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The Battle of Bunker Hill: June 17, 1775

June 1, 2015 by | 66 Comments

Battle of Bunker Hill Image
On June 17, 1775, American colonists clashed with the British in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution.

At the time, the British occupying Boston were under siege and thus aimed to take the nearby and strategically valuable Dorchester Heights. In response, the Americans decided to build defenses on the Charlestown peninsula, which was just over the river from Boston. Originally ordered to dig in on Bunker Hill, the senior officers decided instead to build their redoubt on nearby Breed’s Hill, which was closer to Boston. On the night of June 16—17, the Americans worked to build a redoubt and in the morning began a breastwork as well.

The British realized what the Americans were up to and, when morning came, planned an attack. They decided to send some of the British forces in a frontal assault against the redoubt and breastwork while the main attack would hit the American left, which was weak. However, during the time it took for the British to cross the river and then wait for reinforcements, the Americans strengthened their left with last-minute fortifications.

1875 centennial reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill

The majority of the fighting took place at three locations on or near Breed’s Hill: the redoubt and breastwork, a rail fence to the breastwork’s left rear, and a stone wall down on the beach below the rail fence. Americans at the stone wall and rail fence successfully held off the British when they came at the Americans’ left. However, the British attack at the redoubt and breastwork, though repulsed twice, eventually overwhelmed the Americans, once the British artillery joined in and the colonists ran low on gunpowder and ammunition. The British and Americans engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting within the redoubt, and the Americans were forced to abandon their position and retreat off the peninsula.

Excerpt of letter to Congress from American wounded at Battle of Bunker Hill
Despite the British victory, casualties were high. Approximately 1,054 out of 2,500 British were killed or wounded. As for the Americans, they suffered around 450 casualties out of a force of 3,000 (though probably only about half that number were actually engaged in the battle). Although the Battle of Bunker Hill was a loss for the Americans, it eventually came to represent the colonists’ ability to take on the renowned British army.

Did you have ancestors who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill? Tell us about it! Or if you want to learn more about the battle and the people who fought in it, start a search on Fold3.

150th Anniversary (1865–2015) This Month in the Civil War: Final Surrenders of the War

June 1, 2015 by | 14 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

June 1865 was the month of two of the final surrenders of Confederate land forces at the end of the Civil War.

At the beginning of June, Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith signed the documents that surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department—the last unsurrendered Confederate department, comprising approximately 36,000 troops—to the Federals. Although Smith had rejected a surrender proposed by John Pope in mid-May, once Smith began hearing about the surrender of Joseph E. Johnston and the capture of Jefferson Davis, he sent his chief of staff, Simon Buckner, to meet with Union general Edward Canby in New Orleans on May 26 to accept the terms of surrender and sign the agreement. Then, a week later, on June 2, Smith traveled to Galveston, Texas, to put his own signature on the documents.

James Waddell of the CSS Shenandoah says he was unaware of the end of the Civil War
The last Confederate general to surrender was Stand Watie. On June 23, Watie, a Cherokee chief and brigadier general, surrendered his First Indian Brigade (composed of Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, and Osages) at Doaksville, in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

Also in June, the CSS Shenandoah, a Confederate raider, fired the final shot of the Civil War. Unaware that the war had ended, the ship’s commander, James Waddell, continued attacking U.S. shipping and on June 22 fired at a whaling boat in the Bering Sea. On August 2, Waddell learned from a British ship that the war was over and, rather than surrendering in the U.S., sailed 17,000 miles to turn his ship over in Britain on November 5.

Find: WWII Color Photos

May 20, 2015 by | 23 Comments

WWII Color Photo
When many of us think of photos from World War II, we think of black-and-white images. After all, most of the iconic photographs from the war—like those capturing the flag raising on Iwo Jima or the VJ Day kiss in Times Square—are in that medium. But actually, color photography had slowly been becoming more popular and available in the years leading up to the war. So while it was still quicker and easier to shoot and develop black-and-white photos, a growing number of war photographers began using color film to capture the people, places, and events of the World War II, giving us a chance today to see the war how those who lived through it did—in living color.

Fold3’s WWII US Air Force Photos collection includes some of these color images, mainly from US operations in England, Germany, France, Panama, and China. A few of the many color photographs on Fold3 include:

WWII Pilots
Want to find more WWII color photographs on Fold3? Search the WWII US Air Force Photos for the term “color.” Or you can look through the selection highlighted on the Fold3 topic page “Color Photos from World War II.”

TMIH: The Sinking of the Lusitania: May 7, 1915

May 4, 2015 by | 26 Comments

RMS Lusitania
On May 7, 1915, the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 passengers and crew and sparking outrage on both sides of the Atlantic.

When the Lusitania set out on its final voyage on May 1, World War I had been raging for almost a year (though America was still neutral), and Germany had begun unrestricted submarine warfare around the British Isles. Still, despite a warning placed in newspapers by the German embassy that anyone traveling on a British or Allied ship did so at their own risk, many felt that the Germans would never sink a ship with so many civilians and that the Lusitania was much too fast for a submarine to catch anyway. So the Lusitania left New York, headed toward Liverpool, with about 2,000 passengers and crew—and munitions intended for the British war effort—on board.

One account of lifeboats and lifevests being used on the Lusitania
The Lusitania’s crossing was uneventful, though as the ship neared Britain it received a few general warnings about German submarines operating nearby. Then, at 2:10 p.m. on the 7th, only 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, the ship was struck by a torpedo fired by a German submarine, U-20. The torpedo hit amidships on the starboard side and was quickly followed by a secondary explosion (the cause of which remains a mystery today, though there are many theories). As water rushed into the lower portion of the Lusitania, the ship began to list severely.

Though there were enough lifeboats and lifejackets for everyone, the ship sank far too rapidly (in just 18 minutes) for most people to make use of them. Only 6 of the 48 lifeboats were successfully launched; everyone else was trapped in the ship or forced to fend for themselves in the frigid water. Rescue boats took about 2 hours to reach the survivors. Despite the rescuers’ best efforts, only about 760 people were saved—a little over a third of the number of those originally on board.

Opinion that America will not go to war over the Lusitania
The sinking of the Lusitania caused international outrage toward Germany, especially in America, which had lost 128 of the 159 of its citizens on board. Though the sinking of the Lusitania didn’t directly cause America to enter the war (it wouldn’t enter for another two years), it did turn public opinion against Germany, and when America finally entered the war, Germany’s submarine attacks were a leading reason.

Want to learn more about the Lusitania? Start a search on Fold3.

150th Anniversary (1865–2015) This Month in the Civil War: Battle of Palmito Ranch

May 4, 2015 by | 27 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On May 12–13, 1865, 800 Federal troops under Colonel Theodore H. Barrett engaged Colonel John S. Ford‘s 350 Confederates outside Brownsville, Texas, in the Battle of Palmito (Palmetto) Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War.

Although an informal agreement to avoid conflict had existed between the Federals and Confederates along the Rio Grande since March, Barrett (who had only recently taken command) decided to launch an attack. A few hundred of his troops advanced on White’s Ranch on May 12, only to find it deserted, so the Federals continued on to Palmito Ranch, skirmishing along the way. The Federals successfully took Palmito Ranch, but Confederate forces returned later that day, causing the Federals to fall back to White’s Ranch.

Fred F.B. Coffin fought in the Battle of Palmito Ranch for the Union with the 62nd USCT
The next day, the Federals were reinforced by another few hundred men, and they set off again for Palmito Ranch, destroying what remained and again skirmishing with Confederates. However, later that afternoon, Ford and his Confederates (who had also been reinforced) launched an attack of their own. The Confederate artillery forced the Federals to retreat, leaving the Confederates the victors.

There were relatively few killed or wounded on either side, though about a hundred Federals were captured. The conflict is significant almost entirely because of its status as the final battle of the war.

Want to learn more about the Battle of Palmito Ranch and the final days of the Civil War? Start a search on Fold3 or explore our Civil War Collection.

Free Access to the World War II Collection

May 1, 2015 by | 4 Comments

WWII Documents
This May 8 marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day in 1945. If you have family members who served in World War II, or are just interested in the time period, take a look at Fold3’s World War II Collection, which you can access for free from May 1st to 15th.

The WWII Collection, currently with over 72 million records, has a diverse array of resources to mine, whether you’re interested in historical aspects of the war or are searching for specific individuals who fought in it. A few of the most popular titles in this collection are

If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a look at our WWII Collection, you might be unfamiliar with its new and updated titles, which include

WWII Photos
If you’re interested in learning more about VE Day, simply search for “VE Day” on Fold3 to find thousands of matches. Some interesting VE Day finds in the World War II collection include

  • A photo of US airmen in England attending a VE Day ceremony
  • A photo of US soldiers at the front lines on Okinawa listening to news of Germany’s surrender by radio
  • An account of how US Atlantic Fleet Bombing Squadron 127 celebrated VE day
  • An account of Allied servicemen participating in VE Day celebrations in Bermuda
  • The VE Day issue of the newspaper of the XIII Air Force Service Command Asiatic Press

Ready to explore the World War II Collection? Get started here.

Find: Lincoln’s Assassination

April 20, 2015 by | 36 Comments

Abraham Lincoln
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was shot on April 14 around 10 o’clock at night while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.

The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, entered the Lincolns’ box and shot the president in the back of the head before jumping out of the box and escaping the theater. President Lincoln, who never regained consciousness, was taken to a boardinghouse across the street, where he died nine hours after being shot, at 7:22 in the morning.

About the same time as Lincoln’s assassination, one of Booth’s co-conspirators seriously wounded Secretary of State William Seward. Vice President Andrew Johnson was also an intended target, but his would-be assassin lost his nerve and did not attack. The final target was allegedly Ulysses S. Grant, though no successful attempt was made on his life.

Sgt. Boston Corbett, who shot John Wilkes Booth
Booth was shot and killed less than two weeks later, on the 26th, after being tracked down in Virginia by Union troops. Eight others suspected of being involved in the plot were tried before a military tribunal that began in May, and the four sentenced to death were hanged in July.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lincoln’s murder and the conspiracy surrounding it, explore Fold3’s Lincoln Assassination Papers, which are part of the Civil War Collection. Here, you’ll find documents from the investigation into the plot, as well as records from the military tribunal that tried the conspirators. These documents include:

  • Letters received by Colonel H. L. Burnett (who was specially assigned to investigate the assassination and later appointed as an assistant judge advocate to the military commission)
  • Letters and telegrams sent by Colonel Burnett’s office, as well as a register of letters received by that office, a record book (of synopses of possible evidence for the trial), and an endorsement book (of letters forwarded from Burnett’s office to other people or offices)
  • Conspirators in the death of President LincolnLetters received and statements of evidence collected by the military commission
  • Issues of the Daily National Intelligencer (a Washington DC newspaper) related to the trial
  • Proceedings of the trial
  • Exhibits used in the trial
  • Defenses of S. Arnold, E. Spangler, L. Payne, M. O’Laughlin, and D. Herold (five of the alleged conspirators)
  • Argument of J. A. Bingham (who was also appointed an assistant judge advocate to the military commission), delivered at the trial

And, of course, additional information about Lincoln can also be found elsewhere in Fold3’s Civil War Collection. So if you want to learn more about Lincoln’s assassination and the trial that followed, search or browse the collections on Fold3.