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Discovery of a Forgotten Antietam Map Ignites Civil War Researchers!

September 15, 2020 by | 51 Comments

In 1864, railroad engineer and cartographer Simon G. Elliott visited the battlefield of Antietam and prepared a detailed map that documented the burials of 5,844 soldiers—2,634 Union and 3,210 Confederate. After the war, Elliott’s map found its way to the archives of the New York Public Library (NYPL) where it remained largely forgotten.

Earlier this year, two Civil War researchers from the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg, Pa., were searching the NYPL digital archives for more information about Elliott (who had also created a well-known map for the Gettysburg battlefield), when they stumbled upon the Antietam map. Realizing the significance of their find, they immediately reached out to the American Battlefield Trust, who confirmed the importance of the map and shared it with rangers at Antietam National Battlefield Park. The Elliott map sheds new light into the Battle of Antietam where more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing, in one day. In some instances, researchers can pinpoint the exact burial location of individual soldiers, regiments, and even horses.

As part of our Civil War Stories project, we’ve teamed up with the American Battlefield Trust to help tell the individual story of Civil War soldiers, the regiments they fought in, and the families and communities they left behind. The Elliott map is an amazing tool to help us do this!

In the days after the Battle of Antietam, the area surrounding Sharpsburg, Maryland, turned into a mass burial ground. Soldiers were buried in single graves or sometimes in long trenches turned mass grave. In 1864, the same year Elliott mapped the battlefield, efforts got underway to identify the gravesites. The State of Maryland purchased property nearby, and in 1867, the newly created Antietam National Cemetery was dedicated. Many of the soldiers’ remains were disinterred from the battlefield and reinterred in the Antietam Cemetery. Their original burial location became lost to time.  

The Elliott map helps tell the story of soldiers like Isaac Thurlow from the Third Wisconsin Infantry, Company C. On April 19, 1861, just four days after Abraham Lincoln sounded the call asking for 75,000 troops to enlist in the Civil War, residents of Green County, Wisconsin, gathered at the County Court House to discuss organizing a company of volunteers. During that patriotic meeting, hands shot up one by one as men volunteered to leave their homes and families to heed President Lincoln’s call. Within a short time, 83 men enrolled, including 24-year-old Isaac Thurlow. His 18-year-old brother Albion would follow in his footsteps just a month later.

On September 17, 1862, during the Battle of Antietam, the Third Wisconsin was just north of the Miller Cornfield in an open and exposed position when its men were attacked by Hood’s Division as they emerged from the corn about 7:30 a.m.

Elliott map notes position of the Third Wisconsin and location of graves

Lt. Warham Parks, recorded the following experience as Isaac Thurlow was hit by gunfire, “I caught him as he fell and his brother (Albion Thurlow) carried him to the rear. In a few moments, he came back saying his brother was dead, picked up his musket and resumed firing…but his courage never failed.” When the firing ceased, nearly two-thirds of the regiments 345 soldiers were either killed or wounded. Originally Isaac Thurlow was buried on the battlefield and using the Elliott map, we can pinpoint almost the exact spot. Later Isaac’s remains were reinterred in the Antietam National Cemetery.

Do you have ancestors who fought at Antietam? Search the Elliott map for the location of their regiment and head over to our Civil War Stories page to learn more. As part of our Civil War Stories project, Fold3 and the American Battlefield Trust are trying to research every soldier who fought in the Civil War. You can be a part of this massive effort by sharing your Civil War records, stories, journals, and documents. Just upload images using this tool. Alternatively, you can attach images to an existing soldier’s Memorial or create a new Memorial page using this video tutorial. Keep in mind that Fold3 has already generated thousands of memorials using regimental records, and one may already exist for your soldier.

We’re so excited about this project! Eventually, you’ll be able to search your ancestor and see regimental records for all the soldiers he served with. In many cases, these are brothers, fathers, sons, and cousins. To take a closer look at the Antietam Elliott map, click here. To learn more about the Battle of Antietam and the regiments that fought in it, visit our Civil War Stories page on Fold3 today.   

September 10, 1861: Battle of Carnifex Ferry

August 31, 2020 by | 64 Comments

On September 10, 1861, the Battle of Carnifex Ferry took place in the opening months of the Civil War at Nicholas County, Virginia (now West Virginia). The Union Army, under the direction of Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans sought to stop the advancing Confederate Army, under the direction of Gen. John B. Floyd. The battle took place near Summersville at an important crossing of the Gauley River and resulted in a strategic Union victory. The battle was an impetus to the movement that helped portions of Western Virginia break away to become the 35th state of West Virginia. Two future U.S. presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William McKinley were among the soldiers who fought at Carnifex Ferry.

Events leading up to the Battle of Carnifex Ferry had been unfolding for weeks. Confederate troops had advanced into the Kanawha Valley and launched an attack at Kessler’s Cross Lanes (just over a mile from the ferry crossing) on August 26th. Proceeding to Carnifex Ferry, they drove Henry Patterson and his family from their farmhouse which overlooked the Gauley River. Some 2000 Confederate forces then set up a defensive position on the Patterson farm and along the steep cliffs overlooking the ferry.

In order to take control of the area, Rosecrans assembled a large army of 7,000 to push the Confederates southward. As the Federals advanced, the leading brigade encountered Floyd’s pickets about 3:30 p.m. on the afternoon of September 10th at the ferry.

Rutherford B. Hayes, 38, and William McKinley, 18, both served in the Ohio 23rd Infantry. For many soldiers in the Ohio 23rd, this was their first battle experience (the unit mustered in just three months earlier). During the battle, the 23rd found themselves caught in a friendly fire incident while trying to flank the Confederate line. In the confusion and fleeting daylight, they started firing on their own men, killing two and wounding 30. The Patterson home was also caught in the crossfire from both armies and riddled with bullets. The structure still stands today at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park.

Patterson Home

Fighting continued until dark, at which point the Confederates withdrew and the Union soldiers settled in for the night, prepared to resume the battle at daylight. During the night, Floyd, realizing that he was outnumbered and facing heavy Union artillery, decided to retreat his army across the ferry to the south side of the Gauley River and continue eastward to Meadow Bluff near Lewisburg. The Federals, exhausted from their march to Carnifex Ferry and the ensuing battle and facing adverse weather, decided against pursuit.

The conflict resulted in Union losses of 17 dead and 141 wounded. Confederate losses totaled 30 wounded with an unknown number of deaths. The Battle of Carnifex Ferry allowed the Federals to secure the Kanawha Valley and its tributaries which gave protection to those who favored secession from Virginia. Six weeks after the battle, residents of areas controlled by Union forces voted to form their own state, and in 1863, West Virginia joined the Union.

To learn more about the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, search Fold3 today!

New Records from the Canadian Expeditionary Force!

August 28, 2020 by | 21 Comments

The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was the force raised by Canada for service overseas during WWI. Some 620,000 Canadians who enlisted between 1914-1918 served in the CEF. Of those enlistees, about 424,000 went overseas. Most were volunteers, but when recruitment slowed, a conscription law went into effect in 1918. Our new Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1915-1919 collection contains nominal rolls, rosters, war diaries, yearbooks, and unit histories for the CEF. Before the war came to an end in November 1918, the CEF gained the respect of both friend and foe as an elite fighting force. There were more than 233,000 Canadian casualties during WWI, resulting in nearly 61,000 deaths.

Canadian troops are issued tea ration from field kitchen along the Western Front

As part of the British Empire, Canada automatically entered WWI in August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany. Canada, however, had limited military forces and began accepting volunteer recruits to serve. The first Canadian division arrived in Europe in 1915 under the command of the British military. Additional battalions arrived as the war progressed. Soon Canada’s fighting forces evolved into a National Army.

Some examples of what you might find in this collection are unit histories like this one for the 13th Battalion that fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. If you have an ancestor that served as a nurse with the CEF, the nominal rolls for the Nursing Sisters are a great resource that provides the name and address for next of kin of the nurse enlistees. These women left their homes and families to care for soldiers with injuries and their dedicated work saved many lives.

The Canadian Grenadier Guards from the 87th Infantry Battalion were primarily recruited from Montreal but had members from every province of Canada. Their yearbook includes photographs of individual soldiers. The 160th Bruce Battalion was formed from residents of Bruce County, Ontario. In this collection, you can find a roster from the 160th Bruce Battalion from December 1916. The group celebrated the Christmas holiday at Bramshott Camp in England. Canadians in Khaki was a WWI pictorial newspaper that included stories of valor and heroism like this one for Sergeant-Major F. W. Hall who died during the Second Battle of Ypres. He served in the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the front line trenches. To get to the trench, soldiers had to cross an exposed bank where enemy machine-gun fire resulted in many casualties. Sergeant-Major Hall left the safety of the trench twice to rescue wounded men who lie suffering on the exposed bank. While attempting to carry a third injured soldier back to the trench he was killed.

To explore this new collection of Canadian records, search our Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1915-1919 collection today on Fold3!

WWII War Correspondent Ernie Pyle: He Brought the Front Line to the Front Room

August 13, 2020 by | 55 Comments

American journalist Ernest Taylor “Ernie” Pyle was one of the most famous war correspondents of WWII. Using his folksy writing style, Pyle connected with his readers and brought the realities of the battlefront to living rooms across America. At his peak, his columns appeared in 400 daily and 300 weekly newspapers. His devoted readers included political and military leaders and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. His coverage of campaigns in North Africa, Italy, and France earned him a Pulitzer Prize. While reporting on the war in the Pacific Theater in April 1945, Pyle was killed by enemy machine-gun fire on the Japanese island of le Shima.

Born August 3, 1900, in Dana, Indiana, Pyle grew up on a farm. He longed for adventure and after graduation from high school, registered for the WWI Draft and joined the US Naval Reserve. WWI ended before he got a chance to see the world, so after returning home, Pyle enrolled in journalism classes at Indiana University. One semester shy of graduation, Pyle took a job at an Indiana newspaper. His unassuming nature, ability to make friends and engaging writing style opened doors at a string of newspapers. He was eventually hired by Scripps-Howard and became a roving reporter.  

In 1940, Germany invaded France and Pyle traveled to England to report on the Battle of Britain. His columns from London brought international acclaim and Pyle became a household name. Pyle returned home, but when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the US entered the war, he headed back overseas. He petitioned for a draft deferment with hopes of remaining a war correspondent, and in 1942 he followed British and American troops during the invasion of North Africa.

On D-Day, Pyle was one of a few war correspondents chosen to accompany US troops during the invasion of Normandy. He boarded General Omar Bradley’s ship Augusta and went ashore at Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944. His poignant articles resonated with Americans who followed the progress of the war through his writings. Pyle returned home a folk hero in the fall of 1944. The stress of war and the impact of seeing so much death and carnage took an emotional toll. Pyle took a few months off but soon felt compelled to return to the battlefield. In January 1945, he headed for the Pacific Theater. He was with US forces on Iwo Jima, during strikes on Tokyo, and reported on the invasion of Okinawa.

On April 18, 1945, Pyle went ashore on the island of le Shima with the 77th Infantry Division. Le Shima was a small island northwest of Okinawa and the 77th was securing an airfield. Pyle was traveling by jeep with Lt. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge when they came under sniper fire. They jumped into a ditch to take cover. Pyle raised his head to look around and a bullet from machine-gun fire hit him just below the brim of his helmet. He was killed instantly at just 44-years-old.

Ernie Pyle’s death photo was discovered in 2008

The 77th Infantry Division erected a monument at the site of his death and Pyle was awarded a Purple Heart, a rare honor for a civilian. Tributes to Pyle poured in. Soldiers named a B-29 Superfortress in his honor, the film The Story of G.I. Joe premiered two months after Pyle’s death. It was a tribute to American infantryman as told through the eyes of Pyle and received four Academy Awards nominations. During the American occupation, a theater in downtown Tokyo was renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater, and the U.S. Postal service issued a postage stamp with Pyle’s image on it. Ernie Pyle is buried in the Punchbowl Cemetery on the island of Oahu.

To read the columns Pyle filed in the months before his death, click here. To see military records that relate to Pyle’s writings and to learn more about WWII, search Fold3 today!

August 15, 1945: V-J Day and the End of WWII

July 31, 2020 by | 72 Comments

The morning of August 15, 1945, dawned with the realization that after a long war resulting in some 60 million deaths worldwide, WWII was finally over and Victory in Japan (V-J Day) had arrived. Hours earlier, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, bringing WWII hostilities around the world to an end. President Harry S. Truman declared a two-day holiday and the war-weary world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

It had been three months since Allies celebrated a victory in Europe (V-E Day), on May 8, 1945. That celebration, however, was tempered by the fact that war was still raging in the Pacific. With all attention being turned to Japan, Allied troops continued their assault in the Pacific. On June 21st, the US completed the capture of Okinawa providing a base for troops to launch a final assault on Japan.

In July, leaders from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States met at the Potsdam Conference where they agreed to insist upon an unconditional Japanese surrender. They warned that without a surrender, Japan would face “prompt and utter destruction.” During the conference, President Truman hinted at the possibility of a weapon that may change the tides of war. Components for that weapon, were in fact, already en route to the Pacific aboard the USS Indianapolis. After delivering atomic bomb components to Tinian, Japanese torpedoes sunk the Indianapolis on July 30th.  Ironically, it wasn’t until V-J Day that word of the Indianapolis sinking reached the public, and on August 15th, the front page of many papers reported on both the Japanese surrender and the Indianapolis tragedy.

Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman, and Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference

Meanwhile, aviators were rehearsing the atomic bombing mission, making practice flights in preparation. The Potsdam Conference wrapped up on August 2nd.  Within one week, two nuclear weapons would be dropped on Japan resulting in the deaths of some 200,000 people, many of them civilians.

On August 6th, a B-29 bomber named Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. A second B-29 bomber, Bockscar, dropped another atomic bomb, “Fat Man”, on Nagasaki three days later. The weapons delivered a devastating blow to Japan.

In the early morning hours of August 14th, the Federal Communications Commission was monitoring a Tokyo radio broadcast when they heard that an announcement accepting the terms of the Potsdam Conference was forthcoming. US Navy Admiral William Halsey, Jr., sent word to aircrews that were minutes away from their targets. “Cease firing, but if you see any enemy planes in the air, shoot them down in a friendly fashion,” he said. That evening, August 14, 1945, the news became official when President Truman announced the suspension of hostilities and the unconditional surrender of Japan at 7:00 p.m. Allies announced the surrender in their capitals at the same hour. As the news spread, throngs of people took to the streets, horns blasted, and bells tolled in celebration. An unofficial V-J Day celebration began spontaneously. The United States would officially celebrate V-J Day when the official Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

To learn more about the final months of WWII and V-J Day, search Fold3 today!

U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites 1775-2019

July 24, 2020 by | 103 Comments

We’ve recently completed a publication that contains nearly 11 million records of U.S. Veterans gravesites that date back to the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites, ca. 1775-2019 collection compiles records from a variety of sources and cemeteries for soldiers and their dependents who were buried in Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemeteries, state veterans’ cemeteries, or other military cemeteries.

Because we’ve cross-referenced multiple sources for this collection, the amount of information on each record varies. Some of the things you might learn from these records include:

  • Name
  • Birthdate
  • Death date
  • Interment Date
  • Burial location
  • Cemetery name and address
  • Relationship to veteran
  • Veteran service dates
  • Military rank and branch

The records in this collection are organized alphabetically and provide genealogical clues for researching the veterans in your family. For example, using details found in the Veterans’ Gravesite collection we were able to tell the story of James Butterfield. Butterfield was born in Binghamton, New York, and tried to enlist in the Union Army at age 17. His father refused to allow this, but the determined boy went to work at a construction camp near Alexandria, VA. While there he was captured by Guerilla James Mosby. After being sent to Libby Prison and other Confederate POW camps, he ended up at Andersonville where he died of dysentery in 1864. He is buried at the Andersonville National Cemetery.

Using this collection, we also researched the final resting place for Eugene Calvin Cheatham, Jr., who served as a pilot in the 332nd Fighter Group – better known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After WWII, he went on to fly 150 missions as a combat pilot in the Korean War, eventually earning the rank of Lt. Colonel. Cheatham passed away in 2005 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Start researching your veteran today by exploring our U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites Collection on Fold3.com.

The 75th Anniversary of the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

July 1, 2020 by | 113 Comments

On July 30, 1945, just days before the end of WWII, the USS Indianapolis was sailing from Guam to Leyte when she was struck by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine. The ship sank in roughly 12 minutes. Survivors were thrown into the shark-infested Philippine Sea where many perished before rescuers arrived four days later. Of the 1,196 sailors aboard the ship, nearly 900 made it into the water but only 316 survived until rescue. The disaster resulted in the largest loss of life at sea in US Navy history.

The USS Indianapolis is captured in this photograph taken 20 days before she was sunk

The Indianapolis left San Francisco on July 16th headed for Tinian in the Mariana Islands. She was loaded with secret cargo that included key components to make the atomic bomb that would later be dropped on Japan. The ship was forced to sail without an escort and through waters where Japanese subs were likely. The Indianapolis made it to Tinian in record time, dropped off her cargo, headed for Guam and Leyte Gulf, once again without an escort.

Captain Charles B. McVay, III

The night of July 30th was hot, and 19-year-old Seaman 1st Class Clarence Hershberger decided to sleep on deck to escape the heat below. Shortly after midnight, two torpedoes slammed into the Indianapolis. The ship began to sink, and commander, Charles B. McVay, III, gave the order to abandon ship. About half the men had life jackets and 12 of the ship’s 35 life rafts (as well as some floater nets) were deployed. Hershberger found himself floating in the sea. He says men buddied up in pairs or gathered in groups for moral support. The first morning Hershberger saw dorsal fins, but the sharks kept their distance. The second day, he saw a large shark swim right below him. The men would scream, kick, and holler in an attempt to drive the sharks away. “We knew when a shark was attacking because he [a sailor] would let out a bloodcurdling scream, like nothing you’ve ever heard before,” Hershberger said. “Every time you’d hear that bloodcurdling scream you would think, ‘Uh-oh, the sharks hit another one.’”

Four days later, on August 2nd, Lt. Wilbur C. Gwinn was flying patrol over the Philippine Sea when he spotted an oil slick. He changed course to investigate and saw a group of men floating in the sea. A seaplane piloted by Lt. Commander Robert Adrian Marks was dispatched and disregarding standing orders, landed in the sea, and rendered assistance while they waited for rescue ships to arrive.

USS Indianapolis Survivors Arrive on Guam

The last man was pulled out of the water on August 3rd. Captain Charles B. McVay, III, was court-martialed for failure to give timely orders to evacuate the ship, and for failing to zig-zag, a common practice to avoid enemy torpedoes. He was acquitted of the first charge and found guilty of negligence on the second. McVay had the support of his men who organized and spent years trying to clear his name. McVay was the only captain in the history of the US Navy to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship in combat. McVay passed away in 1968, and in 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a resolution passed by Congress exonerating Captain McVay for the loss of the USS Indianapolis. On August 19, 2017, a civilian research expedition led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen discovered the wreckage of Indianapolis 18,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. To learn more about the USS Indianapolis, search Fold3 today.