robberies or alert the authorities. When all was said and done, one man from the town had been killed, a few others were wounded, and the robbers had netted about $200,000—roughly $3 million in today’s currency. After unsuccessfully trying to burn the town, the raiders took off back to Canada with their haul. Under pressure from the United States, the Canadians apprehended the raiders (though they didn’t extradite them and later released them). Only about $87,000 of the stolen money was recovered.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies

September 19, 2014 by | 6 Comments

Confederate Report on the Battle of Hampton Roads
One of Fold3’s newest titles is the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. Like its name suggests, this collection contains the two navies’ official reports, orders, and correspondence from the Civil War. If you’re interested in the Civil War, this is the go-to title for contemporary, first-hand information about the Northern and Southern navies.

Originally compiled by the Navy Department, the Official Records of the Navies are organized into two series: Series I, with 27 individual volumes, and Series II, with 3 volumes and an index. Series I documents all wartime operations of the two navies, while Series II deals with statistical data of Union and Confederate ships, letters of marque and reprisal, Confederate departmental investigations, Navy and State department correspondence, proclamations and appointments of President Davis, and more.

It took about 40 years for the Navy Department to finish compiling the records, with work officially beginning in 1884 and the final volume of Series II being published in 1922 (and the index in 1927). Because of the massive number of pages contained in the Official Records, Fold3 is still working on getting all of it up on our site. At last check, the project was three-fourths complete (but at least you won’t have to wait 40 years!).

A few interesting finds in the Official Records of the Navies include the following:

  • A Union account of the Battle of Gloucester Point, the earliest engagement between the Union navy and the Confederates
  • A Confederate report on the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first battle of ironclad ships
  • A letter from a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy detailing the death of a fellow lieutenant during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, the battle in which the Confederacy lost its last seaport

Beyond historical information, the Official Records of the Navies can be a good place to look for any of your ancestors who served in either navy during the war. Take a look through the extensive 457-page index, and you’ll get an idea of just how many thousands of names are mentioned in the records. Even if you don’t find your specific ancestors, you’re almost guaranteed to find information about their commanding officers or the ships they served on, helping you to round out your general knowledge of what those ancestors’ lives were like.

Get started browsing through the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies here, or do a search instead.

Japan Surrenders: September 2, 1945

September 1, 2014 by | 49 Comments

The Formal Surrender of JapanOn September 2, 1945, Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender, officially ending World War II.

Despite the fact that Japan’s defeat seemed imminent all that summer, it wasn’t until after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—at nearly the same time that the Soviets declared war on Japan and attacked Manchuria—that Japan saw surrender as a possibility. Even then, there was still wide support in Japanese political and military circles for the war to continue, and it took the emperor himself speaking in favor of surrender for Japan to finally capitulate on August 14.

The surrender ceremony took place a few weeks later, on the morning of September 2, in Tokyo Bay on board the USS Missouri. Allied officials and members of the press arrived on the ship between 7 and 8 that morning, with General Douglas MacArthur, the newly appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, arriving at 8:43 and the Japanese delegation boarding at 8:56. The ceremony began at 9:02, and MacArthur gave a brief speech in which he remarked, “It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past.”

Admiral Chester Nimitz signing the Japanese Surrender DocAfter MacArthur finished, the Japanese delegates signed the unconditional surrender. They were followed by MacArthur, who signed on behalf of the Allies, and Admiral Chester Nimitz, who signed for the United States. China, Britain, the USSR, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand also signed the documents. By 9:22, everyone had signed, and MacArthur concluded the ceremony with another short speech. After he had spoken, 450 U.S. navy planes and hundreds more army planes flew in formation over the Missouri. The ceremony ended at 9:25, a brief 23 minutes long.

Although the war was over, it was still some months before the Allies had accepted the surrender of all the widespread Japanese garrisons. And some Japanese units in remote areas continued to fight after the surrender until they heard the news (which for a few men was years or even decades later). MacArthur headed the American occupation of Japan until 1951, and U.S. troops remained in the country until the following year, 1952.

Learn more about Japan’s surrender or other WWII topics in Fold3’s WWII collection.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Sherman Takes Atlanta

September 1, 2014 by | 49 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

In May 1864, Union general William T. Sherman began his invasion of Georgia, going up against Confederate general Joseph Johnston in a series of battles and skirmishes throughout early and mid-summer. But in July, President Jefferson Davis, unhappy with Johnston’s tactics, replaced him with the more aggressive John Bell Hood.

Sherman’s and Hood’s men clashed time and again in July and August. Sherman, unwilling to attempt a head-on assault of Atlanta, decided instead to cut off the city’s last remaining railroad supply line, which his men successfully did despite Confederate opposition.

General William ShermanWhen Hood was informed of the rail line’s destruction, he ordered the evacuation of his men from Atlanta on September 1. Before they left, they destroyed ammunition stores, locomotives, and anything else the Federals would find useful. The Federals took the city the next day. Sherman’s troops would remain in Atlanta for another two months, before leaving in mid-November on Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea.

The FBI Case Files

August 20, 2014 by | 17 Comments

FBI Case FileLike a good mystery? Then take a look through Fold3’s collection of old FBI Case Files. Written between 1908 and 1922 when the FBI was still just the Bureau of Investigation, these files document the fledgling organization’s investigations into crimes against the United States and violations of federal laws.

The case files (via the National Archives) cover a vast range of topics, though common ones include investigations into suspicious or anti-American activities of German aliens during WWI and Mexican aliens during the Mexican revolution; conditions at the US-Mexico border; instances of draft-registration avoidance; violations of Prohibition and its precursors (like the Reed Amendment and Wartime Prohibition Act); and alleged communist, socialist, or otherwise radical activities.

With more than 2.3 million records, the majority about individuals, this collection can also be a good place to look for your ancestors, especially if they’re of German or Mexican descent. Not only do the case files give details on the individuals being investigated, but they also commonly mention interviews with family, employers, and neighbors, giving you a more rounded look into an ancestor’s past rather than simply the bare facts.

A few cases you might find interesting include the following:

  • An investigation by O.L. Tinklepaugh into a probable violation of Mexican neutrality in Texas. A rancher reported that Mexican bandits stole his cattle, but the truth of the situation isn’t what you might expect.
  • An investigation by Arthur Denison into an unusual crossing at the California-Mexico border. Discover why Denison was worried about “engendering a misunderstanding with the Mexican border officials.”
  • An investigation by Charles Scully into a report of mysterious signals flashing at night from the house of Howard Vibbert in Connecticut. Could Vibbert be a German spy? Or does he just have a nosy neighbor?
  • An investigation by H.P. Shaughnessy into a man pretending to work for the Secret Service to con a woman in Boston into a fake engagement. Find out in the report what was more important to Shaughnessy than the young lady’s broken heart.
  • An investigation by J.W. Bales into a letter reporting irregularities in a Delaware draft board’s classification decisions. Decide for yourself whether the actions of the draft board were suspicious, or if the letter writer had a personal grudge.

Explore the issues that interested the Bureau of Investigation in the first quarter of the 20th century—and maybe even find an ancestor along the way—in the FBI Case Files.

Tip: Finding Women in Military Records

August 11, 2014 by | 17 Comments

Women in the militaryMilitary records might not be the first placed you’d think to look for that elusive female ancestor you’re researching, but these records can actually be a valuable resource. Although women themselves didn’t formally serve in the military for much of America’s history, they sometimes had male relatives who did, and the military records of these men can contain varying amounts of information about the women in their lives.

One of the richest potential sources of information about women is Fold3’s pension or widows’ pension files from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War (as well as others, like Navy Widows’ Certificates, Navy Survivors Originals, and Mormon Battalion Pension Files). Pension files are a good source because applicants provided a vast range of information and documents during the process, including things like deeds, wills, diaries, journals, letters, marriage certificates and affidavits, and newspaper clippings—any of which might contain information about our female ancestors. Although widows’ pension files and those submitted by a living husband are especially promising sources for finding out about our female ancestors, the pension files of a woman’s father, brothers, sons, or other male relatives may also turn up unexpected information.

In fact, looking beyond a husband’s records and into those of other male relatives holds true for all the military records you search. For example, in the WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards, an unmarried man may have listed a mother, sister, or aunt as their contact “who will always know [their] address”—and that contact information may provide you with the clues you need to track down more information about the woman

Women in the militarySome other Fold3 military records where you might find your female ancestors via their male relatives include the WWII Draft Registration Cards; New York 174th Regiment Service Cards; New York National Guard Personnel Jackets; WWII Missing Air Crew Reports; and WWII Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualty List.

Sometimes you can find documents and information about women in their own right (rather than via their male relatives) in military collections. On Fold3, these include the Civil War Subversion Investigations, Confederate Amnesty Papers, Confederate Citizens File, and Union Citizens File, as well as the WWII US Air Force Photos; the various Civil War photo collections; and the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Vietnam War photos.

Remember, although many of Fold3’s records are indexed using OCR, it’s not true for all of them, especially older, handwritten documents. So if a search doesn’t turn up the names you’re looking for, it’s time to put on your detective’s hat and start browsing through the records for the information you want. If you want to learn more about finding female ancestors or searching military records, has helpful videos on those topics, among many others. Happy hunting!

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.