Here, like a few other places across the US, the very documentary history is stored. Here you will find original documents with original signatures. You will find major discoveries and some minor ones. You will read of horrors and humor. But most of all, if, after hours or research, you find what you are looking for you will come away with life time memories. And probably a desire to return.
The little black box at the bottom of the centre photo is actually the entrance for researchers. From there you will go through security, be processed for an identity card, which includes a brief explanation of the rules to be followed, and then given a pass for the day's entry. At the right you can see the research room where you will examine the files requested. It is a secure room with ARMED guards and others constantly patrolling to keep an eye on you and if you are following quite a few rules re the handling of these precious documents.
The archives provide many means of searching for documents. Many take lots of time. Then you complete a form with the appropriate details and submit it for staff to go off and "pull" the file sought. They only do "pulls" at a few specific times of the day. The document then is made available about an hour later. You can only have so many documents at a time, perhaps only one depending on its type. All this is done on the first floor. You then go to the research room shown above, and on the second floor, to review your goodies.
And in these files I found lots of goodies... information least expected and greatly adding to the stories of the Medal of Honor recipients and others that I am researching.
This document is part of several in a file showing the incredible grief that his widow had in finally securing a pension from the US Pension authorities after Lt. Doherty died. That file had lots of surprises, and I will bring some of them to you on another day.
Today's gem lies in the fact that the author of the above document was a doctor who was in Ford's theatre the night that President Lincoln was shot. He stayed at his side providing aid till the President died. This document shows him now trying to aid Doherty's widow in securing the pension.
Another find of original signatures of famous Americans is also pictured above. This lower document comes from the pension files of Quebec born Stephen O'Neill who earned a Medal of Honor at Chancellorsville in 1863. In January of 1870 the Secretary of War ordered that he be promoted to the rank of an Ordinance Sergeant. This document is the bottom half of a most elaborate certificate noting the promotion and is signed, with original signatures, of General Sherman at lower right and Edward Townsend at Lower left.
William Tecumseh Sherman was the Commanding General of the US Army at the time. Townsend was the United States Adjutant General at the time. Hopefully you have read in past blogs about the MAJOR role that Townsend played in the very creation of the Medal of Honor back in the early 1860's.
This letter is sent off to a fellow who was just awarded the Medal of Honor. It basically tells of the award being made, the reasons why and often quotes the law making the award possible. It then states that the medal is enclosed and asks the recipient on receipt to please confirm he got the medal. In the earliest days it was normal for these medals to be mailed off to either the individual or to a commander. If the later case, then there was probably some sort of a presentation parade with his fellow soldiers, sailors, marines etc witnessing the presentation. But often not so. As above. This changed of course many years later.
While difficult to read, the date on the right document is April 28 1865.
The document of the left, was mailed to John Neil from Newfoundland telling of his being awarded the same medal. It is dated the same day as the one of the right and is the exactly same letter, with exception that one is typed and one is in original handwriting. This suggests that the handwritten may have been sent to all recipients with the typed copy kept for military files.
The letter on the right is directing the firm that is making the inscriptions... the William Wilson and Son firm of Philadelphia to inscribe medals for several recipients including Newfoundlander John Neil and William Garvin (from somewhere yet to be determined in Canada.) These 11 men were all involved in the attacks at Fort Fisher in 1864.
The Wilson company were silversmiths of very long standing in Pa and continued to be in business for many years after the Civil War.
Past images in this space have shown you Medals of Honor in their original presentation boxes with a lovely crest of the Wilson company on the inside lid of these boxes. Note also that in both above letters, the Secretary does not call the medal the CONGRESSIONAL Medal of Honor... just the Medal of Honor, a message this blog has brought the reader on several occasions.
There is much more to come, some of it tomorrow.