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TMIH – October 12, 1870:
General Robert E. Lee Dies

October 10, 2013 by | Comments Off

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“The education of a man is never completed until he dies” is a statement attributed to Robert E. Lee, whose education was completed in 1870 as death reached him only five years after surviving the U.S. Civil War as the head of the Army of the Confederate States of America (CSA).

General Lee died in Lexington, Virginia, on October 12, 1870, at the age of 63. Mourners at his funeral are pictured standing on the steps of Arlington House, residence of the Lee and Custis families for decades, and now known as The Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Lee was born on January 19, 1807, at his family’s Stratford Hall plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia. After attending West Point, he forged a promising military career and distinguished himself in the Mexican American War. Later, he would command the CSA Army and, in the last years of his life, serve as president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University.

There are several photos on Fold3, one showing Lee in profile, another with son George Washington Custis Lee, and his famous portrait as a Confederate general. Many more documents relating to Lee and his family can be found in Fold3′s Civil War Collection.

As a second-year student at West Point in 1827, Cadet Robert E. Lee appears on a list of assistant professors at the academy in Letters Received by the Adjutant General, 1822-1860. Lee’s name and signature appear often within that title and in the later set of Letters Received by the Adjutant General, 1861-1870. In this 1855 document, Lee accepts an appointment of Lieutenant Colonel and swears allegiance to the United States of America. Later, he’s recommended for promotion to brigadier general by J.M. Porter in a letter to President Buchanan. It was an appointment that didn’t happen despite Porter’s effusive endorsement.

Prior to the Civil War, Lee headed a board of officers tasked with examining effective signal communications. His 1859 reports begin here and continue for 179 pages. When Virginia voted to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861, Lee felt obligated to fight for his home state and signed a resignation letter three days later. In his new position, he wrote a letter to General McClellan regarding an exchange of prisoners on July 24, 1862,

Confederate Amnesty Papers contain applications of former Confederates for presidential pardons and, while there are many post-war oaths of allegiance to the USA by former CSA officers like General George E. Pickett and Lee’s nephew Fitzhugh Lee, General Lee’s request and pardon are not among them. Learn the story behind it in the Spring 2005 issue of NARA’s Prologue magazine.

After his death, Robert E. Lee’s legacy strengthened in both the South and the North. He is remembered as a brilliant military leader, a devoted family man, and a great American.

Content Update: Pension Numerical Index, 1860-1934

October 8, 2013 by | 2 Comments

The Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index, one of Fold3′s earliest titles, now has a partner in the recently added Pension Numerical Index. Officially called A1158, Numerical Index to Pensions, 1860-1934, this card index from the National Archives is a great cross-referencing tool as it covers pension application and certificate numbers for men who fought in wars prior to, during, or after the Civil War.

Aside from being a rather cool index, cards may include up to twenty names for low numbers and four or five names for higher numbers. It is a helpful resource for confirming hard-to-decipher numbers on other indexes, or for cross-referencing application and certificate numbers.

While mostly comprised of Civil War and later pension numbers, the earliest cards include entries for soldiers in the Indian War, Mexican War, War of 1812, and the “Old War,” this last covering those who served from the end of the Revolutionary War to the beginning of the Civil War (1783-1861).

The cards are presented in numerical order, yet every card is indexed by name as well. The Pension Numerical Index can be used in tandem with other records on Fold3 like the Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index (T289), and pension files for Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Let’s look at a few examples.

If you find a card in T289 that’s difficult to read, like this one for a minor dependent of Conrad Geveke, you can search on his name within the Pension Numerical Index to locate a card for application number 64685 where his pension’s certificate number (62762) is also listed on the card (and the letter “C” marks it as that for a child, or minor.) Our search for Conrad Geveke yields two hits, however, and the second card is 62762, the certificate number.

Other names on card #62762 direct you to pensions for three other men. Note that Nicodemus F. Orem’s application number is 62762, but his certificate number is 81107, which we find here. If we search for Nicodemus F. Orem in T289, we won’t find him unless we use a variant spelling of his first name as Nicodemas.

Both Army and Navy certificate numbers are referenced. Search for a sailor named John C. Joyce and you’ll find the 51169 index card on which Joyce is one of five pensioners listed. The other four entries reference Army pensioners by application and certificate numbers. We also find Joyce’s pension certificate #36486 cross-referenced on the card. After locating his file within the Navy Survivors’ Certificates on Fold3, we find number 36486 indexed with his name, and it appears on many of the documents. Application “No. 51169″ is noted on page 19 of Joyce’s 89-page file.

A search for Peter Eckley brings us to a card numbered 84353. His name appears in the section for Army certificate numbers of dependants. Eckley was in the Indiana Infantry, Regiment 91, Company H, but the dependant in this case is his widow, Eliza Ann—noted by the “W” on the index card under “service.” Of interest within her 42-page pension file are a Fort Wayne undertaker’s receipt and a letter to her doctor acknowledging that the government will pay $10 of his bill for $354.75.

Imagine the long history of American military service indexed via the extremely large number of pensioners recorded on these cards. If a serviceman’s story isn’t available yet on Fold3 within its extensive sets of military pension files, you can use the information on the Pension Numerical Index to order files from NARA.

The Battle of Chapultepec

September 1, 2013 by | Comments Off

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September 1847 was a volatile and critical month in the Mexican American War. Although an armistice between the U.S. and Mexico was signed on August 24, 1847, it was short-lived and hostilities resumed with battles at Molino del Ray (September 8) and Chapultepec (September 12-13) just outside Mexico City. General Winfield Scott ultimately claimed Mexico City on September 14, forcing General Santa Anna’s Mexican troops to abandon the city in defeat.

The Battle of Chapultepec was bloody, long, and difficult. Marines and soldiers scaled the fortress walls and engaged in close hand-to-hand combat toward the end. It is a well-remembered battle of an oft-forgotten war. The Chapultepec fortress was also known as the Halls of Montezuma and is historically significant for the U.S. Marine Corps. Most of the Marines who fought at Chapultepec were killed in the battle. The Corps’ official Marines’ Hymn memorializes their bravery and losses, as it begins with a phrase referring to the storming of Chapultepec: “From the Halls of Montezuma.”

At the Battle of Churubusco, a few weeks earlier, U.S. troops had captured 85 members of the St. Patrick’s Battalion, a Mexican artillery unit comprised mostly of Irish Catholic defectors from the U.S. They were court-martialed and fifty were sentenced to be hanged. However, the hanging of thirty of them was delayed to deliver a message. The thirty condemned men stood with nooses around their necks, waiting to be hanged for several hours until the American flag was raised over the fortress of Chapultepec. They were then provided with a final vision of their treachery.

Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant were three of many who became future leaders in the U.S. Civil War, yet began their military careers in battles near Mexico City.

Explore Mexican War Service Records on Fold3 to learn more about those who fought in these and other battles between the U.S. and Mexico. Be sure to locate the Unit Information which precedes individual service records within each military unit for accounts of the battles in which the units were engaged.

Chris O’Donnell’s Ancestor’s Discharge Request

August 26, 2013 by | 1 Comment

On August 20th’s, Who Do You Think You Are? episode, Chris O’Donnell discovered a letter on Fold3 written by his ancestor, Michael McEnnis, requesting a discharge from service in the Mexican American War after learning of his father’s death.

The letter, written on 11 December 1846, described McEnnis’ service and circumstances. He wrote, “I left a large family composed of my father three women and three children but my father being in good health and in a way of making a good living.” And, that he “felt no alarm as to the consequences attending it.”

McEnnis poignantly relates, “I received inteligence of the sudden death of my father leaving me a large and helpless family to protect and see after.” The letter is signed by McEnnis, O’Donnell’s great-great-great-grandfather.

The full 6-page file is within the Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1822-1860, which holds similar personal correspondence by officers and enlisted men relating to enlistment, transfers, discharges, and promotions.

Venture deeper into the records on Fold3 to discover your own family’s story through the words of ancestors who served in the nation’s military.

August 2013 Content Update: Society of the War of 1812 Applications

August 15, 2013 by | 3 Comments

Family Bible RecordThe Society of the War of 1812 Applications is the newest title in Fold3’s growing War of 1812 Collection. Thousands of names, dates, and relationships are available in over three hundred membership applications. The Society, founded September 14, 1814, is comprised of thirty-two state societies, one of which is the District of Columbia whose application files are the first to be added to Fold3.

The applications are typically four to six pages, teeming with genealogical data connecting members of the Society to their War of 1812 ancestors. Often, especially in the later applications, you’ll discover verifying documents like family Bible records, awards, newspapers clippings, and memorabilia.

Pension File for Buckley ButterworthThrough his 1962 application, Walter Vancion Ball became member #210 via his descent from Buckley Butterworth, a War of 1812 soldier from Campbell County, Virginia. Ball traces his descent from Butterworth, his great-great-grandfather, providing names, dates, and places to prove his lineage. At the bottom of this page, we also find information about his ancestor’s service which helps us locate the pension file for Buckley Butterworth. It confirms that he received three bounty land warrants for his service, that he served for three months in 1814, and includes many letters questioning whether his widow’s name was Sarah/Sally or Frances. It was later determined that Frances was his daughter’s name and, in the process, the names of several additional relatives are provided.

Ball’s society application also provides service information and “Authorities as to Descent” to document Ball’s genealogy. The final page includes interesting additional facts about his great-great-grandfather Buckley, as well as Ball’s own personal history. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and authored “The Butterworth Family of Maryland and Virginia-1960.”

Authorities as to Descent
The General Society of the War of 1812 is a lineage society which commemorates those who fought in the War of 1812. Many members of the District of Columbia society were descendants of the original Washington “Warhawks,” younger congressman who pushed for going to war with Great Britain in 1812 in what is often called America’s Second War of Independence.

Read more about the Ball-Butterworth connections or explore the War of 1812 Society Applications on Fold3 to learn more about the soldiers who served and their descendants.

August 1963: UFO Reports in Project Blue Book

August 1, 2013 by | 1 Comment

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After the 1947 “Roswell Incident” in New Mexico, the U.S. Air Force launched Project Blue Book which ultimately investigated nearly 13,000 UFO sightings within the United States and abroad. The reports and records of these sightings are available free on Fold3.

When the project closed in 1969, the Air Force had concluded that none of the objects investigated ever threatened national security, that no discoveries were more advanced than known contemporary technology of the day, and there was no evidence that the objects were extraterrestrial vehicles.

Fifty years ago, in August 1963, there were forty-four investigations into UFO sightings. Most were explained as meteors, planets, aircraft, or natural occurrences; and many were written off as lacking in evidence. The files typically begin with a Project Record Card with twelve boxes recording date, location, number of objects, length of observation, a summary, and conclusions. While most sightings were in the U.S., other reports in August 1963 came from Italy, Afghanistan, Chile, and the Pacific Ocean.

In Auburn, Maine, strips of tinfoil were discovered on a farm and explained as chaff used in jamming radar. In Borger, Texas, a ten-foot wide, heart-shaped mark of a smelly phosphorus substance on someone’s lawn led her to believe that “some object had hovered just above the ground,” but it was identified as eggs of a grass fly species. It was acknowledged as “an unusual happening with an unusual answer.”

The Cleveland Ufology Project investigated a newspaper story that reported a young boy finding a rock that fell from the sky on August 13, 1963. It tasted like salt (we wonder why anyone would taste something that might be of extraterrestrial origin) and was later determined to be salt crystals.

Several witnesses in Warner, New Hampshire, near Lake Winnepocket testified that they saw cigar-shaped objects. One person took a 16mm color movie, supposedly archived in another location at the National Archives. The 38-page report included diagrams and multiple forms. Analysis confirmed that the observations were of a meteor shower.

A circular object with a bluish red tinge disappearing over the treetops in Nikiski, Alaska, on August 10, 1963, was evaluated as an a/c (aircraft) sighting. A couple of unidentified objects accompanying a military aircraft in Morehead, Kentucky, were identified as the aircraft’s appendages as it flew out of the nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The documents in Fold3’s Project Blue Book files are declassified, but names and addresses are masked to protect identities and locations. The stories can be fascinating. Evidence of any government cover-up is discounted, but you can be the judge of that when you read the investigations.

Gettysburg 150th Anniversary

July 1, 2013 by | Comments Off

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The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863

What can we say today about an event as historically significant and perpetually reviewed as the Battle of Gettysburg? It is seared into our consciousness like no other military engagement—probably as a result of Lincoln’s impassioned Gettysburg Address. Or perhaps because the casualty count was the highest ever on American soil, or that this three-day battle was considered a crucial turning point in the Civil War. No matter whether your allegiance favors the North or the South, both nations suffered greatly. Now, one hundred and fifty years later, we commemorate it.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought ferociously and courageously by over 160,000 men over three days—1-3 July 1863—in and around the small rural town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The logistics and strategies of the battle are well documented. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fought the Union’s Army of the Potomac, led by Major General George G. Meade. Lee’s Army made significant progress and gained a good deal of ground during the first two days of battle, yet a Confederate strategy on the third day, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” was repulsed and the Union forced the Confederates to retreat. The result was a massive Union victory, foiling General Lee’s attempted invasion of the north. Casualty estimates range upward of 51,000, including over 7,000 fatalities, with more dying from wounds and infections in the months ahead.

There are grisly stories of the aftermath. The citizens of Gettysburg suffered, too. Thousands of bodies required burial and tens of thousands of injured needed medical treatment. Makeshift hospitals overtook the town. Camp Letterman General Hospital was established east of Gettysburg a few weeks after the battle. It consisted of hundreds of tents and support services. It was winter before the last soldier departed.

It took a week to bury the dead and most were in shallow graves, hastily dug to avoid epidemics. Many Confederates were reinterred years later in southern states, while the Union dead were ultimately reburied in a location set aside a few months after the battle as the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. It was there, on November 19, 1863, that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. It was two minutes long and less than 300 words, dedicated to “those who here gave their lives” so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Explore the Civil War Collection on Fold3 to learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg. Locate maps and photos related to the battle, including those by Mathew Brady’s team of photographers. Read Confederate Casualty Reports for first-hand accounts of Confederate officers, and review the military records of many of the soldiers who served on either side.