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April 12, 1861: The Civil War Begins

April 1, 2021 by | 87 Comments

On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired the opening shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This month marks the 160th anniversary of the beginning of the war, the deadliest conflict ever fought on American soil. The Civil War lasted four years and resulted in an estimated 620,000 deaths and 1.5 million casualties. Approximately one in four soldiers that went to war never came back home. This impacted families, communities, and the entire country for generations to come.

Historical photograph of Fort Sumter

The years leading up to the beginning of the Civil War were filled with increasing tensions between northern and southern states. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president by a strictly northern vote. The election was the impetus for southern states, who were already wrangling with the North on issues like slavery, states’ rights, and westward expansion, to begin the process of secession. Four days after the election, South Carolina Senator James Chesnut resigned his Senate seat and began drafting secession documents. Before long, six more states joined South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861. That number increased to 11 states after the fall of Fort Sumter. Four border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) held enslaved persons but remained loyal to the Union.

Exterior view of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter, originally built as a coastal garrison, was located at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, from the newly formed Confederate States Army, demanded federal officials turn over the fort. He claimed the fort was located in Confederate territory and thus belonged to the South. The North refused and made attempts to send a ship to resupply the fort. The ship was turned away by Confederate guns.

Tensions grew, and Beauregard finally sent US officials an ultimatum – abandon the fort or face destruction. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12th, some 500 soldiers from the South Carolina Militia opened fire on 80 Federal soldiers inside the fort. The bombardment continued for 34 hours until the afternoon of April 13th, when the garrison commander, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered the fort. Though there were no fatalities on either side during the Battle of Fort Sumter, the conflict marked the beginning of more than 10,000 military engagements that occurred between 1861-1865.

Interior View of Fort Sumter

Fold3® has an extensive collection of Civil War records including:

  • Brady Civil War Photos: The Civil War is considered the first major conflict to be photographed extensively. Mathew Brady led a photography team that captured images of the war using a mobile studio and darkroom. 
  • Civil War Maps: This collection of 2,000 detailed battle maps provides insight into Civil War engagements. Some maps show the placement of regiments and the movement of troops.
  • Civil War “Widows Pensions” Files: Only 20% of Civil War pension files are digitized, but if you are lucky enough to find the pension file for your ancestor, you’ll uncover a treasure trove of information.
  • Civil War Service Records: We have service records for both Union and Confederate troops. These records are organized by state.
  • Service Records for US Colored Troops: Approximately 179,000 Black men served in the US Army and another 19,000 in the US Navy. Despite facing racism and discrimination, the US Colored Troops served with valor and honor. These records are organized by regiment.
  • Southern Claims Approved: After the war, the US government established the Southern Claims Commission. This office accepted petitions for compensation for items taken by Union troops during the war.

In addition to these collections, Fold3 has more than 150 additional collections that contain 43 million Civil War records. Start searching our Civil War collection today on Fold3®.

Bring the Buffalo Soldiers Home

March 22, 2021 by | 112 Comments

The 92nd Infantry Division, also known as Buffalo Soldiers, was the only Black infantry division to see combat in Europe during WWII. They served as part of the U.S. Fifth Army in Italy’s Po Valley and the northern Apennine Mountains, where they helped penetrate the Gothic Line (Germany’s last major line of defense against Allied forces pushing north). The division paid a heavy price, losing an estimated 700 soldiers. To date, 50 soldiers from the 92nd remain unaccounted for, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) would like to use DNA analysis from surviving family members to identify them. We’re teaming up with the DPAA to help spread the word and track down the families of these fallen soldiers. Let’s honor the sacrifices of the 92nd Infantry Division and help bring them home!

Soldiers from the 92nd Infantry Division

To positively identify the missing members of the 92nd, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) started the “92nd Infantry Project” in 2014. Of the 53 soldiers unidentified at the end of the war, 50 are still unaccounted for. One major obstacle that stands in the way of positive identification is family reference DNA samples.

The 92nd Infantry Division was a segregated division of primarily white officers and Black enlisted soldiers. They fought in WWI, and following the war, the division was deactivated. About 10 months after America entered WWII, the division was reactivated again. Soldiers received training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona before deploying to Italy in July 1944. They saw significant action against German troops with offensive campaigns in the Serchio River Valley and Massa. They participated in Operation Fourth Term in February 1945 and liberated the cities of La Spezia and Genoa in April.

Two soldiers from the 92nd received Medals of Honor, Vernon J. Baker, and John R. Fox. Vernon Baker served in the 380th Infantry Regiment and displayed extraordinary heroism at Castle Aghinolfi in the Apennine Mountains. The Castle was a German strongpoint and Baker and about 25 men were within 250 yards of the ancient fortress when Baker noticed two cylindrical objects pointing out of a slit in the mountain. He crawled up to them and stuck his M-1 rifle into the slit and fired, killing the occupants of the observation post. Next, he came upon a well-camouflaged machine-gun nest and killed both enemy soldiers. Baker’s heroics continued and he destroyed three machine-gun positions, an observation post, a dugout with enemy soldiers, and nine of the enemy. Initially, he was denied the Medal of Honor because the Army refused to award the honor to Black soldiers. Later, he became one of seven Black WWII soldiers that received the Medal of Honor when President Bill Clinton recognized their achievements in 1997.

92nd Infantry Division in the Po Valley

John R. Fox served with the Cannon Company of the 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division.  On December 25, 1944, enemy soldiers dressed in civilian clothes infiltrated the Italian town of Sommocolonia. Fox was serving as a forward observer with the 598th Artillery Battalion and stayed behind when the enemy unleashed a heavy barrage, forcing US troops to withdraw. He remained on the second floor of a house, directing defensive artillery fire. The enemy advanced towards the house as Fox called in adjustments. Realizing that another adjustment might bring fire down upon him, he went ahead and called for artillery fire. Later, after a counterattack, American troops retook the position and found Fox’s body along with the bodies of some 100 German soldiers. His courageous actions at the cost of his own life earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor, also awarded by President Clinton, in 1997.

Baker and Fox represent just two of the heroic soldiers from the 92nd. The DPAA hopes to honor the sacrifice of each unknown soldier from this division. There are currently 51 unknown soldiers buried in the Florence American Cemetery that may be associated with casualties from the 92nd Infantry Division. The Army Casualty Office would like to find family members of the 92nd to request a DNA sample. The task has proven challenging because many families relocated after the war, and surviving family members sometimes distrust the government. The wounds of racial discrimination run deep and are still healing. Identification of unaccounted soldiers can’t correct the injustice but does allow their families, and the country to honor their service and pay tribute to their sacrifice.

Officers examine maps near the Arno River

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) is the agency charged with collecting the DNA samples. They operate under strict laws that prevent any misconduct, and results are kept in a secure AFMES database. The collected DNA samples are only used to identify fallen heroes.

If you are the family of someone unaccounted for from the 92nd Infantry Division, please contact the Army Casualty Office at (800) 892-2490 to arrange to give a DNA sample. To learn more about the 92nd Infantry Regiment, search Fold3® today.

March 2-4, 1943: The Battle of the Bismarck Sea

March 1, 2021 by | 74 Comments

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea occurred March 2-4, 1943, when planes from the U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked a convoy of Japanese ships carrying troops and supplies to Lae, New Guinea. The bombing campaign ended with the destruction of four Japanese destroyers, eight Japanese troop transport ships, 102 Japanese fighter planes, and some 3,000 enemy soldiers.

Japanese ship is crippled after Allied bomb strike

To shore up their defenses in the Southwest Pacific, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters made plans to send a convoy of ships from Rabaul, New Britain to Lae in New Guinea. The convoy would deliver troops, supplies, and aircraft fuel to New Guinea. The convoy also presented a threat to Australia, putting it at risk for a future Japanese invasion.

Allies monitoring Japanese radio messages intercepted and decrypted information about the convoy, and they began to plan an attack. The plan of attack called for long-range heavy bombers from the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), followed by anti-shipping aircraft from the RAAF and the USAAF once the enemy was within range. These planes would attack at medium, low, and sometimes very low (mast height) elevation.

Japanese ship burns during Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Reconnaissance planes began sweeping the South Pacific, and on March 1, they spotted a concentration of enemy ships near Rabaul. Bad weather hampered reconnaissance but on the morning of March 2nd, the weather cleared, and aircrews spotted the convoy.

The attack started with a wave of B-17s dropping 1,000 lb. bombs. Crews reported successful hits with ships burning and explosions. Japanese destroyers plucked survivors out of the water. Ships that were not disabled continued churning towards New Guinea, and on the morning of March 3rd, the convoy was in striking range of the entire Allied forces.  

A formation of Allied planes assembled over Cape Ward Hunt and attacked the convoy in three waves. The first wave involved Flying Fortresses that attacked from medium altitude, followed quickly by RAAF Beaufighters that dived to mast level, bombing and strafing the ships with machine gunfire. The third wave of bombers concentrated on sinking the ships. On March 4th, the US Navy sent patrol torpedo boats and aircraft to mop-up the operation. They engaged a Japanese sub trying to pick up survivors in the water.

Allied aircraft attack Japanese ship

The attacks sunk all eight Japanese troop transport ships, and four of the eight destroyers. Of the 6,900 Japanese troops headed to Lae, only 1,200 made it. Destroyers and submarines rescued another 2,700 and returned them to Rabaul. In a controversial move, Allies patrolled the waters for several days, strafing survivors in lifeboats. This was later justified as necessary to prevent the enemy from coming ashore.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a devastating loss for Japan. Allied losses numbered four aircraft and 13 airmen. General Douglas MacArthur called it “the decisive aerial engagement of the war in the Southwest Pacific.” To learn more about the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, search Fold3 today!

Military Yearbook Collection, 1900-2011

February 23, 2021 by | 128 Comments

When researching military history, one often overlooked source is military yearbooks. Before embarking into military service, every member of the US Armed Forces received specialized training in camps, bases, and training facilities, across the country. All branches of the US military have published yearbooks. Graduates could purchase them when they completed training. Much like a high school yearbook, military yearbooks contain names, photographs, and details from a serviceman or servicewoman’s training. Fold3 has a collection of 108 military yearbooks. They contain more than 157,000 indexed names and nearly 17,000 images. These yearbooks date from 1900-2011. Here are some examples of what you might find in this collection.

Advanced Flying School, Army Air Forces (1943): Based in Phoenix, the yearbook for the Class of 1943 Aviation Cadets at Luke Field includes indexed photographs of the cadets, information about their training, recreation, and details about Chinese pilots that trained alongside them. After graduation, some of these cadets would make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. One example is Peter A. Boele. After leaving Luke Field, he was assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing, 55th Fighter Squadron. On May 25, 1944, 2nd Lt. Boele was shot down near the Netherlands and crashed into the sea. His yearbook photograph is on a page with 13 other cadets – nearly half of whom died while serving their country.

Citizens Military Training Camp (1923): Between the years 1921-1940, the military held training camps that allowed men to obtain basic military training without an obligation for active duty. This yearbook is from the Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. In 1923, 25,000 men attended a CMTC where they trained in physical fitness, good citizenship, and the importance of serving in a time of need. This yearbook contains rosters, photographs, and histories.

US Army Training Center, Infantry (1969): Some soldiers fighting in Vietnam first attended Basic Training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. From the moment of arrival, soldiers underwent rigorous physical and weapons training, drills, and inspections. The specialized training helped our fighting forces prepare for jungle warfare in Vietnam. This yearbook contains indexed photographs and a history of a soldier’s time spent at Fort Bragg.  

US Coast Guard Academy (1925): Located in New London, Connecticut, the Coast Guard Academy helped prepare future Coast Guard Officers. Particularly noteworthy in this yearbook is the collection of photographs and biographies for those attending the academy.

Explore our Military Yearbook Collection on Fold3. If you have a military yearbook or Unit History that you would like to donate to this collection, please contact us at [email protected]. We can digitize your book and return it to you undamaged. Help us preserve these important military records and make them available for others to explore free of charge. See our entire collection of military records on Fold3 today!  

The WWII Parachute Wedding Dress

February 17, 2021 by | 91 Comments

During WWII, resourceful brides all over the country demonstrated ingenuity, creativity, and support for the war effort by making wedding gowns out of parachutes. Fabric for bridal gowns was hard to come by, and brides learned to make do – or do without. Meanwhile, parachute makers were held to stringent standards, and if a parachute was rejected for any reason, the white nylon or silk fabric became surplus. Many brides used that surplus fabric for wedding gowns. This is the story of one WWII bride and her parachute wedding dress.

Janet Gleason

In the summer of 1942, the Navy established WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). WAVES aimed to free up men for sea duty by replacing them with enlisted women for onshore jobs. Twenty-year-old Janet Gleason from Massachusetts decided to join the WAVES. She was assigned to Joint Fort Dix Army Air Force Base in New Jersey, where she served as a Parachute Rigger Second Class.

That same summer, Idaho native Reo Arland Casper, 19, registered for the draft. Shortly after, he enlisted in the US Marines and was admitted into an elite Marine paratrooper training school. Paramarines were required to pass a strict fitness test, with 40% failing the training course. They were also prohibited from marrying. Reo was sent to Fort Dix for special training and eventually promoted to Sergeant.

Reo Arland Casper

During training, Paramarines shared the classroom with Navy WAVES. One day, during a class where students learned to fold and pack a parachute, Janet caught Reo’s eye.

The two struck up a friendship. Reo and Janet enjoyed long walks in Central Park and concerts at Radio City Music Hall. Before long, they fell in love. Reo had completed his training and was preparing to head overseas. Before graduation, he had to complete one final jump, and Janet carefully packed his chute. Reo received orders and prepared to ship out. Before leaving, he asked for Janet’s hand in marriage. They planned to wed as soon as the war was over.

Reo and Janet faithfully wrote letters and looked forward to reuniting one day. Janet’s commanding officer knew that she could not afford a wedding dress and gave her a Japanese silk parachute. The beautiful silk was the perfect fabric for a wedding gown.

Janet designed and sewed her wedding dress and then carefully packed it away, waiting for the war to end. That day finally came when Reo returned to the United States for official discharge in California on October 19, 1945. He and Janet made arrangements to reunite in his hometown in Idaho. Janet boarded a train, and after three years, the two were finally together again.

As wedding plans got underway, the couple encountered challenges when Reo’s mother objected to the wedding. She was concerned about the couple’s religious differences. Unwilling to be deterred, Reo and Janet traveled to Dillon, Montana, where they eloped on October 31, 1945. At last, Janet was able to wear the wedding gown that she meticulously designed and sewed from a parachute.

Reo and Janet were married for 58 years. She passed away in 2004 and Reo, one year later in 2005. The parachute wedding gown that Janet made is now part of the Hutchings Museum collection. To see more items from this collection, or to learn more about WWII, search today.

February 20, 1864: The Battle of Olustee

February 2, 2021 by | 96 Comments

On February 20, 1864, the Battle of Olustee (also known as the Battle of Ocean Pond) was fought in Baker County, Florida. It was the largest battle of the Civil War fought in Florida and involved more than 10,000 soldiers, including three regiments of US Colored Troops. When the five-hour fight was over, Confederate forces claimed victory, and Union soldiers retreated to Jacksonville, where some remained until the war ended 14 months later.

Historic lithograph depicting the advance of the 8th US Colored Troops

In late 1863, during President Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for a second term in office, Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. With several Confederate states under Federal control and needing to reorganize their governments, the President hoped the Proclamation would unify a country at war. It allowed states with at least 10% of eligible voters willing to pledge allegiance to the United States to rejoin the Union.

Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

To secure enough loyalty oaths in Florida and form a government in time to send delegates to the 1864 party convention, Gen. Quincy Gilmore, commander of the Union Department of the South, dispatched Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour to Jacksonville. He hoped a Union incursion could cut Confederate supply lines, disrupt rail service, and recruit additional Black soldiers for the Union Army.

Seymour and his troops landed at Jacksonville on February 7th and secured the town. From there, they sent raiders inland, facing little resistance. On February 20th, 5,500 Union forces advanced toward Lake City, assuming they would only face small Florida militias. Instead, they encountered Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan’s 5,000 forces entrenched in open pine woods near Olustee railroad station. Finnegan had chosen an area with strong natural defenses, including Ocean Pond to the north, an impassable swamp to the south, with a narrow dry passage in between.

Joseph Finnegan

Advancing with Union troops were three regiments of Black soldiers – the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the 35th US Colored Troops, and the 8th US Colored Troops. Fighting broke out, and the intense battle raged for five hours until the Union line finally broke. Union soldiers retreated. There were some 1,800 Union casualties and 946 Confederate casualties. In proportion to the number of soldiers fighting, it was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Among those wounded was Corp. James H. Gooding from the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Gooding, an educated freedman, enlisted on February 14, 1863, just days after the recruiting office opened in his hometown. He had written an eloquent letter to President Abraham Lincoln in September 1863, denouncing that Black soldiers received $10 per month from which $3 was automatically deducted for clothing, while white soldiers received $13 per month with no clothing allowance withdrawn.

Grave of Corp. James H. Gooding

Gooding’s comrades thought his wound fatal and sent word of his death home. In reality, Gooding was wounded and taken captive. He was sent to Andersonville, where he died in July 1864 – one month after Congress passed a law granting equal pay to Black soldiers.

As a result of the Battle of Olustee, Confederate troops remained in control of Florida’s interior for the rest of the war, and Union troops were sent scampering back in Jacksonville. If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Olustee, search Fold3 today!

New United Kingdom WWI Pension Records Added!

January 26, 2021 by | 16 Comments

We are happy to announce our new collection of UK, WWI Pension Ledgers and Index Cards dated 1914-1923. This collection provides details of military and military-related personnel who filed for a pension following WWI. When a soldier was killed in the war, his widow and/or other dependents were also entitled to pension benefits. This collection may also contain records for fallen soldiers who were unmarried and had other next-of-kin apply for benefits.

The collection is divided into Mercantile Marine Index Cards, Naval Pensions Ledger, Pension Record Cards, and PRC Ledgers.

Mercantile Marine Index Cards contain details on pensions awarded for death or injury to a seaman on a British ship, like this one for Boatswain William Alfred Belanger. He drowned when the S.S. Van Stirum was torpedoed on Christmas Day in 1915. The index card lists his widow’s name and address, along with the date and the cause of his death.

Naval Pensions Ledger records provide details of military and military-related personnel who filed for a pension if injured or killed. This ledger also contains details about their widow, dependents, or next of kin if unmarried without children. In this example, we see the Pension Ledger for William J. Barnes. It provides the name and birthdates of his wife and their three children.

Pension Records Cards are particularly valuable for providing details on soldier’s dependents. This card for Albert Head, who went missing before being declared dead, lists his wife and four children and even includes details about when his widow remarried.

PRC Ledgers relate to British servicemen and does not extend to Empire/Commonwealth soldiers who would have received pensions from their own governments. These ledgers provide information on the types of wounds and injuries received during the war. In this example, William Tarn served in the Royal Air Force and suffered “Delusional Insanity” as a result of his service in the Great War.

Start Exploring this new collection of UK records on Fold3 today!