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Tag: Prologue magazine

Romance in the Records

I was worried I would never find love at the National Archives.

When Scribd.com approached my office about promoting Prologue magazine by creating a collection of romantic records for their Valentine’s Day “Eat Say Love” event, I was very doubtful. Would I be able to find enough romance in the records to put together a collection?

The answer, of course, is yes! (The answer is also to ask your colleagues for help!)  The National Archives holds the records of a nation, and that includes our love stories. From lovestruck teenagers to future First Ladies on honeymoon to Depression-era valentines, Americans have left the evidence of their feelings in the records.

You can see all our romantic documents in our collection “Romance through History,” but I’ve highlighted three images below that tugged or tickled my heartstrings.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This is romantic image in a very sad way—this young man is saying goodbye to his sweetheart as his regiment leaves for Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, SC, during World War I.  She's dressed so beautifully and is clearly trying to be brave, and he seems calm and confident. So many young men died in World War I—whenever I look at this picture, I hope these sweethearts were reunited safely at the end of the war. (Source: Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ARC Identifier 533733 / 165-WW-476(21)

This is a romantic image in a very sad way—this young man is saying goodbye to his sweetheart as his regiment leaves for Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, SC, during World War I. I hope they were reunited after the war. (Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs)

This is a wartime picture too, but it makes me smile--even during wartime, people fell in love, got married, and had babies! Edward Spillane, Jr., was the first baby born at Camp Kilmer, NJ, on March 2, 1945. His mother Dorothy Inman Spillane was a former WAC (Women's Army Corps). The baby's father was S.Sgt. Edward Francis Spillane, but he was in France with the U.S. Army Air Forces at the time of his son's birth, so this photograph completed the family portrait. (Source: Record Group 336, Records of the Office of the Chief of Transportation, National Archives at New York)

This is a wartime picture too, but it makes me smile—even during wartime, people fell in love, got married, and had babies! Edward Spillane, Jr., was the first baby born at Camp Kilmer, NJ, on March

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Exploring the polar regions

Robert Peary outfitted for Arctic exploration (306-NT-542-1)

Robert Peary outfitted for Arctic exploration (306-NT-542-1)

As frigid temperatures cover much of the country, and many areas are still dealing with record amounts of snow, my thoughts turn to the polar explorers of the early 20th century. They didn’t have Goretex jackets with superwarm linings, satellite communications, or portable computers. Our “Pieces of History” blog takes its name from a regular feature on the last page of the print version of Prologue, and today I’m sharing a vintage print “Piece” about an unusual artifact found in the polar archives collection at the National Archives.

* * *

“The Pole at last!!!” With these words Robert E. Peary began his diary entry for April 6, 1909. His team, he believed, had become the first to reach the top of the world, a dream he had pursued for 20 years. In those years, Peary made eight expeditions to the Arctic region, three specifically to reach the Pole. As Peary’s papers make clear, supplying such expeditions was a tremendous task. Clothing, tents, food, cooking utensils—everything needed to survive Arctic temperatures for months—had to be packed in on foot and by dog sledge. The explorers also required scientific instruments so they could make observations, determine their locations, and gather data to record their progress.

Robert Peary's theodolite, which he carried on his Polar expeditions. (Peary Family Collection (401-1) Donated Materials in the National Archives)

Robert Peary's theodolite, which he carried on his polar expeditions. (Peary Family Collection (401-1)

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Mole in place at the Archives

Letter from Charity Snider, with accompanying mole skin, from her Civil War Widow's Pension Application File. The paper bears the discoloration from the unusual enclosure. (WC843258, Record Group 15)

Letter from Charity Snider, with accompanying mole skin, from her Civil War Widow's Pension Application File. The paper bears the discoloration from the unusual enclosure. (WC843258, Record Group 15)

Researching in original records often provides the researcher with surprises. Usually the surprise takes the form of an unknown letter, a reference to your topic in an unexpected place, or a lead that directs you to a new set of records to mine. Once in a great while, the surprise is something no one could have imagined.

In late 2005, an Archives staff member was pulling a file from the Civil War Widows Certificate Approved Pension Case Files for a researcher. The file seemed unusually bulky, so he opened it. Inside the folder, tucked between sheets of a letter was one of the most unusual items found in the records of the National Archives: the preserved skin of a mole.

Now, moles make appearances in archival records all the time—but they’re usually undercover spies mentioned in intelligence or diplomatic reports. This 19th-century insectivore came from the literal underground, and one ill-fated day he found himself in the tent of a Union soldier.

The soldier, James J. Van Liew, didn’t care to share his tent with this uninvited guest and captured it. As (a joke? a love token?), Van Liew sent the skin to his wife, Charity. … [ Read all ]

Lincoln to slaves: go somewhere else

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DC Emancipation Act, April 1862 showing money to be set aside for deportation (ARC 299814)

The issue of slavery divided the country under Abraham  Lincoln’s Presidency. The national argument was simple: either keep slavery or abolish it. But Abraham Lincoln, known as the Great Emancipator, may have also been known as the Great Colonizer when he supported a third direction to the slavery debate: move African Americans somewhere else.

Long before the Civil War, in 1854, Lincoln addressed his own solution to slavery at a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois: “I should not know what to do as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” While Lincoln acknowledged this was logistically impossible, by the time he assumed the Presidency and a Civil War was underfoot, the nation was in such duress that he tried it anyway.

By early 1861, Lincoln ordered a secret trip to modern-day Panama to investigate the land of a Philadelphian named Ambrose Thompson. Thompson had volunteered his Chiriqui land as a refuge for freed slaves. The slaves would work in the abundant coal mines on his property, the coal would be sold to the Navy, and the profits would go to the freed slaves to further build up their new land.

Lincoln sought to … [ Read all ]

The Medal of Honor

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A letter from William Carney acknowledging receipt of his Medal of Honor (Records of the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94; ARC 594895)

According to Army Regulation 670-1, a soldier can now receive 31 military decorations “as a distinctively designed mark of honor denoting heroism, or meritorious or outstanding service or achievement.” During the Civil War, there was only one: the Medal of Honor.

The U.S. Army does not have a longstanding history of handing out awards. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington handed out exactly three awards to recognize “any singularly meritorious action.”

Certificates were handed out for soldiers who distinguished themselves during the Mexican-American War, but that was discontinued when the conflict ended. At the start of the Civil War, there was no way to recognize the merit of the nation’s soldiers.

Gen. Winfield Scott approved of this. He believed medals smacked of European affectation.

By the summer of 1861, however, Congress had approved a medal of valor for the Navy, and within a year the Army had followed suit with a medal of honor “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection.” By 1863, Congress had modified the law to include officers and expanded its tenure beyond the Civil War.

In 1862, Secretary of War Edwin … [ Read all ]