Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Archive for '- Civil War'

Ending the Bloodshed: The Last Surrenders of the Civil War

Spring 2015 Prologue coverThis post was originally published as an article by Trevor Plante in the Spring 2015 issue of Prologue magazine. Trevor K. Plante is chief of the Reference Services Branch at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He is a supervisory archivist who specializes in 19th- and early 20th-century military records and is an active lecturer and a frequent contributor to Prologue.

Appomattox.

To many Americans the word Appomattox is synonymous with the end of the Civil War.

The war, however, did not officially conclude at that tiny village west of Petersburg, Virginia. But what happened there in early April 150 years ago certainly marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

After the fall of Richmond, the Confederate capital, on April 2, 1865, officials in the Confederate government, including President Jefferson Davis, fled. The dominoes began to fall. The surrender at Appomattox took place a week later on April 9.

While it was the most significant surrender to take place during the Civil War, Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s most respected commander, surrendered only his Army of Northern Virginia to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Several other Confederate forces—some large units, some small—had yet to surrender before President Andrew Johnson could declare that the Civil War was officially over.

The Grant-Lee agreement served not only as a signal that the South had lost the … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Report concerning the death of Abraham Lincoln

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Dr. Charles A. Leale, a doctor and army surgeon in town from New York, listened with rapt attention to the President’s remarks. He and the President crossed paths one more time, although under more somber circumstances. Leale was the first doctor to attend to Lincoln after the President was shot at Ford’s Theatre.

Leale’s report to the Surgeon General of the United States concerning the Lincoln assassination is now on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1), 1865. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1), 1865. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

On April 14, 1865, both men attended a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. The play, Leale later noted, “progressed very pleasantly” until half past 10, when “the report of a pistol was distinctly heard” and the whole scene erupted in confusion.

Next, a man brandishing a dagger, later identified as John Wilkes Booth, jumped from the President’s box onto the stage, dislodged himself from the flags in which he had been entangled, and ran. As Booth made his escape, Lincoln slumped in his … [ Read all ]

An airing of grievances: A pension clerk’s appeal

Caption:  An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

An appeal by Pension Office clerk C.L.H. accompanies the complex Whitehead pension file (File number WC #80024, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

In honor of Festivus, this seems like the perfect document for the airing of grievances. This feature was originally published in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives (Summer 2013).

At the National Archives, and almost any other archival institution, one of the principal rules for using original records is to keep the records in the same order in which they are given to you.

We benefit in our research from the care taken by unknown prior custodians of the records. Their work is usually invisible, but in the case of our featured document, a clerk’s voice breaks through from the 19th century.

At the back of the Civil War widow’s pension file based on the service of Pvt. Stephen Whitehead, a Pension Office clerk wrote:

These papers having been sorted with considerable care and for convenience arranged in something like their logical order, are now fastened together in the hope that the next man may escape the annoyance and drudgery that would be entailed were they chucked back in the promiscuous condition in which they were found.

Jany. 16, 1894.                              C.L.H.

 

The clerk’s frustration is understandable in light of the complexity of the Whitehead pension case. In 1860, … [ Read all ]

Remembering the Geneva Convention through the words of Clara Barton

Today’s post comes from Christina James, intern in the National Archives History Office.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Geneva Convention of 1864. At a gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, 16 countries established protocol for treatment of individuals wounded in armed conflicts. Among the points agreed upon by the representatives in attendance were aid to the wounded regardless of their nationality, neutrality of medical workers and hospitals, and the presence of a uniform flag at medical facilities with a matching arm-badge to be worn by medical personnel. The flag and badge were to bear the symbol of a red cross on a white background. Over the following decades, additional conventions were held to agree on further provisions regarding the treatment of war victims. These later conventions reaffirmed the principles established at the first convention in 1864.

Miss Clara Barton, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865 by Mathew Brady (National Archives Identifier 526057)

Miss Clara Barton, ca. 1860 – ca. 1865 by Mathew Brady (National Archives Identifier
526057)

While other nations convened in Geneva, the Civil War raged in the United States. The eventual adoption of the provisions of the Geneva Convention by the United States was in part thanks to the efforts of Clara Barton, a Civil War volunteer battlefield nurse. Throughout the war, Barton went to great lengths to ensure that the soldiers she treated had sufficient food, medical supplies, and clothing, and encouraged others to join her aid efforts.

After … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: John Wilkes Booth’s Calling Card

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, intern in the National Archives History Office. 

John Wilkes Booth's Calling Card, 04/14/1865. (National Archives Identifier 7873510)

John Wilkes Booth’s Calling Card, 04/14/1865. (National Archives Identifier 7873510)

Tucked in a corner in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC, is a rectangular piece of paper faded grey with time. It is unobtrusive and, due to its small size, could easily be missed among the larger and flashier documents and artifacts. But this card is a reminder of one of the most resonant and well known stories of American history—that of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

Vice President Andrew Johnson, undated. (National Archives Identifier 530496)

Vice President Andrew Johnson, undated. (National Archives Identifier 530496)

On April 14, 1865, Vice President Johnson was staying at the Kirkwood House—a hotel that stood at the corner of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.  Also in the hotel, and in a room directly one floor above the Vice President’s suite, was George Atzerodt. He was a fellow conspirator in Booth’s larger plot to murder President Lincoln, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and Vice President Johnson and thus throwing the recently victorious North into chaos and disarray. Atzerodt—a German carriage painter from Maryland who had spent the Civil War years ferrying Confederates across the Potomac—arrived at the Kirkwood House on the morning of the 14th. His task: to assassinate Vice President Johnson.… [ Read all ]