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Tag: civil war

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 ]

The Oath of Office: The First Act of the First Congress

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, Archives Specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

When the First Congress met in New York City in March of 1789, they faced an enormous undertaking. The new Constitution had just been ratified, and Congress was the first part of the new Federal government to meet and take shape. Ahead of them lay numerous important and urgent tasks: they needed to create the Treasury, War, and Foreign Affairs departments; the Federal judiciary; and a system of taxation and collection. They also needed to determine patent and copyright laws, rules for naturalization, the location of a new capital city, administration of the census, amendments to the Constitution, and much more.

But before the members of Congress could get to all of this pressing business, there was something more important they needed to do—so important that it was the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives, and the first act signed into law by President George Washington.

An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths, June 1, 1789. Records of the General Government, National Archives. National Archives Identifier 596341

An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths, June 1, 1789. Records of the General Government, National Archives. National Archives Identifier 596341

“An Act … [ Read all ]

Now on display: Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries

In honor of Memorial Day, the 1869 Whitman Report on Cemeteries is on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building from May 22 through June 5. Today’s post comes from curator Alice Kamps.

Drawing of Shiloh Cemetery from Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries. National Archives, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General

Drawing of Shiloh Cemetery from Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries.
National Archives, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General

Memorial Day traditions began in the aftermath of the Civil War. The American people were just beginning what historian Drew Gilpin Faust called “the work of death.”

An estimated 750,000 soldiers died between 1861 and 1865—about 2.5 percent of the population. Never before or since has war resulted in so many American casualties. The task of locating, identifying, burying, and mourning the dead was overwhelming.

Walt Whitman wrote of the nation’s shared suffering in his epic 1865 poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d:

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

In his Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant described an open field after … [ Read all ]

Spielberg Film Festival: Lincoln

Steven Spielberg is being honored by the Foundation for the National Archives for his film legacy, which has brought history to life on the big screen. The National Archives is celebrating the award with a film festival. Lincoln is the last film to be screened. Join us tonight, November 18, at 7 p.m. Tickets are free and distributed an hour before the screening. For details on the award, go here.

Among the official Civil War records preserved by the National Archives is a series of telegrams sent by President Lincoln during his Presidency, including this “bull-dog” telegram to General Grant.

Ulysses S. Grant earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant during the Civil War after his 1862 victory at Fort Donelson in Tennessee. For his proven military skills and for his bulldog determination to destroy the Confederate armies, President Lincoln picked Grant in March 1864 to be Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army, making him commander of all Union forces.

In June of that year, Grant set out to capture Petersburg, Virginia, the hub of a railroad system that carried food and supplies to the Confederate capital city of Richmond and to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army. Although the Union’s initial assaults failed to capture the city, they did sever some of these railroad lines. By July both Confederate and Union forces had dug in … [ Read all ]

Records of Rights Vote: The 14th Amendment

Cast your vote now for the 14th Amendment to be displayed first in the new Rubenstein Gallery. Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, the Historian of the National Archives.

Why should the 14th Amendment be ranked first on any list of most important documents?

A constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship for all, Federal protection of due process, and the mandate for equal protection under the law—each could individually be considered among the most significant legislation in U.S. history. And all three are included in just the first section of the 14th Amendment.

Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, June 13, 1866 (National Archives Identifier 1408913)

Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, June 13, 1866 (National Archives Identifier 1408913)

The amendment originated after the Civil War when Congress tried passing legislation to secure civil rights for the recently freed slaves. President Andrew Johnson repeatedly vetoed these bills because he believed individual states had the right to determine the status of freedmen without interference from the Federal government.

In order to take the issue out of Johnson’s reach, Congress chose to address civil rights with a constitutional amendment. On June 13, 1866, Congress approved a five-part amendment to the Constitution and on July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment became law.

Section one of the amendment includes its most vital components.

First, the Citizenship Clause ensured that anyone born in the United States—regardless of … [ Read all ]