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Find: Personal Interviews in the WWII War Diaries

October 10, 2014 by | 10 Comments

Personal Interview of Landon L. Davis Jr.
If you’ve spent any time looking through Fold3’s WWII War Diaries, you probably know it as a huge collection of action reports and day-to-day activity records submitted by Navy and Marine Corps units. But if you dig a little deeper into the collection, you’ll find that it also has more than 800 pages of personal interviews with Navy officers—many of them submarine commanders—as well as a few Marines about their experiences in World War II. Each interview has an introductory page that gives a short summary of the narrative’s highlights, helping you more easily determine if the content would interest you or not.

All the interviews are worth a read, but listed below are some that stand out for the quality of their information and for their readability or humor:

  • An interview with Lt. Commander Landon L. Davis, Jr., of the USS Pampanito (submarine) about rescuing Allied prisoners of war from the water after the Japanese ship they were on was sunk.
  • An interview with Captain Arthur Lawrence Maher, gunnery officer on the USS Houston (heavy cruiser), about the sinking of the Houston in the Battle of Sunda Strait, his subsequent capture by the Japanese, and life in prison camps.
  • An interview with Commander Chester C. Smith of the USS Swordfish (submarine) about evacuating Philippine dignitaries and other occurrences on the sub’s patrols.
  • An interview with A. H. Stegall, chief radioman on the USS Silversides (submarine), about an emergency appendectomy performed (with no experience) on board, as well as an account of the sub getting bombed by a plane.
  • An interview with Captain E. C. Stephan, commander of the USS Grayback (submarine), about another emergency appendectomy (also performed with no experience) and some of the highlights of the Grayback’s fifth war patrol, including a “lighthouse” mission and the rescue of downed airmen.
  • An interview with Commander Kemp Tolley of the USS Lanikai (yacht) about the Japanese air raid on Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines and the schooner’s escape to Australia via the Dutch East Indies.

Interested in reading more? Find additional personal interviews from the WWII War Diaries here.

Surrender at Yorktown: October 19, 1781

October 1, 2014 by | 47 Comments

Greatest harmony prevails between the French and American armiesOn October 19, 1781, after almost 2 weeks of being under siege, the British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, surrendered to combined American and French forces, effectively signaling the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary War.

A few weeks before the American and French troops began their bombardment of the British defenses at Yorktown, the French Admiral de Grasse defeated the British fleet off the Virginia Capes. This victory left the 7,000 troops in Yorktown under British General Cornwallis effectively without naval support, thus enabling the American and French troops to begin their siege without any serious opposition or threat of British escape by sea.

The 8,900 Americans (under General Washington) and 7,800 French (under the Comte de Rochambeau) traveled hundreds of miles south to arrive outside Yorktown on September 28. The combined armies began their bombardment on October 9—after digging a siege trench 600 yards from the British lines—and kept up a near constant barrage of fire from artillery and siege guns.

Americans and French attack the redoubts at YorktownOn October 14, select French and American troops stormed the last two British-held redoubts, and once those were captured, the combined troops completed a second, closer trench. In response, the British made a sortie before sunrise on the 16th to spike their enemies’ guns, but the guns were quickly repaired and soon began firing again.

General Cornwallis, for his part, had been holding out hope that promised reinforcements would arrive, but when it became clear that his troops couldn’t hold out that long, he attempted to send them across the river to try to break out on the other side. Unfortunately for him, after the first group got across, a squall prevented all further crossings.

Realizing his position was hopeless without the reinforcements, Cornwallis sent out a drummer and an officer with a white handkerchief on October 17 to signal their capitulation. On the 18th, the two sides negotiated the terms of the surrender, which formally occurred on the 19th.

Washington Informs Congress of the Victory at YorktownWith the surrender at Yorktown, it became clear that the British were losing ground in America. Indeed, the Siege of Yorktown ended up being the last major land battle of the war, though the war wouldn’t officially be over for another year and a half.

Find out more about the Siege of Yorktown and other people and events of the war in Fold3’s Revolutionary War collection.

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.