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Reflections of a Civil War POW

October 4, 2021 by | 0 comments

More than 3 million soldiers fought in the Civil War, and each had a story to tell. Some of those stories have been preserved through personal journals. We recently came across the journal of Union Soldier William Hosack. William spent nine grueling months as a POW, first at Libby Prison and later at Andersonville and Florence Prison. His journal is housed in Special Collections at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Our special thanks to IUP for sharing William’s story with us.

William Hosack

William Hosack was born on February 10, 1843, in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. His father Samuel died when he was just 6, so the seven Hosack siblings were farmed out to various family members and neighbors. William lived with his grandfather until age 17, then moved to the nearby town of New Alexandria to learn the blacksmith trade before enlisting in the Union Army.

In 1861, William enlisted in the Pennsylvania 11th Reserve Infantry. He was just 18 and small in stature. Military officials refused to swear him in without the written consent of his mother, which he obtained. His first skirmish happened along the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. He was serving on picket duty and recalled that Union soldiers were on one side of the river and Confederate soldiers were on the other side.

“We were on friendly terms, and we met in the river and done trading until that Regiment was relieved by a South Carolina Regiment. The next morning as some of our men went to wash as usual, a comrade of Co. G was shot in the leg which was a signal for hostilities when a lively skirmish opened.”

During 1862, William’s Regiment fought in fierce battles, including the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. After Antietam, William said they returned to camp near Sharpsburg, “blanketless, shoeless, no money and with tattered uniforms.” He described a brutal winter with conditions that tried the endurance of the men. The following summer William’s regiment marched towards Gettysburg, arriving July 2, 1863. They fought on Little Round Top, and William poured volleys of buckshot upon the enemy, then charged them with his bayonet. He recollected that one of the last shots of Gettysburg was fired at him.

“Next morning at break of day – being the 4th of July – I got up cold, saw a blanket over the stone fence, I put it around me as was walking my beat when a rebel picket shot at me which was one of the last shots of the battle, as all the rebels army had retreated in the night and the picket line was last to leave and gave me a parting shot. I heard the ball pass my head.”

During the Battle of the Wilderness, in May 1864, William was shot in the heel of his shoe. Despite all the hardships he had endured thus far in the war, it did not compare to what was shortly to come. On May 30th, during the Battle of Bethesda Church, William was captured and taken prisoner. For the next nine months, he endured hunger, sickness, and every kind of deprivation before being liberated in March 1865. William was first taken to Libby Prison where his blanket and tent were confiscated. The guards demanded that prisoners turn over any money and searched each prisoner.

“I had seven dollars in green backs which I slipped in a hole in the sleeve of my comrade’s blouse. He was searched before me, and they failed to find the money. Then I was searched. I had $2.00 in their money, but they would not take that.”

William staked out a small space on the floor at Libby Prison and used his shoes as a pillow at night. He spent 11 days there before being transferred to Andersonville. The sights, sounds, and smells at Andersonville were shocking. Some prisoners had small tents, others had blankets that hung over a pole, but thousands had nothing and lay exposed on the bare ground.

Andersonville Prison 1865

“The suffering there was horrible from hunger and disease, starvation and death. The filth I will not attempt to describe. It is a miracle that we didn’t all die.”

A small, filthy stream ran through the center of the camp. As it was the only source of water, prisoners were forced to drink from it. Some started to dig wells, in hopes of reaching clean water. Other prisoners realized that escape might be possible by digging tunnels instead of wells. A few did escape, so guards forced them to fill in the wells. Prisoners survived on meager food rations which usually consisted of mush or boiled rice and cornbread, equaling about a pint of food a day. The deprivation brought out the worst in some.  

“Some of our prisoners were very bad men, they went by the name of “Raiders”, would steal and murder for money. The prisoners formed a police force and arrested a bunch of raiders and organized a court as many prisoners were lawyers – and tried these men and convicted six of murder and were sentenced to be hung. I saw them drop, all at the same time. One man’s rope broke and he fell to the ground, but another rope was gotten and hung him again. It was a sad sight.”

Andersonville was extremely overcrowded. Prisoner deaths would average 100 per day. Scurvy caused much suffering and prisoners were covered with infected sores. William recalls that many just sat in the hot sun until relieved by death.

“Each morning a wagon was brought in to gather up the dead, the bodies were thrown on like that much wood until the load was full then taken to the cemetery and continued until all were gathered up.”

In October 1864, some prisoners including William were transferred to Florence Prison in South Carolina. William could hear bombs exploding in Charleston and recalled that prisoners cheered after each explosion. Winter was approaching and temperatures were dropping. William spent a cold winter sleeping on bare ground that was sometimes frozen. In December 1864, word spread that a big prisoner exchange was coming. William was sure he would be exchanged – but he wasn’t chosen.

“The gate was closed which was great disappointment to me, yet I determined to live it through if possible. Done all I could and prayed to God to help me. And he did help me.”

That help came in the form of sweet potatoes. William and a fellow prisoner traded a gold pen for 1 ½ bushels of sweet potatoes. They boiled the potatoes and ate a few, relishing each bite. He then sold the rest and earned a dollar. About this time, he was detailed to go outside the prison walls to build a smallpox hospital. On the outside, he took the dollar and purchased additional foodstuffs, allowing the prisoners to make a stew using cuts of meat nobody wanted, like cow stomach.

“I washed it the best I could, then cut it up in squares and boiled it until evening, then we tried to eat it. We could not masticate it, but we chewed it a while then swallowed it and the stomach done the rest. We never drew meat, except in Andersonville, for a time we drew spoiled bacon. Possibly they thought it good enough for the yanks.”

The food saved the lives of prisoners, who were on the verge of starvation. They were willing to eat anything. William recalled seeing prisoners pull the head of a dog out of a filthy swamp and roast it over the fire to pick off small pieces of meat.

William was determined to survive. He often thought of his widowed mother, and it gave him the incentive to keep going. He looked forward to reuniting with his family. Finally, in 1865, William was freed in a prisoner exchange. He was carried to a ship and transported to Annapolis, Maryland, where he was hospitalized. When sufficiently recuperated, William started for home and the reunion he had dreamed about.

“I arrived home at Blairsville and rapped on my mother’s back door and my sister was about to open the door, I opened it for myself. For a few moments mother nor sister knew me. Finally sister said it is “Will”. I need to say nothing more, you can imagine the rest.”

William Hosack went on to become a husband and father. He studied medicine and became a respected doctor. To learn more about the Civil War and the soldiers who fought in it, visit our Civil War collection on Fold3®.

WWII’s Tokyo Rose

October 2, 2021 by | 0 comments

On October 6, 1949, 33-year-old Iva Toguri d’Aquino was convicted of treason, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and fined $10,000. Prosecutors claimed Aquino betrayed her country when she broadcast Japanese propaganda over Radio Tokyo to armed forces in the Pacific during WWII. Aquino always maintained her innocence, saying she was a scapegoat and not a traitor. She was released from prison early for good behavior and eventually pardoned by President Gerald Ford in the 1970s.

Iva Toguri d’Aquino

Born Ikuko Toguri in Los Angeles in 1916. She was the daughter of first-generation Japanese immigrants and attended public schools in California. After graduation, Aquino attended UCLA, where she earned a degree in Zoology. In July 1941, six months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Aquino sailed to Japan to visit a sick aunt. Before she could return home, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. was at war. Aquino found herself stuck in Japan. Eventually, she got a typist job at Radio Tokyo and later started working as a broadcaster.

Radio Tokyo broadcast a show called Zero Hour. It was an English-language program meant to chip away at the morale of Allied soldiers. Ironically, soldiers looked forward to the farcical Japanese propaganda and catchy music. It was a way to break up the monotony of their duties. Americans especially loved hearing from Aquino, who broadcast under the pseudonym “Orphan Ann.” Her absurd broadcasts always left them chuckling. Soldiers nicknamed her “Tokyo Rose.”

Iva Toguri d’Aquino mugshot

While working at Radio Tokyo, Aquino became acquainted with an Australian POW who helped produce the show. He was a successful radio announcer before the war, and together with Aquino, wrote scripts that berated Allied soldiers in such an exaggerated way as to be comical. In April 1945, Aquino married Felipe Aquino in Japan. When the war ended, Aquino wanted to return home, but she was in dire financial straits.

In the meantime, U.S. military officials began tracking down those that might be guilty of war crimes. Two reporters tried to find “Tokyo Rose,” and following some leads, located Aquino. They offered her money for exclusive rights to her story. Aquino accepted (although she never got paid), and her story came to the attention of the military officials and a grand jury who indicted her. They returned her to the U.S., where she was arrested and charged with treason. Aquino maintained that her broadcasts were meant to undermine the Japanese government. She was found guilty and sent to prison.

After six years, Aquino was released for good behavior. She moved to Chicago and worked in her family-owned store. Twenty years later, two witnesses who testified at her original trial came forward to say they had been pressured to testify against her. Public opinion and anti-Japanese sentiment had changed, and in 1977, President Gerald Ford pardoned Aquino. She died in 2006 in Chicago.

If you would like to learn more about Tokyo Rose or WWII, search Fold3® today.

Dramatic Escape from Albania

September 20, 2021 by | 79 Comments

In November 1943, a C-53 transport plane loaded with 13 medics, 13 flight nurses, and four aircrew members left Sicily headed for Bari, Italy. Their mission was to transport wounded soldiers to hospitals farther away from the front lines. A storm, combined with a run-in with German fighter planes, forced them off course. The airplane crash-landed in Nazi-occupied Albania, and the survivors spent nine harrowing weeks trekking 800 miles across Albania. They encountered severe challenges and narrowly escaped death. The majority reached freedom on January 9, 1944. Three nurses who became separated from the group did not get rescued until March 21, 1944.

Aircrew of plane forced down in Albania

On the rainy morning of November 13, 1943, the crew, medics, and flight nurses from the 807th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron boarded a C-53D for the two-hour flight from Sicily to Bari. Bad weather had grounded the flight for the three previous days, and the number of injured needing transport to areas with better medical care was increasing. When the plane left Sicily, the skies had cleared, and visibility was good.

As they neared Bari, the skies turned dark. Pilot Charles B. Thrasher saw ominous clouds ahead. They flew into a violent storm and lost all communications with the ground station at Bari. Thrasher decided to ascend above the clouds, but when they reached an altitude of about 8,000 feet, the wings began to ice up. He quickly descended.  Disoriented, he flew for three and a half hours before spotting a coastline through broken clouds. Assuming they had reached the western coast of Italy, Thrasher and co-pilot Lt. James Baggs began looking for a place to land. Spotting what appeared to be an abandoned airfield, he began an approach. Suddenly, tracer bullets began screaming past the aircraft window. Dodging German fighters, Thrasher ducked into a cloud and flew for another hour through overcast skies.  

With the plane’s fuel was running low, they began looking for a place to land. They eventually saw a flat spot and crash-landed the C-53. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured. As the group disembarked the aircraft, members of an Albanian resistance met them and informed them that they’d crossed the Adriatic Sea and were in Nazi-occupied Albania. The partisans led them to a nearby town, but they had to flee when a German detachment approached. While walking down a road, three Messerschmitt 109’s dive-bombed and strafed the group as they ran for cover. British officers were operating in the country, and the partisans let them know that Americans were in the area. One British officer was assigned to serve as a guide for the group. Later they were met by an American officer who had been sent into Albania to lead them out.

Group of ten of the nurses who escaped Albania recover after their ordeal

Early on, three nurses became separated during a chaotic German attack. A wealthy Albanian family in the town of Berat sheltered the nurses in the basement and later helped them escape disguised as civilians. It would take that trio nearly five months to reach Allied lines. They crossed the mountains on donkeys, and when they finally reached the coast, an Allied torpedo boat skirted them to safety.

For the next two months, the remaining group walked up to seven hours a day. Sometimes the snow was knee-deep. Their journey took them across Albania’s second-highest mountain peak during a raging blizzard. As they journeyed, kind Albanians shared their meager food and lodging with them. Several times military officials attempted to extract the group, but German forces intervened and made rescue impossible. As weeks passed, the nurses’ shoes wore thin. The group suffered frostbite, hunger, dysentery, jaundice, and pneumonia. The nurses demonstrated determination and grit and gained the admiration of all.

Nurses who escaped Albania show their worn shoes

On January 9, 1944, the group finally made it to the coast and rendezvoused with rescuers who rowed them out to a British launch, and they were transported to Bari, Italy. The trio of separated nurses arrived at Otranto, Italy, on March 21, 1944. All of those rescued were forbidden to talk about their experiences. Officials feared it would endanger the lives of those who helped them. The 800-mile hike proved the Army nurses’ ability to withstand hardships during the war.

To learn more about this and other World War II stories of heroism, search Fold3® today.

September 29-30, 1864: The Battle of New Market Heights and the Contributions of the United States Colored Troops

September 9, 2021 by | 72 Comments

On September 29, 1864, Black soldiers serving in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCTs) led an assault against Confederate defenses protecting Richmond during the Battle of New Market Heights. New Market Heights was part of the larger Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. It included fighting at Fort Harrison, Fort Gilmer, and Laurel Hill. During this battle, two brigades of the USCTs proved their heroism, fought courageously and captured New Market Heights. Fourteen soldiers from the USCTs earned Medals of Honor for gallantry.

Battle of Chaffin’s Farm

In September 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant approved a plan to send Union Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James to break through Confederate defenses guarding the Confederate capital of Richmond. Included in the 20,000 Union troops were some 4,500 Black soldiers fighting in the USCTs.

The offensive consisted of a two-pronged attack, which called for Major General Edward Ord’s XVIII Corps to cross the James River at Aiken’s Landing and move toward the Confederate-held Fort Harrison. Fort Harrison was later captured and renamed Fort Burnham.

The second prong, and focus here, is Maj. Gen. David B. Birney’s X Corps, and Brigadier General Charles J. Paine’s USCT regiments (who were detailed from the XVIII Corps but operating with the X Corps that morning).

At dawn on September 29th, Paine’s division, spearheaded by the 4th and 6th USCTs (Third Brigade), crossed the James River at Deep Bottom Landing. Their objective was to take New Market Heights. That would give them control of New Market Road, which led directly to Richmond. As they advanced towards New Market Road, the division came under heavy fire from Confederate earthwork defenses. After heavy losses of half their forces, the Union brigade withdrew.  

36th USCTs, Company I

Next, the Second Brigade, consisting of the 5th, 36th, and 38th USCTs, advanced. They also engaged in brutal fighting and lost more than 1/3 of their forces before finding an opening and bursting through the Confederate line. They advanced up New Market Heights while the Confederates retreated toward Richmond.

When the battle was over, the Union Army suffered an estimated 3,300 casualties for soldiers fighting north of the James River on September 29-30. Confederate casualties numbered 1,750. Soldiers from the USCTs proved their mettle. Over and over, as color-bearers and white commanding officers were shot down, Black soldiers stepped up to retrieve the colors and lead the troops. During the entire Civil War, only 16 Black soldiers received the Medal of Honor. Fourteen of those were awarded to soldiers after the Battle of New Market Heights.

Following are short bios for each of the 14 members of the USCTs awarded Medals of Honor for their actions that day:

William H. Barnes was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and enlisted in the 38th Regiment of the USCT, Company G, on July 2, 1864, at age 19. He was 5’4” and listed his occupation as a farmer. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Barnes was “among the first to enter the enemy’s works; although wounded.” Barnes was later promoted to Sergeant and traveled to Indianola, Texas, with his regiment. While in Texas, Barnes contracted tuberculosis and died in Indianola on Christmas Eve in 1866. He was officially mustered out of service in January 1867. 

Powhatan Beaty was born in Richmond, Virginia, on October 8, 1837, and was formerly enslaved. At some point, he became a freedman and moved to Cincinnati, where he studied acting. Beaty enlisted in the 5th USCTs, Company G, on June 9, 1863, in Ohio. He served as a 1st Sergeant. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Beaty raced to retrieve the flag from a fallen color-bearer. Finding the officers all dead or wounded, he took command of his company and gallantly led it.” He mustered out of service on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina.

James H. Bronson was born in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. His military records show that he was 25 years old and mixed race. Bronson had grey eyes, dark hair, 5’9”, and was employed as a barber when he enlisted July 4, 1863, in Trumbull County, Ohio. He served in the 5th USCTs, Company D. He was later promoted to 1st Sergeant. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Bronson took charge of his company and led them throughout the day after his company officers were all killed or wounded. Following the battle, Bronson requested to have his rank reduced so he could join the regimental military band. He was mustered out on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina.

Christian A. Fleetwood

Christian A. Fleetwood was born a freeman in Baltimore, Maryland, and enlisted in the 4th USCTs on August 11, 1863. Before he enlisted, Fleetwood worked as a clerk. He was 23 years old, with a brown complexion, black eyes, black hair, and stood 5’4.5” tall. Fleetwood received a promotion to Sergeant Major. At the time, this was the highest rank a Black soldier could attain in the U.S. Army. At the Battle of New Market Heights, Fleetwood “Seized the colors after two color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.” Following the war, Fleetwood worked as a clerk in the War Department.

James Gardiner

James Gardiner served as a private in the 36th USCT, Company I. He was born in Gloucester, Virginia, and worked as an oysterman. He enlisted on September 15, 1863, when he was 19 years old and 5’7” tall. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Gardiner “rushed in advance of his brigade, shot at a rebel officer who was on the parapet cheering his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet.” The day after the battle, Gardiner was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He was mustered out of service at Brazos de Santiago, Texas, on September 20, 1866.

James H. Harris

James H. Harris was born in 1828 in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. When he was 36 years old, he enlisted in the 38th USCTs, Company B. He was a farmer and described as 5’10” tall with a black complexion, black eyes, and black hair. He was promoted to corporal on July 25, 1864, and then to sergeant on September 29, 1864 – the same day as the Battle of New Market Heights. During the battle of New Market Heights, Harris was wounded and later awarded a Medal of Honor for “gallant conduct.” His muster roll records show he spent September and October in the hospital and returned to duty in November 1864. On July 1, 1865, his rank was reduced to private, although no reason is given in his records. Harris mustered out of service on January 25, 1867, at Indianola, Texas.

Thomas R. Hawkins

Thomas R. Hawkins was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to his obituary, Hawkins “escaped the Southern lines in 1863” and as soon as he reached the North, knelt down and kissed the Union soil. He vowed to do anything he could for the cause of liberty. He enlisted in the 6th USCTs in Philadelphia and entered service as a Sergeant Major. He was wounded in the arm early in his service but quickly rejoined his regiment when the wound healed. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Hawkins was shot through the shoulder, hip, and foot, but managed to rescue the regimental colors. After the war, Hawkins was active in the Temperance Society in Washington, D.C. This letter found in the Freedmen’s Bureau Record Collection on Ancestry® shows Hawkins asking for the use of a room to hold a Temperance Society meeting in 1867. The wounds Hawkins received during the Battle of New Market Heights eventually led to his death. He was awarded a Medal of Honor on February 8, 1870, but died less than three weeks later, on February 28, 1870, in Washington, D.C.

Thomas R. Hawkins applies for space to hold Temperance Society meeting – From the Freedmen’s Bureau Record Collection on Ancestry
Alfred B. Hilton Pension Record from the Freedmen’s Bureau Record Collection on Ancestry

Alfred B. Hilton was one of 14 children born to parents who were formerly enslaved. In August 1863, Alfred and his two brothers joined the 4th USCTs, Company H. Hilton was 21 years old and listed his occupation as a farmer when he enlisted with the rank of sergeant. During the charge on New Market Heights, Sgt. Hilton retrieved the regimental colors after the color bearer was wounded. Hilton was also wounded and struggled forward until he could no longer continue. Hilton was admitted to a military hospital at Fortress Monroe where his right leg had to be amputated below the knee. He eventually died from his battle wounds on October 21, 1864. According to Freedmen’s Bureau Records, Hilton’s parents, Isaac and Harriett, received a $90 pension payment in 1868.

Milton M. Holland

Milton M. Holland was born in Austin, Texas in 1844. When he was 18, he enlisted as a Sergeant Major in the 5th USCTs, Company C, at Athens, Ohio. He was a shoemaker who stood 5’8” tall. His Medal of Honor citation states, “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” Despite acting as an officer during combat, Holland was refused an officer’s commission because of race. Following the war, Holland moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a government clerk. When he died on May 15, 1910, his valuable estate consisted of “thirty-two acres of land, more or less, improved by a twelve-room frame dwelling house, all modern improvements: good barn, stable and carriage houses and all other necessary outbuildings.”

Miles James was born in 1829 in Princess Anne County, Virginia. He enlisted in the 36th USCTs, Company B, on November 16, 1863. At the time, he was 34 years old and worked as a farmer. During the Battle of New Market Heights, he was severely wounded in the left arm, necessitating an amputation right on the battlefield. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the citation reading, “After having his arm so badly mutilated that immediate amputation was necessary, [he] loaded and discharged his piece with one hand, and urged his men forward…” While recovering in the hospital, Brig. Gen. Alonzo G. Draper, commander of the 36th USCTs, wrote a letter saying that James requested that he not be discharged. He wished to remain in the service. Draper urged military officials to grant the request. Draper wrote, “He is one of the bravest men I ever saw… and a model soldier. He is worth more with his single arm, than half a dozen ordinary men.” James was discharged by order of Surgeon’s Certificate for disability on October 13, 1865, at Brazos de Santiago, Texas. In the 1870 Census, James was living in Norfolk with his wife Sarah and three children working as a shoemaker. He died on August 28, 1871, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Alexander Kelly

Alexander Kelly was born near Saltsburg in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 1840. He enlisted in the 6th USCTs, Company F, at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on August 24, 1863. He was a 23-year-old coal miner and enlisted as a substitute for his brother Joseph Kelly after Joseph was drafted. Joseph had a large family dependent upon him for support, so Alexander took his place. Kelly saw fighting at Petersburg, Dutch Gap, and at the Battle of New Market Heights. During that battle, when the color bearer had been shot down, he gallantly seized the colors, rallied the survivors, and led them in a charge on the breastworks of the enemy. Kelly died on June 19, 1907.

Robert A. Pinn

Robert A. Pinn was born a freeman on March 1, 1843, in Stark County, Ohio. His father escaped from slavery and fled to Ohio at the age of eighteen. Pinn attempted to enlist in the Union Army at the beginning of the war but was denied because of his race. Instead, Pinn joined the 19th Ohio Infantry in 1861 as a civilian worker. He fought in the Battle of Shiloh despite his non-military status. After President Lincoln opened the way for Black men to serve, Pinn enlisted in the USCTs 5th USCTs, Company I, in 1863. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Pinn served with gallantry at Fort Harrison. Later that same day, he was severely wounded at Fort Gilmer and hospitalized in Portsmouth, Virginia. Following the war, Pinn returned to Ohio where he studied law and became the first Black lawyer in Massillon County. He was active in the GAR and became the first Black Commander of Hart Post 134. He died in his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, in 1911.

Edward Ratcliff was born enslaved on a farm in James City County, Virginia, on February 8, 1835. Ratcliff, along with 37 other enslaved individuals, worked the lands for slave owner Alexander Hankins. When the Civil War broke out, Hankins formed a Confederate military unit, called the James City Artillery. In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and one year later, 29-year-old Ratcliff walked away from the Hankins farm to enlist in the 38th USCT. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Ratcliff took command after his commanding officer was killed. Ratcliff became the first Union soldier to enter the enemy’s defenses and stand inside their fortification. He was promoted to 1st Sergeant, and later to Sergeant Major. Ratcliff was mustered out of service at Indianola, Texas, on January 25, 1867. He died on March 10, 1915, in York County, Virginia.

Charles Veal was born in 1838 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He enlisted in the 4th USCTs, Company D, in July 1863. At the time, he was a 25-year-old fireman. During the Battle of New Market Heights, the 4th and 6th USCTs were the first to advance. Christian Fleetwood, a fellow Medal of Honor recipient, later recalled the battle. He said that a color guard consisting of 14 men (two sergeants and twelve corporals) advanced on the field. One of them was Veal. They came under fire, and Veal was the only one left standing. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry when he “seized the national colors, after two color bears had been shot down close to the enemy’s works, and bore them through the remainder of the battle.” He died July 27, 1872, in Hampton City, Virginia.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of New Market, visit Fold3® today. Also, explore the new Freedmen’s Bureau Records Collection for free on Ancestry® for additional records related to the USCTs.  

New POW/MIA Records Added!

August 30, 2021 by | 20 Comments

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Defense. Their mission is to recover the remains of military personnel who are listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from past conflicts. We’ve added a new collection of indexed records for the estimated 82,000 American military and civilian personnel still missing in action. The index covers multiple conflicts including WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and more recent conflicts including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The DPAA collection is divided into two groups. Group A, which consists of 38,000 missing service members whose remains are considered recoverable; and Group B consists of 44,000 missing service members whose remains are considered unrecoverable.

One of those listed in this DPAA index is 2Lt. Charles V. Safford. He served in the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, where his Battery suffered terrible losses in the Philippines. Of the 149 men enlisted in the battery, more than half were lost.

The Santa Fe New Mexican – November 10, 1945

Safford was captured during the fall of Bataan in 1942 and sent to Davao Penal Colony, where he and other prisoners endured extreme abuse and deprivation. In September 1944, after more than two years as a POW, Safford and 750 other American POWs were loaded aboard the Japanese cargo-steamer Shinyo Maru, bound for Manila.  

Allies intercepted messages and believed the Shinyo Maru was carrying enemy troops. On September 7, 1944, the USS Paddle fired upon the Shinyo Maru. The ship began to sink, and panicked prisoners scrambled to escape the flooding hold of the ship. Japanese guards fired upon those trying to escape. By the time it was over, only 82 POWs survived. Safford’s remains were never identified and his name is now included in the DPAA index.

Search this index to learn additional details for unaccounted military personnel, including their residence, military branch, death date, and more. Explore the new DPAA collection on Fold3® today!

The Liberation of Stalag IX-B POW Camp

August 18, 2021 by | 116 Comments

On February 9, 1945, the State Department sent an urgent telegram to the Secretary of State. The message informed him that thousands of American soldiers, captured during the Battle of the Bulge, were being held at a notorious German POW camp. It stated that Stalag IX-B was “previously not (repeat not) known to be a large American camp.” The POW camp, also known as Bad Orb-Wegscheide, was located near Bad Orb in Hesse, Germany. After receiving reports of the horrific conditions in the camp, plans immediately got underway to liberate the prisoners. On April 2, 1945, an American task force broke through the German line and drove 37 miles through enemy-held territory to rescue the prisoners of Stalag IX-B.

Telegram informs military officials that Americans are held at Stalag IX-B

Stalag IX-B was a German Army training camp during WWI, but in 1939, the Wehrmacht seized it and converted it into a POW camp. The camp housed prisoners from at least eight countries, including Americans, which began arriving in December 1944.

During the Battle of the Bulge, some Americans were captured and sent to Stalag IX-B. The first group, numbering nearly one thousand, was taken prisoner on December 17, 1944. They were forced to march for four days, only receiving food and water once. Then they were packed into boxcars for the five-day trip to Stalag IX-B, again only receiving food and water once. Those that were wounded were denied medical attention and suffered tremendously. The prisoners finally arrived at Stalag IX-B nine days later, but camp officials were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of POWs. They lacked beds, food, and supplies. The appalling conditions of the camp were indescribable.

Report on Stalag IX-B

In January 1945, the International Red Cross visited Stalag IX-B and reported on conditions. They described 1,300 men sleeping on the floor and others sleeping on vermin-infested straw or mattresses. Many of the barracks had broken windows, and the POWs lacked blankets or coats. There were no washing facilities and insufficient toilets. They gathered a list of soldiers imprisoned there, noting some had already passed away. At another visit in March, a report noted conditions had gotten even worse, with prisoners suffering considerable weight loss, disease, non-existent hygiene, and small portions of food.

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds

Included among the Americans held at Stalag IX-B were Jewish-American troops. During one daily line-up, the camp commandant ordered all Jewish prisoners to step forward. Roddie Edmonds quickly spread orders that his men should stand firm. He then responded with, “We are all Jews here.” For this act of bravery, he was awarded Righteous Among the Nations, the first American soldier to be so honored.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, a reconnaissance task force comprised of members of the 2nd Battalion, 114th Regiment, US 44th Infantry Division, the 106th Cavalry Group, and the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion broke through German lines and went ahead of the main body of American forces. They arrived at a hill overlooking the town of Bad Orb. When a German garrison opened fire on the American position, they answered with machinegun fire and artillery shells throughout the night. Finally, Germany withdrew its troops. The following morning Stalag IX-B was turned over to the Americans, many of whom wept when they saw the condition of the emaciated prisoners.

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August 14: National Navajo Code Talkers Day

August 5, 2021 by | 60 Comments

In 1942, US military officials visited the Navajo Nation and recruited 29 Navajo men to train as Code Talkers in the Marines. Code Talkers used their tribal language to send secret messages on the battlefield. By the end of the war, more than 400 Navajos were trained as Code Talkers, participating in nearly every major Marine operation in the Pacific Theater. Their code remained unbroken throughout the war, and their contributions helped the United States achieve victory in the Pacific.

The first 29 Navajo Code Talker recruits are sworn in at Fort Wingate, New Mexico

During WWI, soldiers from the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes became the first known US Code Talkers. Seeing their success at passing messages in code, WWI veteran Philip Johnston, who grew up on the Navajo reservation as the son of missionaries, proposed Navajo Code Talkers at the beginning of WWII. Marine officials were hesitant, worried that using a tribal code may not work again. After seeing an impressive demonstration, military officials began recruiting Navajos into the Marines.

Navajos had to meet three requirements to be a Code Talker: first, they had to be fluent in both Navajo and English. Second, they needed to be between 17 and 30 years old, and finally, they had to pass basic training. The original 29 recruits left the Navajo nation and began to develop a coded alphabet. To accomplish this, they chose an English word for each letter of the alphabet, then translated that English word into Navajo. For example, the word for the letter “a” was ant, and the Navajo translation for ant was Wol-la-chee. The Code Talkers also developed code words for military words. Officials were pleased and surprised at how quickly and accurately coded messages could be sent and received. Instead of the standard 30 minutes needed using code-breaking machines, the Code Talkers could translate three lines of English in 20 seconds.

Their work was dangerous. Code Talkers often worked in pairs, with one person operating the radio and the other receiving and relaying the messages. Radio operators were already a target, so Code Talkers had to keep moving as they performed their work. During the first two days of the Battle of Iwo Jima, they transmitted 800 messages without a single mistake. At least 14 other Native nations also served as Code Talkers during WWII, but the Navajos were the most formally organized. One of the original 29 Code Talkers, Allen Dale June, joined the Marines when he was 17. The irony of being asked to defend the country was not lost on June or other Code Talkers. “Naturally we were concerned about the survival of the country in the Great War at the time. At the same time, we were defending our own country, the Navajo Nation,” he said.

Sgt. Allen June at age 91

The Code Talkers were so successful that military officials wanted to keep the program classified. After the war, Code Talkers remained quiet about their service for 23 years. Finally, in 1968, the project was declassified, and the Navajo Code Talkers received public recognition for the first time. That recognition extended on a national level when in 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 as Navajo Code Talkers Day. In 2001, the 29 original Code Talkers were honored with Congressional Gold Medals by President George W. Bush.

If you would like to learn more about Navajo Code Talkers, search Fold3® today.