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The Battle of Gettysburg

June 21, 2021 by | Comments Off on The Battle of Gettysburg

“It affords me very great satisfaction to be able to inform you that…I received the sword-belt and scabbard which were taken from your father’s body upon the field at Gettysburg,” wrote Dr. John Wilson Wishart from a field hospital near Cold Harbor, Virginia. The recipient of the letter was 10-year-old Emma Roberts, a young girl orphaned by war.  

Richard Roberts

The years leading up to the Civil War were hard on the Roberts family. Richard Roberts was a prominent lawyer and the district attorney of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. He married Caroline Henry on May 1, 1851, and the union produced three children—Thomas, Mary, and Emma. Emma J. Roberts was the middle child born on December 2, 1853, and the only Roberts child to live to adulthood. On February 4, 1862, Caroline passed away, leaving Robert a widower and Emma motherless.  

By the summer of 1862, the situation in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War was reaching a boiling point. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia escaped the clutches of the Federal army around Richmond, Virginia, and was campaigning into Northern Virginia, eventually moving into Maryland. During this “Emergency of 1862,” President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for volunteers to bolster the Federal ranks. Roberts, an ardent republican and supporter of the Union, called on Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin to allow him to raise a company in defense of the country, but did not wait for the governor’s reply. Instead, on July 18th, he began traveling to churches in rural Beaver County, rallying men to the cause. He must have been a passionate and influential speaker because instead of filling one company, he filled three!

By September, Roberts found himself at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and elected as colonel of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Companies from Greene, Mercer, and Washington Counties joined their Beaver County comrades. Richard often corresponded with Emma. “I think about you every hour in the day and hope you think about your Pa,” read one letter. In another, he asked about her visits to the homes of her aunts and reminded her, “remember the very good lessons taught by your Ma, so that you may grow up to be as good as woman as she was.” Having lost his wife and two other children, Richard consistently inquired about Emma’s health, often offering suggestions about how to stay healthy. Most letters were signed “Your Affectionate.” or “Your Loving, Pa.”

In May of 1863, Roberts and his 140th Pennsylvania fought in their first battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia. The unit was in the thick of the action near the Chancellor House. As a memento, Richard sent Emma, “a quarter dollar which I carried her in my pocket during all the days of the Battle of Chancellorsville.”

In June of 1863, the 140th Pennsylvania was on the march in pursuit of Lee’s army during the Gettysburg Campaign. Richard Roberts was sick through much of the march into Pennsylvania. It was a grueling trek along hot, dusty roads. On July 1, Roberts sat on a tree stump outside of Uniontown, Maryland, and penned a quick note to Emma. The closing read, “We are going to march in a few minutes. Be a good girl. Good by my dear. Your affectionate, Pa.” They were the last lines that the father wrote to his daughter.

On July 2, 1863, Lee’s army attacked the Federal position at Gettysburg. The Rebels attacked at now-famous places such as Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, and the Wheatfield. Roberts and his 140th Pennsylvania were called into action late in the afternoon. They assumed a position on Stony Hill, adjacent to and west of the Wheatfield. There the Keystone State men held the right of the 1st Division, 2nd Corps. Confederates from South Carolina and Georgia assailed their position. “Men of the 140th!” bellowed Roberts as his men went into action, “Recollect that you are now defending your own soil and are fighting to drive the invader from your homes and firesides. I shall therefore expect you to conduct yourselves as in the presence of your wives, your sisters, and your sweethearts, and not disgrace the flag you bear or the name of Pennsylvanians.” The battle raged on and around Stony Hill as Roberts stalked the battleline, reminding his men to “Fire low. Remember, you are Pennsylvanians.” As he prepared to redeploy his regiment, a bullet ripped into Roberts body. He fell dead on the field of battle, his unit driven from Stony Hill. Of the 515 men from the 140th Pennsylvania who entered the action on July 2, 241 were killed, wounded, or captured. Due to the melee of battle, Roberts’s body was not recovered for a few days, and in that time, he was stripped of his valuables, including his sword, scabbard, and sword belt.

In the meantime, letters containing condolences and well wishes from the men of the 140th Pennsylvania streamed into the Pittsburgh area to their newly “adopted” daughter Emma. She was known as the “Daughter of the Regiment.” On May 6, 1864, the sword belt and scabbard of Richard Roberts were “taken from the body of a dead Rebel vol…in the Wilderness…” by a member of the 149th Pennsylvania. It was probably of little consolation to the young girl that her father’s sword belt and scabbard were recovered, but clearly, to Dr. Wishart and the men of the 140th Pennsylvania, it helped them to cope with their grief at the loss of their commanding officer, and they hoped too, that it might help Emma in her healing process. “I look forward to meeting you in person with an interest arising from my relations with your father whom, we all sincerely mourn, and, meantime, commending you to the care of our heavenly Father, the God of all comfort who comforteth [sic] us all in our tribulations.” 

Richard Roberts was buried in Beaver Cemetery and Mausoleum. His beloved daughter Emma grew up, and in 1876 married Richard Harter, second cousin of First Lady of the United States Ida Saxton McKinley. The couple moved to Canton, Ohio, and she had three children of her own, two of which lived to adulthood. Emma J. Roberts Harter died in Canton, Ohio, on October 22, 1929, at the age of 75.

To learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg and experience this battle through the eyes of soldiers who were there, join Fold3® and the American Battlefield Trust live from the battlefield on July 1-3, 2021. See artifacts from the battlefield and learn from the experts during this virtual tour of Gettysburg! Click here for more details on this 158th anniversary live stream event.

Escape from a Philippine POW Camp

June 16, 2021 by | 154 Comments

On April 4, 1943, ten US service personnel outwitted their Japanese guards and escaped from a work camp in the Davao Region of the Philippines. One of those escapees, Lt. Commander Melvyn Harvey McCoy, kept a journal during his imprisonment. After his escape, he gave a detailed report of the brutal treatment of POWs and his remarkable escape. Using his account and other records, we’ve pieced together this amazing WWII story of escape and survival.

Melvyn H. McCoy

Melvyn H. McCoy served as a Radio Material Officer in the 16th Naval District and was stationed in the Philippines. On Christmas Day, 1941, a week before the Japanese entered Manila, McCoy and other personnel evacuated to Corregidor, where they held off Japanese troops until May 6th, when Corregidor fell. McCoy sent the final radio message marking the fall of the island. Along with more than 10,000 Americans and Filipino soldiers, McCoy was taken POW. The men were herded into an enclosed concrete square, where they remained for seven days. There were no toilets and just one water spigot. It was brutally hot. Next, they were packed on merchant vessels and transported to Manila. Just meters from the shore, the men were dunked in the bay and made to swim ashore, then marched through the streets, soaking wet. Some fell, physically unable to make the arduous trek.

Surrender of American troops at Corregidor, Philippine Islands, May 1942

McCoy wound up in Bilibid prison. He described unbearable work detail. One group of 300 prisoners captured at Bataan saw their numbers reduced to 30 after 270 died on the job. McCoy was later transferred to Cabanatuan prison camp where he found more deplorable conditions. He described dead prisoners lying in the barracks and daily fatalities. Prisoners were tortured and starved to death. They also suffered from disease and sickness. Malaria, dysentery, and diphtheria took thousands of lives and there was no medicine available. Some tried to escape but were recaptured and executed. McCoy estimated that 3,400 prisoners died during his time at Cabanatuan.

After six months, McCoy was transferred to Davao Penal Colony. The trip took 11 days on an overcrowded boat. There wasn’t room for all the prisoners, so some stayed topside even though it rained each night. After arriving on land, the prisoners marched 17 miles to the prison. Prison officials were angry when they saw the weakened and diseased condition of the new arrivals, as they expected new workers. After spending several difficult months at Davao, McCoy began plotting an escape.

Cabanatuan Prison Camp

In January 1943, McCoy and nine other enlisted men and officers and began to steal small amounts of food. They needed to build up their strength for the escape. They secreted stolen equipment and supplies in the jungle. On the morning of April 4, 1943, the group left the prison as if they were going on work detail. Instead, they snuck into the jungle, assembled their gear, and began to run.

The escapees, along with two Filipino guides, were pursued by patrols but managed to elude them. For the next five weeks, they traveled mountain paths, swamps, and rivers while playing hide-and-seek with Japanese troops. Along the way, they contended with hunger, sickness, leeches, crocodiles, and exhaustion. They also encountered kindness and hospitality from Filipinos who shared food and lodging.

The escapees linked up with friendly guerilla forces who helped them along the way. With the help of a guerilla radio, they sent messages to officials in Australia and made plans to rendezvous with an American submarine. The sub transported them to Australia where Gen. Douglas MacArthur greeted them and awarded them the Distinguished Service Cross. McCoy and his fellow escapees brought back the first eye-witness account of the atrocities inflicted upon American POWs by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. Their accounts shocked and infuriated Americans.  

To read McCoy’s full report of the escape, click here. To see other records from WWII, search Fold3® today.

Join Us For A Special Live Stream Event at Gettysburg Battlefield

June 3, 2021 by | 149 Comments

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. With more than 50,000 casualties, it represented a turning point in the Civil War and ended Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s second attempt to invade the North. This coming July, in conjunction with the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, we are partnering with the American Battlefield Trust to tour the Gettysburg battlefield and share stories about the soldiers who were there. We invite you to join us for this unprecedented event as we live stream from Gettysburg on July 1-3, 2021.

Do you have an ancestor that fought at Gettysburg? This pivotal battle impacted soldiers, their families, and the communities they hailed from for generations. Regiments were often raised in towns; it was common for brothers, cousins, and even fathers and sons to serve in the same regiment. Thus, when a unit experienced heavy battle casualties, the impact back home was tremendous.

Archibald N. Euwer

Archibald N. Euwer was born November 22, 1843. After hearing a rousing call for volunteers at a town meeting, Euwer enlisted in the Pennsylvania 155th Infantry Regiment, Company C, in 1862. Not long after his regiment marched off to war, Pvt. Euwer wrote home to his brother. His letter conveyed a hint of adventure and excitement, “I have been very much pleased with my trip,” and “I have liked it very well so far.” Less than two weeks later, the 155th fought at the Battle of Antietam. The carnage and death shocked Euwer, who must have quickly realized his service would be much more than just an adventure.

The following summer, the 155th, now battle-weary and tired, arrived at Gettysburg. Union and Confederate troops had already been fighting for one terrible day. On July 2, 1863, Euwer, who was now a Color-Corporal, ascended a rocky hill at Gettysburg now known as Little Round Top. The view from the top came with a strategic advantage and fighting to control the hill was fierce. Men from the 155th struggled to help haul cannons to the summit and then stood ready for battle, as firm as the boulders around them. Wave after wave of Confederate soldiers tried to gain the hill’s summit, to no avail. The Pennsylvanians then gathered rocks on the hill and constructed stone walls for defense from Confederate marksmen, tucked among the boulders in an area known as the Devil’s Den. Bombardment and fighting flared throughout the vicinity and into the early evening. As darkness fell, the sounds of battle subsided, and the cries of wounded soldiers filled the air. Euwer bedded down for the night amidst the rocks and boulders.

The following morning brought continued fighting and a culminating assault by Confederates at Cemetery Ridge known as Pickett’s Charge. The attack resulted in heavy Confederate losses. Meanwhile, Euwer and others at Little Round Top saw the distant fighting and along with 10,000 others cheered the repulse of Pickett’s Charge. Their joy was short-lived as they surveyed the scene around them. The battlefield was awash with the dead and dying. The 155th lost six men killed at Gettysburg, with 13 wounded. Euwer survived, and according to family legend, ruined his teeth at Gettysburg by constantly using them to tear open packets of powder to load his musket.

Archibald N. Euwer returns to Gettysburg

Shortly after the war ended, Euwer moved to Iowa where he married and started a family. Years later, at a meeting of the Blue and Gray, he returned to Gettysburg. He was photographed on the rock where he said he’d fought so many years before. Archibald N. Euwer died in 1924 at age 81.

This is just one of the scores of stories we’ll bring to you from Gettysburg as we walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. Plus, expect artifacts from the battle, access to restricted sites, and special guests to boot! We’re looking forward to learning more about Gettysburg in the upcoming weeks. We’ve invited the experts at American Battlefield Trust to share more about the battle in a guest blog post at the end of the month. We also invite you to submit your ancestor’s Gettysburg story here for a chance to be featured during our live stream event. To see more records, Memorials, and photographs related to the Battle of Gettysburg, search Fold3® today.

New WAC History Added to Fold3!

May 25, 2021 by | 83 Comments

In 1941, with the looming threat of war, Congress authorized the creation of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The bill became law in 1942, but since the WAAC was an auxiliary unit and not governed by United States Army regulations, enlisted women were not eligible for overseas pay or government life insurance. In 1943, a new bill created the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The WAC would be part of the US Army, giving women the rank and benefits of enlisted men. About this same time, the 907th Post Headquarters Company was activated at Hill Field in Ogden, Utah. We’ve recently added new records to our Hill Air Force Base collection, including a history of the 907th Post Headquarters Company.

First Officer Candidate Class, WAAC Officer Training School, Fort Des Moines, Iowa

The primary purpose for the 907th’s activation was to release men for overseas duty. Female officers were brought in from WAC Training Centers in Florida and Iowa to command the new unit. When they first arrived, the barracks for women in the 907th, expected to number 135, were not yet completed. They got busy requisitioning beds, equipment, a mess hall, and all necessary supplies needed to train and house the new arrivals.

As the recruits arrived, they began specialized training. Women were taught to become radio mechanics, radio operators, supply officers, and other jobs held by male personnel. Pvt. Norene Sparks became the first WAC to replace an enlisted man at Hill Field in August 1943. Soon, WACs replaced dozens of positions held by men. The history for the 907th shows an exemplary disciplinary record with no punishments or court-martials. The WACs wanted to show military officials that they were serious about serving and could manage any job assigned. According to the history, their one complaint was not having enough to do. With the US deeply embroiled in WWII, the WACs made immeasurable contributions both at home and abroad.

During their downtime, WACs at Hill Field enjoyed different forms of recreation. The Red Cross established a day room where the women could gather and entertain friends. There was a piano, radio, games, and cards. Occasionally the WACs hosted dances or holiday parties. The WACs also developed a basketball team and played civilian opponents. They participated in service projects such as planning programs for patients at a local hospital.

As the military transitioned from WAAC to WAC, the designation of the 907th also changed. They became part of the 482nd Base Headquarters, and later, part of the 4135th AAF, Section C. Before WWII ended, more than 150,000 women served in the WAC. Other branches of the military also had similar women’s units, including the Navy WAVES, the Coast Guard SPARS, the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and Women Airforce Service Pilots.

To read the history of the 907th Post Headquarters Company and see more records from our Hill Air Force Base Collection, search Fold3® today.

Asian American Military Contributions

May 17, 2021 by | 61 Comments

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made significant contributions to the US military dating back to the War of 1812. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and to honor those many contributions, we’ve highlighted the actions of just a few.

Joseph Pierce

Joseph Pierce: During the 1800s, job opportunities brought many Asian immigrants to the United States, but Joseph Pierce arrived in a slightly different way. He was born in China and brought to the US by his adoptive father, sea captain Amos Peck. There are several theories about how Peck came to adopt his son, but a photograph unearthed in the mid-1900s provides one. The photograph, purportedly of Joseph Pierce’s daughter, has an inscription on the back that reads, “Daughter of Joseph Pierce who was picked up 40 miles from shore in the China Sea by Capt. Peck.” Pierce (a name he later chose) was about 10 years old when he arrived in America in the early 1850s. On July 26, 1862, he enlisted in the Connecticut 14th Infantry Regiment, Company F. He fought valiantly in pivotal battles including Antietam and Gettysburg, and reached the highest rank of any Chinese American to serve in the Union Army, being appointed Corporal on November 1, 1863. He participated in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., and mustered out on May 31, 1865. His picture hangs in the Gettysburg Museum.

Sadao Munemori

Sadao Munemori: When Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, more than a quarter-million Asian Americans were living in the US. In 1942, officials moved thousands to internment camps. Despite this, valiant Japanese American soldiers still volunteered to serve their country. Nisei is a Japanese language term used to describe second-generation Japanese Americans, and thousands of Nisei soldiers enlisted for service. The 442nd Infantry Regiment was an all-Nisei regiment and the most decorated unit for its size and length of service. Pfc. Sadao Munemori was in a US Army training center when his family was forced out of their home and moved to an inland internment camp. He served in the 442nd and while advancing up a strongly fortified hill in Italy, Munemori’s squad came under attack. Munemori moved through direct fire and knocked out two enemy machine guns. While returning to a crater where two of his fellow soldiers huddled, a grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled towards the crater. Munemori dived on the grenade and absorbed its impact. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

L to R: Ralph, Philip, and Susan Ahn

The Ahn Siblings: In 1902, Dosan Ahn Changho and Helen Lee became the first Korean married couple to immigrate to the US. Dosan was an activist who fought against the Japanese occupation in Korea. Their home became a haven for other Korean immigrants in America. The couple had five children, and when WWII broke out, three Ahn siblings enlisted to serve. Ralph Ahn joined the US Navy in 1944 to fight the Japanese. Philip Ahn enlisted in the US Army and served in the Special Services as an entertainer. He was a prolific actor and played Japanese villains in war films. After the war, Ralph followed in his brother’s footsteps and became an actor, appearing in television and films. Susan Ahn led a distinguished military career and was the first Asian American woman in the Navy. She became a Navy LINK instructor in 1943, teaching aviators how to maneuver in simulators. She also became the first aerial gunnery officer in the Navy and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. She later served in Navy Intelligence.

Herbert K. Pililaʻau

Herbert K. Pililaʻau: Native Hawaiian and Pfc. Herbert K. Pililaʻau was born on the Island of Oahu in the Waianae district. Drafted into the Army, he served in the Korean War in Company C, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. On the morning of September 17, 1951, C Company was involved in a bloody battle with two enemy battalions. After an hour of heavy fighting in an area that would come to be known as Heartbreak Ridge, C Company ran short of ammunition. Pililaʻau volunteered to stay behind and covered the withdrawal of his fellow soldiers. He fired his automatic weapon until he ran out of ammunition, then he began to throw grenades. After those were gone, he grabbed a trench knife and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. More than 40 enemy soldiers died before Pililaʻau was completely overwhelmed by enemy troops and killed. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

To learn more about additional Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions in the military, search our Honor Wall on Fold3® for individual stories of bravery and valor.

May 20, 1941: The Battle of Crete Begins

May 6, 2021 by | 103 Comments

The Battle of Crete began on May 20, 1941, when German forces began a massive airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete during WWII. Thousands of German paratroopers (called Fallschirmjäger) landed on Crete, where they encountered tenacious resistance from Greek troops assisted by Allies from Britain, New Zealand, and Australia – and determined Cretan citizens. Though German forces suffered appalling losses on the first day, they later captured a key airfield, allowing a flood of German reinforcements and supplies to arrive. After days of intense fighting, Allied troops retreated to the south coast, where the British Royal Navy evacuated many to Egypt. Those left behind surrendered to Germany on June 1st. The Battle of Crete resulted in a German victory but came at a steep cost. Germany never launched a major airborne mission again.  

German paratroopers land during the Battle of Crete

In April 1941, Germany invaded the Greek mainland. After the fall of mainland Greece, Allied armies moved to Crete to reinforce the garrison on the island. The British Royal Navy dominated the sea, preventing German forces from attempting an amphibious assault on Crete. Germany responded with aerial bombing raids.

Hitler realized that if Allies held on to Crete, it could threaten Axis powers in the Eastern Mediterranean. He approved an invasion plan known as Operation Mercury. It would include 750 glider-borne troops, 10,000 paratroopers, 5,000 airlifted infantry troops, and 7,000 seaborne troops. One of the first goals was to capture Maleme Airfield. This would allow Germany to bring in additional reinforcements and supplies.

Crashed German glider with two of its occupants lying dead (photo from Imperial War Museum)

As Nazi officials planned the invasion, they were unaware that Allies had intercepted German intelligence from decrypted messages from the Enigma machine. Allies knew about Germany’s invasion intentions and began to make defensive preparations.

Record for German soldier killed on Crete

On the morning of May 20th, the invasion began. Allies were ready and waiting as thousands of paratroopers dropped from the skies. They became targets, with many dying before reaching the ground. German losses were huge, and by the end of the first day, it appeared that Allied troops would successfully repel the invasion. However, a series of communication failures and tactical errors allowed Germany to take Maleme Airfield on the second day of fighting, and the tides began to turn in Germany’s favor.

German troops pushed forward with a strong offensive while Allies put up a tenacious defense. Joining Allies was a strong civilian resistance force. The determined civilian defense surprised Germany and later led to brutal reprisals.

After days of punishing losses, Allies retreated across the mountains and towards the south coast. Over the next four nights, the Royal Navy evacuated some 10,500 troops to Egypt. Some of those troops died en route to Egypt during a Luftwaffe attack. On June 1st, most of the remaining soldiers surrendered to Germany. A small minority fled into the mountains and joined the local resistance.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Crete or other WWII battles, search Fold3® today!

Newly Added Unit History for the 96th Bomb Group!

April 26, 2021 by | 36 Comments

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve added records for the 96th Bomb Group to our archives. The 96th Bomb Group was part of the United States 8th Air Force and flew B-17 Flying Fortresses with a Square-C tail marking. They flew 324 missions across occupied Europe during WWII and received two Distinguished Unit Citations.

413th Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Group

During WWII, the US determined that it needed to beef up the Army Air Force in the European Theatre of Operations. The 96th Bomb Group, organized in the summer of 1942, was activated at Army Air Force Base in Salt Lake City. Many of the initial recruits came from Salt Lake City and Boise. Additional members joined the Group, and after training, the 96th was deployed to Europe in three phases.

Crew from the 339th Bomb Squadron

This Unit History contains microfilm from the Air Force Historical Research Agency. Some of the images are of poor quality, but to provide the most accurate and archival record, we’ve included every page of the film. The reels of microfilm are organized by date and include groupings for the squadron, group records, mission reports, and operations reports. You’ll find squadron diaries for the 337th Bomb Squadronthe 338th Bomb Squadron, and the 339th Bomb Squadron. The records also document awards, such as when members of the 413th Bomb Squadron received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

B-17 Bomber “Ole Puss” and crew

This collection also contains details about different bombing missions, like this summary of missions from the 338th Bomb Squadron, crew rosters from the 339th Bomb Squadron, and reports on injuries and fatalities.

The 96th Bomb Group received two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was awarded for bombing an aircraft factory on August 17, 1943, in Regensburg. They received the second citation for assisting the 45th Bomb Wing in bombing aircraft components factories in Poznan on April 9, 1944. Before the war ended, the 96th Bomb Group lost 938 men, flew 8924 sorties, and lost 206 aircraft.

To learn more about the 96th Bomb Group, search this new collection on Fold3® today!