Memphis Belle: The 75th Anniversary of the 25th Mission

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

The statistics were overwhelmingly against them.  With a million German troops and 40,000 anti-aircraft guns waiting the odds were roughly 50-50 they’d make it home alive.  Completing 25 bombing runs lowered those odds to less than 25%.  Not to mention that casualties of the 8th Army Air Forces would exceed those of the entire US Marine Corps during WWII.

The nose of the Memphis Belle, in a photo from our holdings (342-FH-3A-6272) and a still from the restored outtakes.

But, as a crew of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress you didn’t think about those odds.  You did your job just as the crew of the Memphis Belle did.  On May 17th, 1943 they were one of the first to complete 25 missions without being shot down.  As heroes – congratulated by royalty, awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses, and immortalized on film – they were rewarded by crisscrossing America selling war bonds with Stuka, their Scottish terrier mascot.

Over fifteen hours of film shot by William Wyler and his cinematographers documenting the plane and her crew resides at the National Archives.  While Memphis Belle: Story of a Flying Fortress  has been widely available, the raw footage of the victory tour and much of the footage shot in England and over Germany has not.  Wyler served as a major in the US Army Air Forces between 1942 and 1945 making the Memphis Belle film and Thunderbolt.  During filming, cinematographer Harold Tannenbaum was killed while flying over enemy territory; Wyler suffered from frostbite and lost his hearing for months after being on bombing runs.

In honor of the 75th anniversary NARA partnered with Vulcan Productions and Creative Differences to digitally preserve the outtakes and revitalize the stories and experiences of 8th Army Airmen in The Cold Blue, a new documentary directed by Erik Nelson.  The original Kodachrome was scanned by NARA staff in 4K resolution using our Spirit scanner.  While the color of the originals remains beautiful, the film has shrunken over time, requiring careful handling and slow scanning speeds to avoid damage.  In total, it took 80 hours to scan the reels and generated over 80 TB worth of data.

To create the 72 minute long documentary, Nelson used the archival footage from Wyler’s outtakes along with some original footage shot in Berlin during July of 1945.  The footage has been restored by Ernest Savage and Paul Marengo.  Nelson interviewed nine 8th Army Air Force Veterans for the project and spent four days flying in an original B-17 bomber with sound designer David C. Hughes of Skywalker Sound, using up to eighteen microphones for recording.  The original film itself is respected as a character – frame lines, archival markings, a jittering camera, sprocket holes and edge codes make their appearance as an authenticating archival force. The Cold Blue uses the original footage and accounts of veterans to illustrate the complexity of the missions, highlight the camaraderie of the crew, show appreciation for the ground crews, and to explore their thoughts on the events as they occurred, and looking back seventy-five years later.

An added benefit to this project is that Nelson was able to use footage from the original outtakes to reconstruct Wyler’s Memphis Belle: Story of a Flying Fortress. The surviving copies of the film are not a good representation of the film that was shown in 1944, so utilizing NARA’s 4K scans, he has painstakingly reassembled Wyler’s film with vibrant color.  Over 500 individual shots were perfectly positioned over the final soundtrack heralding a new kind of restoration – where a film is recut from scratch using primary sources to preserve the exact content of the original.

The world premiere of The Cold Blue will be screened at the main Archives Building in the McGowan Theater on June 16th, 2018 at 3:00 p.m.  You can see a trailer of Cold Blue here and the individual reels of Wylers outtakes here. See before and after shots of the film’s restoration here.

Posted in Motion Pictures | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I’ve Been Working On the Railroad, and You Can, Too!

Under the Valuation Act of 1913, the federal government of the United States directed the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to assess the value of railroad property located inside the United States.  This information was to be used to determine rates for transportation of freight via those rail lines.  This law was an amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, and was further amended in 1920 and 1922.  [i]

In the Cartographic Branch, these records are part of RG 134: Records of the Interstate Commerce Commission, totaling approximately 11,000 cubic feet of materials.  Mostly blueprints, these maps are divided into two sub-groups – the original valuation maps and the revised maps.  The original maps were created during the period between 1915 and 1920 by ICC and railroad employees who were tasked with inventorying most of the rail lines in the United States.  The revised maps were updated until approximately 1960, and allows researchers follow changes in the railroad over time. These maps contain a wealth of information including things such as information about the railroad’s facilities along the rail lines, land adjacent to the railroad (sometimes bearing the land owner’s name), the layout of city blocks at the time the map was drawn, and who was operating the railroad at the time.

It is also worth noting that additional records relating to the ICC Valuation of the railroads including Engineering Field Notes, Equipment and Machinery Schedules, Final Engineering Reports, Land Acquisition Forms, Grant Forms, Leasing Forms, Land Appraisal Notes, Final Land Reports, Statements about Railroads, Accounting Schedules and Related Records, Formal Valuation Dockets, Periodic Forms Updating Final Engineering Reports, Periodic Forms Updating Final Land Reports, Annual Financial Reports, and Compiled Inspection Reports are available in the holdings of the Textual Department. [ii]

Accessing these maps can seem a little daunting at first, but once you know the basic information that you need to the request specific maps, the task becomes much easier and more manageable.

Let’s begin with how to make a request for the original ICC maps.  This group of maps is arranged by Bundle Numbers, then by Name of the Railroad.  If you know the name of the railroad, then you simply use the finding aid for RG 134 and look up the Bundle Number for the railroad that you are interested in.

To give a very basic example of how to pull records relating to a single, small railroad, let’s take a look at a page from the finding aid for the original railroad maps that lists the Bundle Number to the left of the Railroad Name.  Looking at this page, you will see that if you were searching for the Escanaba and Erie Railroad, all of the valuation section maps for the entire rail line lie within Bundle 455, which is what you would put in a request for.


RG: 134 Finding Aid, located in the Cartographic Research Room. This finding aid provides railroad names and corresponding bundle numbers and valuation sections.

Once you have determined what bundle number and railroad you are interested in, it is time to fill out the pull slip to request the records.  Below is an example of how to properly fill out a pull slip to request these records.  When requesting records, please be sure to fully fill out the pull slip with your name, the date, your researcher card number, the series name, the record group number, and the name and bundle number of the railroad.  Please DO NOT abbreviate the name of the railroad when requesting records.  This pull slip is fairly simple to fill out because the entire bundle is being requested, rather than a specific valuation section so no addition information is needed.

Escanaba RR

Pull slip, showing the information needed to request original ICC Valuation Maps using the name of the railroad and the bundle number.

Another common scenario that occurs when working with railroads is that the railroad covers large swath of territory that includes several states, but you are looking for a specific section of the line.  Looking again at the black finding aid page above we see that the Erie Railroad runs through at least New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  If you were looking for just the Ohio sections of this railroad, you would need to request Bundles 448, 449, and 450.  Please be aware that when putting in a request for multiple bundles, there is the risk of exceeding the ten item limit for a single pull.  When this happens, you will simply be asked to resubmit the request at a later pull time in order to gain access to the remaining records.

If a railroad covers a huge amount of territory, you may find yourself wondering, “Can I locate a specific section of railroad?”  Happily, the answer is, “Yes, you can!”

In order to locate a specific section of railroad, your first stop is the large blue binders, located in the Cartographic Research Room.  These binders are easy to locate as they look quite different than the finding aids around them.  They are arranged in alphabetical sections.

Research Room

RG: 134 ICC Valuation Map Finding Aids located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, in College Park.


RG: 134 ICC Valuation Map Finding Aid located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, in College Park.

To continue with our previous example, let us assume that we are interested in the Erie Railroad, specifically the section that runs from Springfield, OH to Marion, OH.

In order to locate that specific section of railroad, the first thing to do is locate the binder containing the railroad that you are looking for.  The finding aids are arranged alphabetically by name of the railroad.  Once we have located the page for the “Erie Railroad System in Ohio and Part of Pennsylvania”, the next step is to locate the two towns that we are interested in.  Looking at the map shown below (located in the blue binder), we can see that there is a line running from Springfield to Marion and the small bubble to the right of the line (connected by the dotted lines) is labelled “8 O”, which is the valuation section for that specific line.  Finally, go back to the original finding aid (the black-paged one) and look to see which bundle contains valuation section 8, in this case, Bundle 450.


RG: 134 ICC Valuation Map Finding Aids located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, in College Park. This page illustrates specific valuation sections of the Erie Railroad System in Ohio and part of Pennsylvania.

Now that you have determined what railroad, bundle number, and specific valuation section that you are interested in, it is time to fill out the pull slip to request the records.  Below is an example of how to properly fill out a pull slip to request these records.  Again, when requesting records, please be sure to fully fill out the pull slip with your name, the date, your researcher card number, the series name, the record group number, and the name and bundle number of the railroad.  Please DO NOT abbreviate the name of the railroad when requesting records.  Also, since a specific valuation section is being sought, please be sure to include which particular valuation section that you are seeking.  In this case, there are multiple valuation sections relating to Ohio and you don’t want to accidentally end up with the wrong section of line and have to wait until the next pull time.  Occasionally, you may even know which specific map you are looking for within a valuation section and it is perfectly alright to include that information, as well.  That bit of information can be extremely helpful sometimes, because some individual valuation sections contain many folders and maps numbering into the hundreds.


Pull slip, showing the information needed to request original ICC Valuation Maps using the name of the railroad, the bundle number, and the valuation section.

Using the revised railroad finding aid works basically the same way as using the original railroad finding aid, only the columns are in a slightly different order.  This is due to the fact that the revised ICC Maps are arranged by name of the railroad rather than by a bundle number.  For this set of records, a bundle number is not strictly required, though it is helpful for staff as a means to double checking that the right set of drawings has been pulled.


Page from the RG: 134 finding aid for revised railroad maps showing the name of the railroad, with valuation sections and bundle number (not needed for requesting revised railroad maps).

Filling out the pull slip for these records is slightly different than filling out the slip for the original valuation sections.  First of all, in the section of the pull slip labelled “Series or Collection Name”, be sure to note “REVISED I.C.C. Valuation Maps”, otherwise the person pulling the records may inadvertently pull the original valuation sections.  Again, the bundle number is not required.  Also, some of these railroads have multiple valuation sections, therefore be sure to include the specific valuation sections you need unless you are interested in the entire bundle.  As always, there is a ten-item limit for pulls in the Cartographic department, so if your request exceeds that number, you will be asked to submit a second pull for the next pull time.


Pull slip, showing the information needed to request revised ICC Valuation Maps using the name of the railroad. **Note: bundle numbers are not needed when requesting revised valuation sections.

Finally, you may find yourself asking the question, “I know a railroad went through that location, but I don’t know the name of the railroad.  Is there a way to find that information so that I can request the valuation sections?”

Again, the answer is likely, “Yes!”  Here is how.


1913 edition of the “Commercial Atlas of America”, specifically showing the state of Indiana. This atlas is available in hard copy sheets in the Cartographic Research Room, Archives II, College Park, MD and also in the online catalog. **Special Note: This atlas is part of RG 64: Reference Maps and Drawings, NOT RG 134.** National Archives Identifier: 26335509

To find the name of a specific line in a specific location, one need look no further than the 1913 edition of the “Commercial Atlas of America”, which can be found in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II and also by searching “RG64 Reference Maps and Drawings” in the Archives online catalog.  The above image shows two pages of the Atlas covering the state of Indiana and the lines that crisscross the state are railroads.

As an example, let’s suppose that we know that a railroad went through Jasper County, Indiana, specifically through the town of Wheatfield, but we don’t know the name of the railroad to request valuation sections for.  The first step in this process is to find Jasper County, Indiana on the magnified section of the state map shown below.  Once you have located Jasper County (tinted lime green and located directly east of Newton County), if you look to the northern section the county, you will see Wheatfield with a line running through it labelled “20” in red ink.  Next, look to the red column headed “Indiana Railroads” to the left of the map and look up number “20”, which turns out to be the Chicago, Indiana, and Southern Railroad.  Using that piece of information, you can utilize the other finding aids to see what is available for that specific railroad.


1913 edition of the “Commercial Atlas of America”, specifically showing a magnified image of part of the state of Indiana. This atlas is available in hard copy sheets in the Cartographic Research Room, Archives II, College Park, MD and also in the online catalog. **Special Note: This atlas is part of RG 64: Reference Maps and Drawings, NOT RG 134.** National Archives Identifier: 26335509

As always, should you have questions or need assistance using the finding aids in the research room, our very knowledgeable Cartographic staff are on hand in the research room to aid you in your search.

Special thanks to Peter Brauer and Ryan McPherson for their input and insight into this post and this overall topic.

[i] Wikipedia contributors. “Valuation Act.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Feb. 2018. Web. 25 Apr. 2018.

[ii] Finding Aid for RG: 134: Records of the ICC, located in the Cartographic Research Room at Archives II, College Park, MD.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Their War Too: U.S. Women in the Military During WWII. Part II

In part I of this two-part series, we discussed the role women played in the military during World War II by highlighting those who served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), and the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. In part II, we will discuss female service members of the U.S. Marines (WR) and Navy (WAVES).


Continue reading

Posted in Films, Military, Motion Pictures, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized, women in the military, women's history, World War II | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Off the Board: Photographs of Past NFL Draftees

In light of the 2018 NFL Draft taking place this week, April 26th – 28th, we at The Unwritten Record decided to highlight some of the football related records in our Still Pictures collection.

Dating all the way back to 1936, the NFL Draft represents a time during the “off-season” when teams reload their rosters with young and skillful college players who, they believe, will become cornerstones of their respective franchises (although, as any football fan knows, that isn’t always the outcome).  Thanks to the help of my colleagues, Richie Green and Nick Natanson, I was able to unearth some interesting photos from The U.S. Information Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This first set of photos, taken from RG 306-PS (Master File Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Personalities, World Events, and American Economic, Social, and Cultural Life, ca. 1953 – ca. 1994), highlight some star college players in action from the late 40s and early 50s.  Each of the players below would go on to be drafted into the NFL, and their likenesses provide us a great window into an era of football that helped to establish the sport’s popularity across the country.

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  • ‘Doc’ Blanchard was selected in the first round of the 1946 Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers (1946 NFL Draft).
  • Doak Walker was selected in the first round of the 1949 Draft by the New York Bulldogs (1949 NFL Draft).
  • Hugh McElhenny was selected in the first round of the 1952 Draft by the San Francisco 49ers (1952 NFL Draft).
  • Vic Janowicz was selected in the seventh round of the 1952 Draft by the Washington Redskins (1952 NFL Draft).
  • J.C. Caroline was selected in the seventh round of the 1956 Draft by the Chicago Bears (1956 NFL Draft).

The next set of images, taken in 1967, come from RG 65-H (Photographs Accumulated by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, ca. 1933 – ca. 1972).  The first photo shows two of The All-American Football Team selections, O.J. Simpson and Larry Csonka, presenting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover with an autographed football.  The second includes Simpson and Csonka, among others, during the presentation of The American Football Coaches Association’s “Tuss” McLaughry Award to Mr. Hoover.

Simpson, considered one of the greatest college running backs of all time, was drafted #1 overall in 1969 by the Buffalo Bills (1969 NFL Draft), and Csonka, a running back / fullback phenom in his own right, was drafted #8 overall by the Miami Dolphins in 1968 (1968 NFL Draft).

As we gear up to watch our favorite teams make their selections for the future, looking back at past legends, who helped build our favorite franchises, can be an engaging and nostalgic activity.  If you’re under 30, you might not know some of these players, but it could be a great way to strike up conversation with parents or grandparents.


…Go Pack Go!

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Spotlight: Remembering Ernie Pyle

On April 18th, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy fire on  Iejima* during the Battle of Okinawa. At the time of his death, Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, was well-known for his intimate and personal storytelling that highlighted the experiences of the “average” soldier. Pyle was able to tell the stories of enlisted men because he embedded himself in their day-to-day lives; he didn’t just observe their work, he lived, traveled, ate, and shared foxholes with them.

In remembrance of Ernie Pyle, the Unwritten Record presents photographs and motion pictures that highlight his work as a roving war correspondent during WWII.



Local ID: 127-GW-74-116277 / Caption: Marine Staff Sgt. Elwood P. Smith, right, and a Marine officer, converse with the late Ernie Pyle when his visited this base of Ulithi / Photographer: Dipallina / Date: March 24, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-116846 / Caption: PFC. Urban Vachon of Laconia, NH, and Columnist Ernie Pyle, rest by the roadside on the trail at Okinawa / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-107089 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, the celebrated journalist, recently visited Leathernecks of the 3rd Marine Division, where along with talking to the veterans of the fight on Bougainville and Guam, he observed the famous Marine Corps war dogs for the first time. Shown here talking to “Jeep”, a scout and security patrol Doberman Pinscher, Ernie was impressed with the high standards set by the dogs and their outstanding battle records to date in the Pacific. Jeep is 18 months old and has been overseas only a short time / Photographer: TSgt. J. Mundell / Date: January 24, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-108916 / Caption: Mr. Pyle is shown here talking to Division Commander, Major General Graves B. Erskine. It is Ernie’s first trip into the Pacific. Previously he wrote about GI Joe from the European Theater of Operations. From left to right: Major General Erskine, Lt. Comdr. Max Miller, Col. Robert E. Hogaboom, Ernie Pyle, PFC. James R. Jerele, Pvt. Louie E. White, and Jeep (dog) / Photographer: Tsgt. Mundell / Date: January 22, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-116840 / Caption: Columnist Ernie Pyle rests on the roadside with a Marine patrol / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945


Local ID: 127-N-116953 / Caption: Columnist Ernie Pyle and some members of the 1st Marine Division rest by the roadside on Okinawa / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945


Local ID: 127-GW-539-116841 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, noted columnist, on the trail with a group of Marines. He is fourth from the left. Okinawa / Photographer: Barnett / Date: April 8, 1945



Local ID: 80-G-262929 / Caption: Ernie Pyle being transferred by breeches buoy from the USS Cabot (CVL-28) to the USS Moale (DD-693) / Date: February 23, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-303399 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, interviewing Joe J. Ray S1/c and Charles W. Page S1/C on board the USS Yorktown (CV-10) / Date: February 5, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314396 / Caption: Ernie Pyle visiting with Marines aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 20, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314401 / Caption: Ernie Pyle watching Marine play Casino aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 29, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314410 / Caption: Ernie Pyle and sailors listening to war reports over loud speaker aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 29, 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314416 / Caption: Ernie Pyle with troops listing to PFC Johnny Maturello play accordion aboard USS Charles Carroll (APA-28) while enroute to Okinawa / Date: March 1945


Local ID: 80-G-314806 / Caption: L to R; Edward P. Krapse, Lt. Arlington Bensel Jr., Ernie Pyle, and Cpl. Edward M. Wrenne


Local ID: 80-G-314812 / Caption: Ernie Pyle center leaning on a Marine’s shoulder.



Local ID: 111-SC-439556 / Caption: Bomb that hit PRO today also hurt some of the war correspondents, among whom was Ernie Pyle. He suffered a slight cut on the face and is here looking at his bed from which he had just left to watch the bombing, when the roof fell on it. Nettuno Area, Italy / Photographer: Blau / Date: March 16, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-439555 / Caption: Cpl. Jesse Cooper (of Powell Station, TN), Ernie Pyle, and Pvt. Willian Bennet (of Dunn, NC) at muzzle of a 155mm rifle. Fifth Army. Anzio Beachhead area, Italy / Photographer: Bonnard / Date: March 18, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-210915 / Caption: At Nettuno, Italy, Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, and Major General Lucian Truscott, stand in front of Corps Headquarters / Photographer: Blau / Date: March 26, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-207093 / Caption: Ernie Pyle, preparing to cover the Pacific war front, gets a preview from enlisted men who have returned from the front. From left to right – T/4 Al Levy (of Albany, NY), T/5 William Gharrity (of Chippewa Falls, WI), and Ssgt. Richard W. Bridenbaugh (of Toledo, OH) / Date: January 1945


Local ID: 111-SC-191703 / Caption: Photograph of Ernie Pyle, famous war correspondent, eating “C” rations. Fifth Army, Anzio Beachhead area, Italy / Date: March 18, 1944


Local ID: 111-SC-165303 / Caption: Correspondent, Ernie Pyle, of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Washington DC, interviewing Sgt. Ralph Gower (of Sacramento, CA), Pvt. Raymond Astrackon (left, of New York City), and 2nd. Lt. Annette Heaton, ANC (of Detroit, MI), attached to an evacuation hospital. North Africa / Date: December 2, 1942


Local ID: 111-SC-334352 / Caption: The body of Ernie Pyle, who lost his life while serving with first line troops on Ie Shima, was laid to final rest on July 19th in the new Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Oahu. Pall bearers are pictured removing Ernie Pyle’s flag draped casket before the burial ceremonies / Date: July 19, 1949


Jack Lieb Collection

Jack Lieb was a newsreel cameraman who covered the end of the war in Europe (D-Day to Germany). Pyle appears in the following videos, which document preparations for the D-Day invasion in England and France.

Universal News

Pyle appears in the following Universal newsreel, which was released just 9 days before his death.

The records presented above were found in the following series:

*Iejima is often referred to as Ie Shima. Additionally, at the time of Pyle’s death, some news outlets referred to Iejima as Ie Island.

Special thanks to Audrey Amidon, who provided links and context to the films included in this blog post.

All of the photographs in this blog post are unrestricted and may be used freely.

Posted in Military, Motion Pictures, Photographs, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Boston, 1775: A City Under Siege!

Of all the record groups in the Cartographic Department’s holdings, one of the most interesting and varied is RG 77.   This record group, with its myriad of smaller series, holds many Revolutionary War, Civil War and Civil War-era maps, (both printed and manuscript), drawings and schematics of forts, posts, and reservations, and original designs for bridges and pathways for roads just to name a few things.  Generally speaking, this huge record group holds some really interesting and beautiful documents.


RG 77: Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1789-1999, Fortifications Map File Plans of Military Forts, 1818-194, Arc Identifier 17369895

One of the more fascinating maps in terms of illustrating exactly how significantly things have changed in the United States over time is the above map entitled “Map Showing Boston and its Environs and Harbor, with the Rebel Works Raised Against the Town in 1775”.  This map, dated October 1st, 1775, presents a very different image of Boston than the one that we are familiar with today.  At the time that this map was created, the city of Boston was on a small piece of land, called “Shawmut” in the Native Algonquian language.  The colonists initially referred to the area as “Trimountaine”, but changed the name to “Boston”, after the city of Boston in Lincolnshire, England on September 7th, 1630[i].  Looking closely at the map, the Boston of 1775 is located on the left side of the map, almost centered between the top and bottom of the image with the upper part of the landmass labelled “mill pond” and “mill dam”.

To put this map in context, it is important to understand briefly what was taking place in Boston during the months surrounding October of 1775. Boston had been besieged since April of 1775 following the battles at Lexington and Concord.  The British still maintained control over Boston Harbor, however, and were able to receive supplies via that route.  So, Colonial forces decided to surround Boston in an effort to disrupt supply lines.

In June of 1775, the British had managed to capture Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, both of which lie to the north of Boston, and stop the Continental Army from bombarding the city[i].  Washington arrived shortly thereafter, in July, and took command of the Continental forces with the express goal of driving British forces out of Boston.  Later on, in November, Washington would send for heavy artillery, captured at from the British at Fort Ticonderoga the previous May, to be brought to Boston[ii].  The cannons arrived in January and, by March, had been positioned at Dorchester Heights.  The British quickly came to realize that their position was indefensible given the positioning of the Continental Army’s artillery on Dorchester Heights and withdrew from Boston on March 17th, 1776[iii].


Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1789 – ca. 2007.  Series: Reference Maps and Drawings, 1934 – 1989

From a strictly geographical standpoint, this map looks very different from what we think of as Boston today.  At the time that the 1775 map was made, none of the areas around Boston had yet been filled in.  The above map from RG 64 shows Boston as it is today.  The West Cove was filled in first (1803-1863), followed by the Mill Pond (1804-1829), then the West Cove (1803-1863), and finally, the South Cove (1806-1843).  Later on in the 19th century, filling projects were undertaken in East Boston, and Marine and Columbus park in South Boston.  The land that would eventually be occupied by Logan airport was filled in 1922[iv].

[i] “Battle of Bunker Hill”.  Encyclopedia Britannica.  Nov. 16, 2017.

[ii] Frothingham, Jr, Richard (1851). History of the Siege of Boston and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Little and Brown.

[iii] McCullough, David (2005). 1776. Simon and Schuster Paperback. Pp 95-97.

[iv] Howe, Jeffrey.  “Boston: History of the Landfills”.  Study Guide for FA267.   From Saltbox to Skyscraper: Architecture in America.  1996.


Posted in Cartographic Records, Graphic Materials, Maps, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Building Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter will forever go down in history as the location of the opening shots of the Civil War on April 12, 1861. The Cartographic Branch holds architectural plans and drawings associated with the construction of forts throughout our nation’s history. This includes numerous plans relating to Fort Sumter’s lengthy construction. Today we are featuring a sampling of these plans, which are held within Record Group (RG) 77, Fortifications Map File.

Following the War of 1812, the United States began to strengthen its coastal defenses. The idea for a fortification that eventually became Fort Sumter first appears in an 1826 report to Congress. Initial plans were drawn up in the following years, including the 1828 plan below.


Plan of a Casemated Battery designed for the Shoal opposite Fort Moultrie, Charleston Harbour, S.C., dated 1828. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 1.

Work commenced on the fort, but progressed slowly. A rock foundation was constructed on a shoal in Charleston Harbor. However, in 1834, a legal case concerning the ownership of the shoal area halted construction.


Plan and Sections showing the condition of the Foundation of Fort Sumter, S.C. during the Years 1831, 1832 and 1833, dated 1833. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 2.

Construction resumed in 1841. Under the supervision of Captain A.H. Bowman, the original plans were modified to make the fortification stronger. However, troubles continued to plague the construction of the fort. A lack of supplies and the difficulty of transporting supplies by boat to the shoal made progress slow.


Drawing showing normal high and low tides, dated 1843. Note the mark for the tide of October 6, 1842. Areas around Charleston, SC experienced higher than normal tides and flooding from October 4 – 6, 1842, due to a hurricane. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 10.


Plan, section, and elevations of Fort Sumter exhibiting the condition of the work on 30th September 1846. RG 77, Fortifications File , Drawer 66, Sheet 36.

Work continued in the 1850s, but then stalled due to lack of funding. By 1860, Fort Sumter consisted of an unfinished five-sided stone masonry fort. Two tiers of gunrooms lined four of the fort’s walls. Officers quarters were located along the other wall. The fort also contained three barracks buildings for enlisted soldiers and a parade ground.


Section through the middle of the first pier westward of the Western Magazine, dated 1854. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 70.


Plans and Elevation of Officers’ Quarters at Fort Sumter, dated 1851. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 53.

As tensions between North and South escalated in December 1860 with the secession of the state of South Carolina, artillery troops occupied the unfinished fort. At that time, only 15 out of the planned 135 cannon were mounted and in place. Barracks, quarters, and gunrooms remained unfinished. After an attack by South Carolina troops on a ship attempting to resupply Fort Sumter in January 1861, the troops within Fort Sumter began strengthening their position in preparation for an attack against the fort.


Plan for Fort Sumter showing Barbette Tier and Parade and 1st Tier Casemate, dated March 1861, only a short time before the firing on the fort by Confederate troops. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 82.

On the morning of April 12, 1861, tensions finally reached the breaking point. At about 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter. After facing a severe bombardment, the Union-held fort surrendered the following day. Confederates held Fort Sumter until February 1865, only weeks before the surrender of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. Throughout the war, the fort suffered repeated bombardments and was severely damaged, as evidenced by the drawings below.


Fort Sumter, South Carolina, at the time of its capture February 18, 1865. RG 77, Fortifications File, Drawer 66, Sheet 86.

The above plans provide only a small sampling of the plans of Fort Sumter that are available to view in the Cartographic Research Room at the National Archives. We invite you to visit to learn more about Fort Sumter and the other forts and fortifications for which we hold architectural drawings and plans.

Sources about the construction of Fort Sumter:

Barnes, Frank E. Fort Sumter National Monument.

Hendrix, M. Patrick. A History of Fort Sumter: Building a Civil War Landmark. The History Press, 2014.

National Park Service. “Fort Sumter. History and Culture.

Posted in Architectural and Engineering Drawings, Cartographic Records, Civil War, forts, Military, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Their War Too: U.S. Women in the Military During WWII. Part I

March is Women’s History Month, a great time to highlight  important contributions made to our country by women. This year, we are focusing on the role women played in the United States Military during World War II in a two-part blog post. Part I  highlights recruitment films from the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Part II will highlight films from the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).


During World War II, women’s service to their country was not limited to the factory floor.  It is true that millions of women were hired to work in factories and thousands were hired to work on farms through the Women’s Land Army program, but their options did not end there. The size of the global conflict was unprecedented and once the United States entered the war, its citizens had to mobilize quickly. The sheer volume of people needed called for the expansion of the role of women. Because of these factors, the roles women played during World War II far surpassed their involvement during previous conflicts. They were recruited for service in the United States military for the first time.

After Pearl Harbor,women signed up for the armed services by the hundreds of thousands; their numbers totaling approximately 350,000 by war’s end. They served in each branch of the military in separate units. The Army established the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Marines Corps created the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard’s Women’s Reserve were known as the SPARS, and the Navy recruited women into its reserve known as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). Another group of women served the military but were not recognized as service members during the war. This group, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), served in the Army Air Corps.

Continue reading

Posted in Military, Motion Pictures, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized, women in the military, women's history, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Photos)

This post was written in collaboration with Kevin Quinn, Sarah Lepianka, and Katherine Stinson – Archives Technicians in the Still Photos Branch.  

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, also known as the Spanish Flu, was one of the deadliest events in human history.  While fighting between the Allied Powers and the Central Powers raged on in Europe, the disease knew no borders.  Conservative estimates place the worldwide death toll at 30 million people, with reported cases in large cities and remote regions of the world alike.*

Traffic cop in New York City wearing the gauze masks. Local Identifier: 165-WW-269B-7A


Photographs held at the National Archives illustrate the pervasiveness of the disease and the unsuccessful attempts to inhibit its spread.  All images in this blog come from the American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, which have been digitized in full as part of the Wartime Films Project.

More photos from the Spanish Flu can be viewed on the National Archives Catalog, as well as additional documents on the “Deadly Virus” online exhibit.




*Due to lack of records, estimates of the number of deaths attributed to the flu range anywhere from 30 to 100 million people.

Posted in Digitization, Photographs, World War I | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ironclad Navies: The USS Monitor and CSS Virginia during the Civil War

March 9 marks the famous meeting of the Civil War ironclad ships the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Cartographic Branch holds numerous plans and maps relating to the Battle of Hampton Roads and to the Civil War ironclads and ships involved in the battle. This post highlights some of the records relating to this noted engagement.

Following the firing on Fort Sumter by Southern forces in April 1861, the United States Navy evacuated the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Retreating forces set fire to the USS Merrimac (Merrimack), which had been at Gosport for engine repairs and not seaworthy at the time of the evacuation. In May 1861, Confederate forces, now in control of the navy yard,  raised the partially burned frigate and began converting the ship into an armored vessel, or ironclad. They repaired the ship and reinforced it with 2-inch iron plating cast at Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond, Virginia. In February 1862, the ship was launched and re-christened the CSS Virginia.

The Cartographic Branch holds numerous ship plans relating to the original USS Merrimac and the later ironclad, the CSS Virginia. Reference reports for both ships, listing the available plans, are available in our research room and at the following link: Reference Report: USS Merrimac/ CSS Virginia. Below are two examples of plans relating to the CSS Virginia that are within the holdings of the Cartographic Branch. The first is a color drawing showing a profile view of the ironclad. The second blueprint drawing shows the gun desk arrangement for the Merrimac. 


Sketch of the CSS Virginia (outboard profile), RG 19, DASH 81-12-2B, NAID: 12007683



Gun Deck for the CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimac), RG 19, DASH 76-2-45

In response to the construction of a Confederate ironclad, the US Navy also began working on plans to build an ironclad of their own. The Navy put out a call for proposals for such a ship, and received numerous designs. Eventually, after lengthy consideration, plans moved forward to build a ship proposed by Swedish immigrant John Ericsson. Ericsson’s design was very different from past proposals, which attached iron plating to the exterior of a traditional warship, similar to the CSS Virginia. Ericsson’s design instead sat low in the water, almost fully submerged, leaving only 18 inches of deck above the water line. It also contained a novel revolving turret, which contained two cannons. Because the entire turret could be rotated independently of the ship, the two cannons could be rapidly aimed and fired at enemy ships or targets. This was a great advantage over other ships, which had to be steered so that their guns pointed in the correct direction of the target. The USS Monitor, as Ericsson’s ship was named, launched in late January 1862.

The Cartographic Branch holds numerous plans related to the USS Monitor and monitor class ironclad ships. A reference report for plans relating to the USS Monitor is available in the research room and at the following link: USS Monitor Reference Report. The following are a few examples of plans relating to the USS Monitor and Ericsson’s monitor class ironclads.


Side elevation and top view of “Ericsson Battery of two Guns of 12 inch Calibre.”  RG 19, DASH, 26-8-20.


“Top view and Longitudinal Section of Impenetrable (Impregnable) Floating Battery.” RG 19, DASH, 26-8-21.


“Screw Ram on the ‘Monitor’ system.” Plan by J. Ericsson. 1862. RG 19, DASH,  26-8-17. NAID: 17370268


“Sketch of Original Monitor.” 1917. RG 19, DASH, 26-8-18A. NAID: 17370270

The two ironclads met in battle on March 9, 1862. This marked the first engagement between two ironclads. On March 8, the CSS Virginia got her first test of power, steaming toward Union ships located in the Hampton Roads area. She engaged with two warships, the USS Cumberland and the USS Congress. The Virginia rammed the Cumberland with a metal ram, creating a large gash in the side of the hull and causing the ship to sink. The Congress ran aground, preventing a ram attack. However, the CSS Virginia shelled the USS Congress forcing the stranded and wrecked ship to surrender. Additionally, in the confusion, the nearby USS Minnesota also ran aground. The Virginia fell back to her wharf, planning to return the following day to finish off the Union fleet. The Virginia proved the success of iron versus wood, and the iron plating proved effective in protecting the ship from shot and shell.

That night, the Union Navy’s new ironclad, the USS Monitor, entered Hampton Roads and took up a position next to the stranded USS Minnesota. On the morning of March 9, the Virginia headed back to finish off the Minnesota, but instead encountered the Monitor. The two ironclads engaged in a close rang artillery fight, each having little effect on the other due to their armored designs. The Virginia tried unsuccessfully to ram the Monitor, but the Monitor, a lighter and quicker ship, managed to avoid the ram. Both ships eventually withdraw, leaving the engagement between steam powered ironclad ships a draw. The map below shows the site of the battle of Hampton Roads and depicts the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (labeled as the Merrimack), along with other ships in the area.

RG77_CWMF_G443_vol12_p10 -- zoomed

Close up of map showing the Hampton Roads area and depicting the March 9, 1862 battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly the Merrimack). RG 77, Civil Works Map File, G443, Vol. 12, p. 10.


Full Map showing the Hampton Roads area.  RG 77, Civil Works Map File, G443, Vol. 12, p. 10.

Both the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor suffer unfortunate fates during the next few months of the Civil War. In early May 1862, Union forces approached Norfolk, forcing the Confederates to abandonthe city and destroyed the navy yard. Without a home, the Virginia’s commander attempted to lighten the ship and travel up the James River to the safety of Richmond, but this plan proved unsuccessful. The Confederates instead were forced to scuttle the ship on May 11, 1862, blowing her up rather than allow the Union forces to capture the ship.

In late 1862, after supporting numerous military operations near Norfolk and Richmond, the USS Monitor received orders to move south to Beaufort, North Carolina. On December 30, 1862, off of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Monitor encountered a bad storm. In the rough seas, the Monitor, whose deck was only 18 inches above the waterline, began to take on water, flooding the engine room. Around midnight, her engines flooded completely and her pumps stopped working. All hopes for saving the struggling ship were gone and the ship was abandoned. Forty-seven men were rescued from the sinking USS Monitor. Sixteen were lost, swept overboard, unable to reach the rescue boats, or trapped inside the sinking vessel.

The wrecked Monitor remained lost until the 1970s. In 1973, a team from Duke University began searching for the location of the wreck. After a tentative identification, the team confirmed they had found the wreck 16 miles off of Cape Hatteras after a second visit to the site in the spring of 1974. Research on the wreck began and over the years, many artifacts were recovered from the USS Monitor. In 2002, the famous turret was raised from the sea floor. Today, the turret and artifacts related to the USS Monitor are housed at the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners’ Museum, located in Newport News, Virginia near the site of the battle of Hampton Roads. The Cartographic Branch holds a collection of oversize materials relating to the discovery, stabilization, research, and recovery efforts of the wreck of the USS Monitor. These records include maps, diagrams, and drawings related to the wreck site, underwater archaeology and research missions, scientific data and research, artifact recovery, and other aspects of the research surrounding the wreck site. Additional records related to these activities can also be found in the Textual, Still Pictures, and Motion Pictures holdings of the National Archives.


Photomosaic of USS Monitor wreck. RG 370, Records Relating the Discovery of the Wreck of the USS Monitor, Folder 1.


Civil War Trust. “Overview: Hampton Roads.” Articles.

Civil War Trust. “USS Monitor: A Cheesebox Raft.” Articles – Feature.

The Mariners’ Museum & Park. The USS Monitor Center.

NOAA. National Ocean Service. USS Monitor: Preserving a Legacy.

Posted in Cartographic Records, Civil War, Military, Ship Plans, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment