The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was a branch of the
United States Army during the Civil War. The USCT was founded in 1863 and
composed primarily of African-American soldiers. Before the war ended in 1865, approximately
185,000 black men served in the USCT. Nearly 40,000 lost their lives. They
played a crucial role in helping the United States Army to ultimate victory.
When the Civil War started in 1861, African-Americans were
initially turned away when they tried to enlist. As the war progressed,
attitudes shifted. The first official authorization allowing African-Americans
to employ in federal service came in July 1862. Following the Emancipation
Proclamation in 1863, President Lincoln authorized the use of African-Americans
in combat. Before the war was over, African-Americans accounted for 10 percent
of the Union army.
On January 27, 1945, 75-years ago this month, the Soviet
Army pried open the gates of Auschwitz
concentration camp in German-occupied Poland and liberated some 7,000 emaciated
prisoners. About 58,000 others had been hurriedly marched westward before
the Soviet Army approached. Auschwitz, the German word for the Polish town of
Oswiecim, was the site of the largest
Nazi concentration camp during WWII. It consisted of a concentration camp,
a labor camp, and large
gas chambers and crematoria.
More than 1.3
million people were sent to Auschwitz between 1940-1945. Some 1.1 million of
them were killed. Nine in 10 were Jews.
During WWII, the Nazi regime imprisoned an estimated 15-20
million people who they perceived as a political threat or inferior, especially
Jews. They were held in camps and ghettos across Europe and subjected to
abominable conditions, brutality, and murder
in what has become known as the Holocaust.
Auschwitz was the largest of these death camps and was
divided into three main camps: Auschwitz
III. Auschwitz I housed prisoners in abandoned Polish army barracks. Some
were subjected to inhumane medical experiments carried out by SS doctors. Auschwitz
II, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau,
held the greatest
number of prisoners and also housed large gas chambers and crematoria. Auschwitz
III was a work camp that housed prisoners working at a synthetic rubber
factory. Other smaller sub-camps also existed.
The Nazis experimented with Zyklon
B gas to kill prisoners at Auschwitz I. These tests were deemed successful
and the program greatly expanded at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When new deportees
arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, they immediately underwent
selection. Some were saved to be used as forced
labor, while others went directly to the gas chambers. This process tore
families apart, and separated family members would typically never see one
One such family was the Guttmann family. Irene Guttmann and her twin brother
Rene were living in Prague with their parents when German soldiers arrested
Irene’s father. He was sent to Auschwitz where he was killed in December 1941. The
twins and their mother were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto and later to
Auschwitz where their mother died. The 5-year-old
twins were separated and subjected to horrific medical experiments under
Dr. Josef Mengele. Their story is just one of many that occurred during the
On January 18, 1945, as the Soviet Army approached, the
Nazis abandoned Auschwitz. The SS tried to hide evidence of the crimes
committed at the camp by burning documents and blowing up several crematoria. The
‘healthy’ prisoners, numbering about 58,000, set off westward on a death march.
Very few of them survived. The remaining prisoners, some 7,000, were too
sick and starving to march and left to die in the camp.
Rene Guttman was herded onto a truck to be sent to his
death, but Dr.
Mengele countermanded the order, saying that only he could kill his twins. With
this order, both Rene and Irene remained in the camp.
On that bitterly cold morning of January 27th,
prisoners huddled in their barracks. “We
heard a grenade exploding near the entrance area,” recalled a former
prisoner. “We looked out and saw some Soviet reconnaissance soldiers
approaching, guns in their hands. The soldiers came up and said: ‘You are free
The Guttmann twins recalled liberation day. “I
remember walking out of Auschwitz. I do remember trying to look back and
around me to see if I could find Irene because I was leaving this place. I did
see her, but we had to march on. There was shooting all around us…then we were
surrounded by Russians dressed in white uniforms, that was the liberation,” said
Rene. Irene, who was too weak to walk, was carried by a Polish peasant woman to
One year later, a charity organization arranged for Irene
to come to the United States along with other war orphans, where she was
adopted. She wondered if she would ever see her brother Rene again. With the
help of her adoptive family, they managed to locate Rene, who was living in
Prague. The family adopted him as well, reuniting
the twins in 1950.
When evidence of the atrocities committed at Auschwitz and
other concentration camps came to light, the world was shocked. Decades later,
the 2005 United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution naming January 27th,
the day that Auschwitz was liberated, as International Holocaust Remembrance
Day. To learn more about the Holocaust, including survivor stories,
photographs, and other related documents, see our Holocaust Collection on Fold3.
Have you ever heard of the Combat Artists Program? In June 1966, the Army created the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. Soldier-artists in this program often reached for paints and canvas instead of weapons. They documented the war using a variety of mediums and created works of art that inspired and provided a visual interpretation of life during wartime.
The idea of using art to invoke emotion during battle was
not new. Artists and photographers have created images dating back to the Revolutionary
War. Photographer Mathew Brady captured scenes during the Civil War that are
still viewed regularly today. During WWI, eight artists were commissioned and
sent to Europe to capture images involving the American Expeditionary Force.
The Army established a War Art Unit during WWII and selected 42 artists to
participate. By the end of the war, the Army had acquired more than 2,000
pieces of art. The Marine Corps Combat Art Program had more than 70 artists
during WWII and the program remains today, although with fewer artists
participating. The Navy’s Combat Art Program began in 1941 and included eight
active-duty artists by 1944. The United States Air Force Art Program started in
1950 when the US Army Air Corps transferred some 800 pieces of art documenting
the early days of military aviation.
Our 9th Infantry Division collection includes Combat Art created during the Vietnam War between the years 1966 – 1969. Here are a few examples of combat art from this collection. To see additional works, search the 9th Infantry Division Combat Art Collection today on Fold3!
Our UK military records are expanding! We’ve recently added
a new collection, “UK,
Militia Attestation Papers, 1806-1915”. These records or attestation forms
were filled out at the time of recruitment, and in most cases, annotated to the
date of discharge. They form a record of military service for soldiers who
fought in conflicts during that time period.
The collection is arranged alphabetically under regiments and
in order of seniority.
Attestation Papers contain wonderful details for researching
specific soldiers. They list parish, town, and county of birth, address at the
time of enlistment, age, and trade or job. The papers also include a physical
description including a place to list any distinctive characteristics or scars.
The files list military service rendered and whether a soldier was wounded or
received medals or decorations. They also list the name and address of next of
Here are a few examples of what you might learn in this
collection. John Hart from Wales served in the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers.
His papers reveal that he
didn’t show up for training in 1891 and was liable to serve for an
additional year. In 1894, he was discharged by purchase, in other words, he
obtained a discharge by payment.
James Allison from Paisley, Scotland, was just 17-years-old
when he joined the 26th Foot (Scottish Rifles) in 1875. His
service record shows military service for 20 years before being discharged
This collection of Attestation Papers provides a glimpse
into the history of militias and multiple conflicts in the United Kingdom. If
you are researching ancestors that served for the United Kingdom during this
time, be sure to check out the collection on Fold3
On December 24-25, 1914, an impromptu cease-fire occurred
along the Western Front during WWI. Amid the battle, soldiers from both sides
set aside their weapons and came together peacefully in an event that has come
to be known as the WWI Christmas Truce. Here are a few first-hand accounts of
that historic event.
The Canadian Expeditionary Forces 24th Battalion recorded
their experience. “Early in the afternoon shelling
and rifle fire ceased completely and soon German soldiers were seen lifting
heads and shoulders cautiously over the parapet of their front line trench.
Encouraged by the fact that no fire was opened by the men of the 24th,
a number of Germans climbed over the top, advanced in No Man’s Land, and,
making signs of friendship, invited the Canadians to join them and celebrate
the occasion. Regulations frowned on such action, but curiosity proved strong,
and a group of Canadians, including a number from the 24th
Battalion, moved out to see what the enemy looked like at close range.
Conversation proved difficult at first, but a number of the Germans spoke
English fluently and others, having rehearsed for the occasion, one must judge,
endeavored to establish their benevolence by constant repetition of the phrase,
“Kaiser no damn good.” For nearly an hour the unofficial peace was prolonged,
the Canadians presenting the Germans with cigarettes and foodstuffs and
receiving in return buttons, badges, and several bottles of most excellent
beer. By this time, news of the event had reached authority, and peremptory
orders were issued to the Canadians in No Man’s Land to return to their own
line forthwith. When all had reported back, a salvo of artillery fire, aimed
carefully to burst at a spot where no harm to friend or foe would result,
warned the Germans that the truce was over and that hostilities had been
resumed…For some days after Christmas comparative quiet prevailed in the front
line, but soon activity increased and the Battalion’s losses indicated that
normal trench warfare conditions again existed.”
Hugh Taylor from the 2nd Battalion
Scots Guards led his company in an attack near Rouges Bancs on December 18-19,
1914. His troops succeeded in pushing back German soldiers and occupying their
trenches. While returning alone to the British trenches to report, Taylor was
caught in machine-gun fire and killed
instantly. For nearly a week, his body lay
near the German line. During the informal Christmas Truce, soldiers from both
sides collected the dead and brought their bodies to the center space between
their respective lines. They dug two trenches and buried British soldiers in
one and German soldiers in the other. An English Chaplain conducted a service.
Afterward, the soldiers spent several hours fraternizing with one another.
Captain Taylor’s body was carried to a small military graveyard at La
Cardoniere Farm and buried.
Three Americans serving in the Foreign Legion took part in
the Christmas Truce. Victor
Chapman, Eugene Jacobs, and Phil
Rader were in the trenches that day. Rader, a former United Press
correspondent, wrote a stirring
account of his experience. “For twenty days we had faced that
strip of land, forty-five feet wide, between our trench and that of the
Germans, that terrible No-Man’s Land, dotted with dead bodies, criss-crossed by
tangled masses of barbed wire.” Rader recounted cautiously raising his head. “Other
men did the same. We saw hundreds of German heads appearing. Shouts filled the
air. What miracle had happened? Men laughed and cheered. There was Christmas
light in our eyes and I know there were Christmas tears in mine. There were
smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels.
The terror of No-Man’s Land fell away. The sounds of happy voices filled the
The Christmas Truce of 1914 eventually ended, and the
goodwill shared between enemies for a brief moment during WWI evaporated as
fighting resumed. To learn more about WWI and the soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3
On December 16, 1944, German forces surprised American
soldiers in the densely forested Ardennes
region of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, with a massive offensive also
known as the Battle of the Bulge,
or the Ardennes
Counteroffensive. Germany pushed through an Allied line, creating a bulge
in the Allied defensive lines. The deadly battle, which lasted until January
25, 1945, was the largest on the European western front during WWII and
resulted in an estimated 1
in 10 American combat casualties during the entire war. It also meant that
thousands of soldiers spent Christmas
1944 in temperatures that hovered around zero, in knee-deep
snow, and with limited
rations for Christmas dinner. On the home front, their families spent a
nervous holiday season, waiting for word of their loved ones.
D. Vari spent Christmas Eve huddled in a foxhole as shells
exploded around him all night long. “We could hear their guns going off and
the shells landing at the same time. They were close. They almost surrounded
the whole place. I remember Christmas Day. I got up, and we had a real bad
night, with artillery and everything. The first thing I saw was the steeple of
a church down in the valley. It was a beautiful day, the sun was just coming up
over a little village at the bottom.” The clear skies allowed US
planes to reinforce
soldiers along the front. The break
in the weather saved Vari’s unit.
Mattie Dickenson of Georgetown, Louisiana, remembered
Christmas 1944 as a difficult one. She anxiously waited for news from her
F. Dickenson. Benjamin was drafted when he was 38-years-old and found
himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. “I
do remember that was the saddest Christmas I ever spent. For 21 days I
didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” said Mattie. Though Benjamin was wounded,
he made it home alive. Mattie kept a piece of the parachute that dropped
supplies to her husband at Bastogne.
The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last major offensive
along the Western Front. Within a month Allied forces pushed the Germans back
and closed the bulge. The battle was called “the greatest American battle of
the war” by Winston Churchill and it crushed Germany’s hopes for ultimate
success in the war. To learn more about the Battle of the Bulge and soldiers
who fought in it, search Fold3 today!
Fold3 has added four more states to our collection of U.S. WWII Draft
Registration Cards! The collection now includes cards from New York, New
Jersey, North Dakota, and Vermont. We now have Draft Registration Cards from 45
states or regions! The cards in this collection are registration cards and do
not necessarily indicate that the individual served in the military.
There were seven draft
registration periods in the United States for World War II service. The first
draft registration was held on October 16, 1940—before the United States had
entered the war. Men ages 21–36 were required to register at their local draft
board. The second draft registration was also held prior to the American
entrance into the war, on July 1, 1941. This registration was for men who had
turned 21 since the previous registration date nine months earlier.
The third (February 16,
1942) and fifth (June 30, 1942) registration periods expanded the ages required
to register; the age ranges for the third were extended to 20–21 and 35–44,
while the fifth extended them to ages 18–20. The sixth registration (December
10–31, 1942) was for men who had turned 18 since the fifth registration six months
prior. There was also a seventh registration, known as the “Extra
Registration,” from November 16 to December 31, 1943, which was for American
men ages 18–44 who were living abroad.
Pictured below is the draft card for Jacob John Dukart of North Dakota. He registered for the draft during the first registration period in October 1940. He enlisted in 1942, and in 1943, Pvt. Dukart was captured by German soldiers and sent to a POW camp. That Christmas, POWs in the camp sent a short wave broadcast greeting home to their families. It is not clear if the broadcast reached anyone at home during Christmas, but in February 1944 the messages were re-broadcast and listeners in Montana and Florida picked up the voice of Pvt. Dukart. He sent greetings to his wife and parents back in Dickinson, North Dakota, and asked for a photo of his daughter Jacqueline whom he had never seen. Pvt. Dukart was eventually freed and returned home to the United States. He passed away in 2004.