Join us for Citizen Archivist Week of Service!

In the spirit of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, join us this week, January 15-19, 2018 for the Citizen Archivist Week of Service. Our goal is to tag or transcribe 2,018 pages in the National Archives Catalog during this week-long challenge. Can you help us meet this goal?

Citizen Archivist Week of Service: January 15-19, 2018. Volunteer to help us Unlock History!

Get started by visiting the Citizen Archivist Dashboard today through January 19. During this week, we’ll have a special expanded missions section and many featured records waiting to be tagged and transcribed. You can transcribe records related to Mediterranean Passports, which were certificates issued by the Secretary of State in an attempt to ensure safe passage of American vessels in areas threatened by Barbary pirates; slave manifests from the Port of New York; marriage licenses from the Office of Indian Affairs White Earth Agency; records from a wide range of civil rights issue in United States history, and much more! What will you learn and discover as you begin to transcribe?

For our new volunteers, you’ll also find instructions on how to create an account and get started.

Help us unlock history by tagging and transcribing primary source documents in the National Archives Catalog. As you add tags or transcriptions to these records, those words are added to our Catalog – improving search results, and making our records more discoverable online. The added benefit is that we’re unlocking the sometimes difficult to read text for all to understand. We like to say that as we tag and transcribe, we are unlocking history.

Visit our Resources page to learn How to Tag and Transcribe Records, learn What Makes A Good Tag, and review Transcription Tips.

 Encourage Service Week in your classroom!

Are you an educator? A great way to get students involved is by playing the tagging game. It’ a head-to-head or team-versus-team challenge to list as many keywords (Tags) that describe or identify items in an image. After one minute of writing keywords, teams compare their lists and scores are awarded. Before moving on to the next image, the game host adds all the keywords as tags into the Catalog description. You can find more information and resources for both tagging and transcription on our dashboard.

Stay in touch!

Send us a tweet @USNatArchives using the hashtag #CitizenArchivistServiceWeek to let us know what you’re working on and what you find in the records.

Follow us throughout the week to keep up with our progress. We’ll post updates on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, and on social media.

We look forward to your contributions during our Week of Service – and always! Together with our virtual volunteers, we can help unlock history and make the records of the National Archives more discoverable online.

New to Citizen Archivist? Register and Get Started

 

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Archival Gift-Giving

Tis the season to give holiday gifts. Here in the Office of the Archivist, we are in the business of giving gifts all year round. One of the little-known things that we do is provide facsimile gifts for the President of the United States. My staff receive requests from the State Department Protocol Office for gifts for Heads of State. The Protocol Office will explain who the gift is for and what they are looking for. Then we will reach out across the agency to find documents or photographs appropriate for the recipient.  My staff will gather the ideas from across NARA and present them to the Protocol team. When the White House decides what they would like to give, we create lovely archival facsimiles that will be presented to the head of state.

Here are just a few example of gifts we have prepared:

For a recent visit with the Prime Minister of Libya, the White House requested architectural plans for the White House. The Prime Minister studied architecture.

Interior Cross Sections of the West Wing on an East to West Axis and North to South Axis, White House

Interior Cross Sections of the West Wing on an East to West Axis and North to South Axis, White House January 1, 1905. Records of the National Park Service, National Archives and Records Administration

In 2011, President Obama visited Queen Elizabeth II for his first state visit at Buckingham Palace. We created a series of photographs and documents for Obama to present Queen Elizabeth II from the June 1939 visit to the United States of her parents, King George VI and his consort Elizabeth, known more recently as the Queen Mother. In 2016, President Barack Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II a compilation of photos of the Queen with all the Presidents she had worked with.

Photograph of Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth and President Truman

Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth and President Truman depart from Washington National Airport. October 31, 1951. (A facsimile page that was given to the Queen.)

In 2014, for Angela Merkel’s birthday and after the World cup win for Germany, we suggested a football patent for her gift:

Football patent, June 16, 1903.

Football patent, June 16, 1903. Patent # 731,165. Record Group 241,
Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives and Records Administration

In addition to doing facsimiles gifts for the President, we often give facsimiles out to special visitors to the National Archives.

In 2015, Prince Charles visited the National Archives and the Archivist gave him two facsimile gifts.

Photograph of David Ferriero and Prince Charles

Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero presents gifts to Prince Charles during a visit to the U.S. National Archives in 2015.

One was a patent application for a polo stick by Lord Louis Mountbatten:

And the other was a telegram from U.S. Embassy in London to United States Secretary of State, October 3, 1957. The telegram says:

“Palace has requested embassy assistance obtain operating and maintenance instruction for engine and midget car reftels…Engine is quarter midget model No. AU7R, Specification No. A178182 Manufactured by Continental Motors Corp, 620 Ford Buildings, Detroit.  Royal Mews mechanics had engine running this morning but as they have no data about engine they uncertain, for example, whether 100 octane or other gasoline required.  Palace “Anxious get car ready before Prince Charles returns from school…”

Telegram from U.S. Embassy in London to the Secretary of State, October 3, 1957

Telegram from U.S. Embassy in London to the Secretary of State, October 3, 1957.
File 741.11/10-357; Central Decimal Files, 1955-59. General Records of the Department of State
Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Administration

 

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Holiday Humor in World War II

Personnel of USS Lexington celebrate Christmas with decorations and a helmeted Santa Claus

Personnel of USS LEXINGTON celebrate Christmas with make-shift decorations and a firefighting, helmeted Santa Claus., National Archives Identifier 520912

Someone in the Office of War Information (OWI) News Bureau was certainly having a jolly old time on Christmas Eve 1942, when they wrote this memorandum concerning rumors flying around (by way of a reindeer-led sled) about a “man in whiskers who … will come down many chimneys bringing gifts to hundreds of American homes.”

Memorandum, December 24, 1942, file Santa Claus, Correspondence of the Chief, News Bureau, Entry NC-148-175, National Archives Identifier 895707, RG 208: Records of the Office of War Information, National Archives. 

This tongue-in-cheek report from the OWI News Bureau, which administered information programs to promote the U.S. Government’s war policies and activities, was composed by staff to poke fun at their own bureaucracy. However, even the report’s light-hearted analysis of the “facts” about Santa Claus reveals serious concerns the U.S. dealt with during World War II, including morale, wartime shortages, and the preservation of the Allied alliance.

This featured document is currently on display at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Featured Document at the National Archives

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Pursuing Civic Literacy

As the nation’s record keeper, the National Archives is responsible for making the records of the U.S. Government available to the public. These records—some famous but others quite ordinary—tell the nation’s story, document the actions of government officials over the years, and confirm the rights guaranteed to individuals. They are records that deserve preservation not simply for reference purposes but for use by all interested Americans to participate in the civic process. In short, they form a vital documentary bedrock of our democracy.

National Youth Administration (NYA) Photographs. National Archives Identifier 7350937

An informed citizenry is at the heart of what we do—rooted in the belief that citizens have the right to see, examine, and learn from the records that ensure their rights, hold their government accountable, and tell the story of the nation. However, without a fundamental level of civic literacy, the records that we preserve and make accessible will not be understood or used effectively by the citizens we serve.

I recently read some disheartening statistics about the state of civic literacy in the United States, strengthening my resolve to improve understanding of how the government works and citizen responsibility. According to the data from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Pew Research Center:

  • Nearly 2/3 of Americans cannot name all three branches of government. (Yet three in four people can name all Three Stooges.)
  • Only 29% of eligible Americans participated in the 2016 primary elections.
  • Less than half of the public can name a single Supreme Court Justice. And only 15% can correctly name John Roberts as Chief Justice. (Yet 2/3 of Americans know at least one of the American Idol judges.)
  • Nearly a quarter of young Americans think that a democratic form of government is very bad
  • Intentionally fabricated news stories involving the 2016 presidential candidates were shared 38 million times on social media.
  • Americans distrust the government at record levels and they also distrust their fellow citizens to participate in governance.
  • College bound young people (about half the youth population) are much more civically involved than their non-college bound peers. Rates of voting and volunteering are at least twice as high for those who attend college.
  • Students who are white get more high quality civic-learning opportunities
  • Nationwide, more than 1/3 of today’s high school seniors lack even basic civics knowledge and skills.
  • More than 1/4 of Americans do not know who America fought in the Revolutionary War
  • 39% incorrectly stated that the Constitution gives the president the power to declare war.

Civics education is an important element of the work we do each day at the National Archives. In our efforts to increase levels of civic literacy, the National Archives continues to expand our education, communications, and public programs. Here are just a few examples of the work we are doing across the country:

Public Programming
The National Archives host the Nation’s most prominent speakers, scholars, educators, government officials, members and former members of Congress, Presidents, First Ladies, and Supreme Court Justices for informative and educational events and programs at locations across the country.

Professional Development for Educators
Educators can participate in both on-site and online based activities; from two-week long summer institutes to all-day workshops on using primary sources in the classroom. Our Primarily Teaching Summer Institute introduces educators to researching and using historical documents in the classroom. DocsTeach is the online tool for teaching with documents, featuring almost 10,000 facsimiles of primary sources and nearly 700 lesson plans and activities for use in classrooms.

Student and Family Programs
Events across the country include: Family festivals on Presidents Day; Teen Thursdays in New York in collaboration with the NYC Department of Education; Mighty Writers: Early Civil War Rights literacy teen summer program in Philadelphia; Sleepover activities twice a year at the National Archives building in Washington, DC; local and regional National History Day competitions; extensive partnerships with local scouting organizations, especially in the heartland of Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas; partnerships with community centers supporting underserved populations in Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York City, and Los Angeles—all participate in civic initiatives like the National Student Mock Election, nation-wide essay contests on topics of political courage, integrity, and presidential leadership.

Center for Legislative Archives
The Center for Legislative Archives preserves and makes available to researchers the historical records of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Through its public outreach programs, the Center uses these historical records to promote a better understanding of Congress and the history of American representative government. The Center hosts professional development workshops for K-12 civics and history educators on how to make the Constitution, Bill of Rights, the legislative process, and topics in Congressional history accessible to students. Congress Creates the Bill of Rights eBook, mobile app, and online resources tells the remarkable story of the relationship between the Bill of Rights and the Constitution

Presidential Libraries

  • George H.W. Bush Library: Award winning distance learning programs, many of which have featured First Lady Barbara Bush and her efforts to promote literacy. Initially broadcast throughout the state of Texas, it is now national and international in scope.
  • Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum: Boy Scouts of America partnership program include the Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge and the Eisenhower Leadership Patch. Additional programs include Story Time for Pre-Schoolers and their accompanying adults; Constitution-In-Action Learning Lab, a two-hour simulation of the role of researchers and archivists.
  • John F. Kennedy Library: The Kennedy Library serves as the state coordinator for the National Student/Parent Mock Election for Massachusetts
  • White House Decision Centers. Students spend days preparing for and participating in a dramatic role playing exercise related to real historical events using facsimiles of the records used by the original decision makers. The Harry S. Truman Library includes decision making about ending the war against Japan, desegregating the Armed Forces, or the decision to defend South Korea. Every Presidential Library now has a similar opportunity specific to that presidency which demonstrates how decisions are made using real life example and real life documentation. The Reagan Library’s Situation Room Experience is the newest and most elaborate to date focused on the assassination attempt on the President in a situation room reassembled from the Bush 43 White House.

We will continue to expand and support civic literacy by engaging in national conversations, and pursuing collaborative opportunities with civics education projects and institutions such as iCivics, America Achieves, American Enterprise Institute, Carnegie Corporation, and the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts. By increasing understanding of how government works and the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen, we can ensure the continued and increased relevance of truly democratic access to our holdings.

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“Remembering Vietnam” Exhibit Entered into Congressional Record

As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I was determined to mark the 50th anniversary of the height of the Vietnam War with an exhibit here at the National Archives. Our records, some recently declassified, continue to yield discoveries and provide insight and evidence for people seeking to understand the war.

Remembering Vietnam exhibit. Photo by National Archives photographer, Jeff Reed.

In Remembering Vietnam, we are sharing the memories of veterans, as well as others involved in or affected by the war. The exhibit examines the human consequences of war, and provides a variety of lenses through which to view history. It attempts to answer questions that have remained unanswered for five decades.

Remembering Vietnam exhibit. Photo by National Archives photographer, Jeff Reed.

For me, the Vietnam War was an important period of my life that contributes to who I am today, and I am pleased to see our exhibit receiving recognition and acclaim from veterans, museum visitors, as well as the media. Washington Post writer Michael E. Ruane covered the exhibit and interviewed me in the article titled “A Veteran’s View of Vietnam.”

I am especially honored to know that this story of the Vietnam War will now live in the Congressional Record. On November 15, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recognized this important exhibit on the Senate floor and asked Congress’s consent to print Ruane’s article in the Record.

In his statement, Mr. Leahy said:

 Mr. President, long before his confirmation as the 10th
Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero proudly served our
Nation in a different capacity, as a Navy corpsman in Vietnam. Today,
with the help of Mr. Ferriero’s unique personal perspective and
professionally informed guidance, the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at
the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, is currently exhibiting
a new collection of remarkable documents that illustrate some of the
Vietnam war’s biggest controversies.

 Mr. Ferriero and his team are to be thanked for painstakingly
determining which of the countless relevant texts housed in the
National Archives best told this often misunderstood story. We can be
sure, however, that few if any archivists are better suited with
experience and vision for this task than Mr. Ferriero.

 With this exhibit, Mr. Ferriero and his team honor the memory of
those who served in Vietnam, while also fulfilling a sacred obligation
to accurately preserve even our most contentious history so that we may
strive to avoid repeating past mistakes. Today I would like to pay
tribute to the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, and his
team and ask unanimous consent that a Washington Post article titled,
“A Veteran’s View of Vietnam,” be printed in the Record.

 There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in
the Record, as follows:
From the Washington Post, Nov. 8, 2017: A Veteran’s View of Vietnam

Read Senator Leahy’s statement in full here.

The National Archives is grateful to the government leaders, distinguished military and Vietnam veterans, and renowned historians who have endorsed our efforts through the Remembering Vietnam Honorary committee. Learn more about this defining era in American history when you visit our latest exhibit, “Remembering Vietnam.”

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Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC), Phase II (November 2017-October 2019)

The University of Virginia Library is pleased to announce Phase II of the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Cooperative program. The University of Virginia Library is collaborating with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, and 27 other Cooperative members. This second and final phase of establishing the Cooperative (2017-2019) is generously funded by a $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Virginia.

Phase II expands the number of cooperative partners from 17 to 29 members, and now includes two international archives, a U.S. state archive, two documentary editing projects, an individual scholar, and several new academic research libraries. During this new phase, SNAC will welcome additional members as the cooperative builds the capacity to ingest new sets of data and train editors.

Phase II has both social and technological objectives. The social objectives include developing a business model that will ensure long term sustainability, further developing editorial policies and standards, and being able to offer three forms of training for editors: on-site and remote as well as online self-guided. There will be many technological objectives, but chief among them will be the following: developing cooperative ingest tools that will enable data contributing institution to collaborate in refining and ingesting data into SNAC, and in return to receive persistent identifiers to enhance their descriptive data; refining and enhancing the History Research Tool for researchers; completing development of the key components of the technical infrastructure; and performing computational refinement and enrichment of existing SNAC data. A major focus will be on expanding capacity in training editors and ingesting new batches of data. Progress in these two areas will enable the Cooperative to vastly expand membership and the global social-document network represented in SNAC.

The SNAC Cooperative aspires to improve the economy and quality of archival processing and description, and at the same time, to address the longstanding research challenge of discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records. SNAC began as a research and development project in 2010 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project demonstrated the feasibility of separating the description of persons, families, and organizations – including their socio-historical contexts – from the description of the historical resources that are the primary evidence of their lives and work. SNAC also demonstrated that the biographical-historical data extracted and assembled can be used to provide researchers with convenient, integrated access to historical collections held by archives and libraries, large and small, around the world.

Initial work made it clear that the potential power of the assembled data to transform research and improve the economy and effectiveness of archival descriptive practices required more than digital tools.

SNAC governance and administration is now moving to the University of Virginia Library, which will provide it a long-term organizational home that ensures close collaborations and partnerships within the cultural heritage and research communities.

As its primary cooperative role, NARA has taken the lead in development and execution of SNAC’s formal training program called SNACSchool. NARA’s SNAC Liaisons are active members of the SNACSchool Working Group along with SNAC partners from other SNAC partner institutions including Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art; George Washington University Library; New York Public Library; and University of Miami Library. The working group formed in late 2016 with the primary mission of developing a formal training program for SNAC. The current curriculum includes modules for basic archival name authority control, searching the SNAC database, and creating and editing data in SNAC. SNACSchool is also designed to take place anywhere and anytime: most sessions are conducted remotely. And in Phase II, the working group is aiming for online tutorials for Cooperative members.

Jerry Simmons, National Archives Liaison to SNAC, welcomes attendees at the SNAC Partners Meeting in the Innovation Hub in Washington, DC

NARA staff is also responsible for SNAC’s social media presence. Currently found on twitter be sure to follow @SNACcooperative for all the latest information about SNAC and to learn helpful tips on using it.

More information is available at Snaccooperative.org

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Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches, we have much to be thankful for here at the National Archives. We are grateful for the records we hold in trust, and for a mission that lets us serve the democracy and the people of this Nation.

I also give thanks this year for the industrious staff at the National Archives, especially those whose hard work and dedication has led to the opening of our newest exhibition, Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War. As a Vietnam veteran, telling the story of the Vietnam War and giving a voice to both sides is especially important to me.

The exhibit examines 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War to provide a framework for understanding the decisions that led to war, events and consequences of the war, and its legacy. This 3,000-square-foot exhibit uses more than 80 original records from the National Archives – including newly declassified documents – to critically reexamine major events and turning points in the war. The exhibit is open now through January 6, 2019.

SP/4 Terry Wedmore (B Co., 2nd Bn., 8th Cav, 1st Air Cav. Div.) takes his first bite of turkey drumstick while having Thanksgiving dinner in the field, November 10, 1967
Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives and Records Administration

From all of us at the National Archives, we wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving.

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Remembering Vietnam

The National Archives opened our newest exhibition, Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War on November 10, 2017. The exhibit examines 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War to provide a framework for understanding the decisions that led to war, events and consequences of the war, and its legacy. This 3,000-square-foot exhibit uses more than 80 original records from the National Archives – including newly declassified documents – to critically reexamine major events and turning points in the war and address three critical questions about the Vietnam War: Why did the United States get involved? Why did the war last so long? Why was it so controversial?

More than 50 years after the United States committed combat troops to the war in Vietnam, and more than 40 years since the war ended, the complexity of the conflict is still being unraveled. Historians continue to make discoveries in National Archives’ records that provide insight into this critical period.

Remembering Vietnam Exhibit. National Archives photo by Jeff Reed

Remembering Vietnam follows the trajectory of American involvement in Vietnam through six Presidential administrations, and from its World War II origins to the fall of Saigon in 1975. This groundbreaking exhibit uses original National Archives documents, artifacts, and film footage to explore the policies and decisions that initiated and then escalated American economic and military aid to South Vietnam. Interviews with veterans, journalists, members of the peace movement, Vietnamese civilians, and leading Vietnam War historians provide first-person testimony and analysis of the events. These interviews and historic film footage will be screened in three mini-theaters within the exhibition.

In honor of this exhibit opening, Vietnam-era helicopters arrived and were installed on the grounds of the National Archives in Washington, DC in time for Friday’s opening of the new exhibit.

Helicopters are moved off of transport trucks onto the lawn of the National Archives in preparation for the opening weekend of the new exhibit Remembering Vietnam. National Archives photo By Jeff Reed

The helicopters, provided by the North Carolina Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, arrived after dark November 6, and were offloaded with cranes and moved onto the lawn, where they remained throughout the opening weekend. The public was invited to tour the aircraft and speak to members of the association who were all pilots of these types of aircraft during the war. In addition to the helicopter display, the National Archives will host many special programs this fall to mark its first-ever Vietnam War exhibit.

To learn more about the Vietnam War and see the resources available at the National Archives, we’ve also developed a Vietnam War research portal. The National Archives has a wealth of records and information documenting the U.S. experience in the Vietnam conflict, including photographs, textual and electronic records, audiovisual recordings, exhibits, educational resources, articles, blog posts, lectures, and events. This portal creates a central space for all National Archives resources and content related to the Vietnam War for use by researchers, students and educators, museum goers, veterans, and those curious about the conflict.

Remembering Vietnam is free and open to the public, and will be on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, through January 6, 2019. It is presented in part by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, AARP, FedEx Corporation, and the National Archives Foundation. Additional support provided by the Maris S. Cuneo Foundation, The Eliasberg Family Foundation, Inc., and HISTORYⓇ.

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Less-well-traveled paths at the National Archives

Today’s guest blog post comes from T.J. Stiles, author of Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America.

TJ Stiles photo with Custer's Trials book cover


I could not have written my last book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America—nor have won the Pulitzer Prize for it—without the National Archives. But the reason may not be obvious.

George Armstrong Custer’s death at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, forever associates him with the western frontier. But the frontier that truly defined him, the one I refer to in my subtitle, was a frontier in time. He spent his life embroiled in the changes that gave rise to the modern United States, particularly through a career in the Army, which played a key role in creating the nation we know today.

Combat draws most of the attention in Custer’s life, from his starring role in the Civil War, to his controversial attack on Southern Cheyennes at the Washita, to his disastrous last day. Yet I also wanted to understand how Custer functioned within the institution of the Army. There are plenty of sources about battles, but the information I needed on Custer as middle manager could be found only in the National Archives.

In August 1863, for example, only a month after he emerged as a national hero at the head of his cavalry brigade at Gettysburg, he endured a series of reprimands from his division commander, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. Custer provoked Kilpatrick by going outside of the chain of command to communicate directly with Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, chief of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He also held an unauthorized parley with a Confederate colonel, who sent an embarrassing account of the meeting to a newspaper. I discovered these conflicts—small moments that presaged greater trouble to come—in a volume of the 3rd Cavalry Division’s Letters Sent, August 1863–June 1865, in Record Group 393.

A decade later, this kind of conflict appeared again when Custer led the cavalry detachment in the military escort for a survey party of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the Dakota and Montana territories. The expedition’s commander, Col. David S. Stanley, wrote to his wife of his disdain for Custer. At one point Stanley ordered his arrest, and Custer talked dangerously of arresting Stanley in turn—possibly a mutiny—for his superior’s drunkenness. This has always appeared as a kind of personal spat. But a deeper dive into military records reveals that he had developed a nasty reputation within the Army as a problem officer.

When I scrolled through Microfilm Publication M1495 (Special Files of Headquarters, Division of the Missouri, Relating to Military Operations and Administration), I found a brawl between Custer and Department of Dakota headquarters in St. Paul. He demanded more resources for marching his men from Yankton to Fort Rice, the staging point for the Northern Pacific expedition, and complained of other matters. “Custer’s request for wagons is absurd,” General Alfred Terry wrote to his adjutant, O.D. Greene. “He can have made no calculations.” Greene wired back that Custer had sent him “a telegram of ten pages . . . principally fault finding and making unnecessary difficulties in regard to the march. . . . I report it extremely difficult to get along with the present Commander [i.e., Custer].”

Interestingly, another officer investigated and largely backed Custer. But Custer’s reputation within the Army was so bad that his superiors assumed the worst about him. This otherwise pointless squabble tells us that his inability to get along with the chain of command—a problem that first appeared in those August 1863 reprimands—had grown worse over the years. His feud with Stanley reflected his difficulties with the institution of the Army, a personal quirk yet also an echo of the nation’s troubles in adapting to a more organizational future.

In my introduction, I wrote that I was trying to change the camera angle on Custer’s life. I was still interested in the episodes that had been written about so well before, but I wanted to find new significance in them. Thanks to the riches of the National Archives, I could place his high-profile battles and expeditions in a new context, to understand a man and a nation struggling into a new era.


T.J. Stiles received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History for Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Alfred A. Knopf), as well as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the 2009 National Book Award for Nonfiction for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

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National Archives Releases JFK Assassination Records

The National Archives released 2,891 records on Thursday related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that are subject to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act). These records are available for download online.

The President has also ordered that all remaining records governed by section 5 of the JFK Act be released, and thus additional records will be released subject to redactions recommended by the executive offices and agencies. NARA will process these records for release as soon as possible on a rolling basis.

Based on requests from executive offices and agencies the President has allowed the temporary withholding of certain information that would harm national security, law enforcement, or foreign affairs. The President also ordered agencies to re-review their proposed redactions and  only redact information in the rarest of circumstances where its withholding “is made necessary by an identifiable harm to military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations; and the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” These instructions will allow the National Archives to release as much information as possible by the end of the temporary certification period on April 26, 2018.

Following the release yesterday, our website saw nearly 44,000 active users, and our ten most active pages were related to the release of these additional documents.

Website active user following JFK records release

Snapshot of simultaneous users on archives.gov at 8:00 p.m. 10/26/17

The National Archives previously released 3,810 related records on July 24, 2017, including 441 records previously withheld in their entirety and 3,369 records previously withheld in part. More information about this release is available online.

In addition, the National Archives is also releasing to the public the unclassified electronic records of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), including 52,387 emails and 16,627 files from the ARRB drives.

The National Archives established the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection in November 1992, and it consists of approximately five million pages of records. The vast majority of the collection has been publicly available without any restrictions since the late 1990s.

Find more information in these online resources:

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