Community Transcription-Sixteen Months and Counting

August 30th, 2012

It’s been sixteen months now since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, and ever since then we have been steadily adding finished documents to our archive. What started with just a dozen or so volunteers has grown into an active, vigorous community of volunteer transcribers.

We offer here yet another snapshot at our transcription activity.

To date, we have 795 users-fully 124 them have transcribed within the last 90 days. This continues a trend of increased users, but also more active users. Those transcribers have made more than 4,788 saves to War Department documents, which is about 500 more than at the last update. That works out to more than 957 finished documents, along with another 43 documents begun. Additionally, transcribers have initiated approximately 261 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is edited between three and four times before it is finished.

Our transcribers truly represent a cross-section of life: we have scholars, genealogists, hobbyists, doctoral candidates, archivists, historical re-enactors, CEOs, and many other kinds of folks transcribing. There are transcribers from every American state, and from six different continents. Affiliations range from major research universities to genealogical societies, and from the every branch of the armed forces. Their interests range from personal research, to genealogy, to dissertation research. Some of our transcribers had extensive experience with historical documents when they began; for others, this is their first encounter with two hundred-year old letters and handwriting. Many of our transcribers have only worked on a few documents, but several have transcribed dozens of them.

The documents themselves vary widely in content. Some are orders to military officers. Others describe treaty negotiations or terms. Many documents request supplies or instructions; there are financial records and officers’ commissions, as well as transcripts of disciplinary proceedings.

As we continue forward with the project, users may still register for a transcription account.

Governor George Izard

August 29th, 2012

As with many of the rising stars of the new US military found  in this collection    (Meriwether Lewis and Zebulon Pike for example),  George Izard began his storied career in the junior officer ranks of the US Army. Born in Europe in 1776, George Izard’s father was Ralph Izard, a delegate to the Continental Congress and South Carolina Senator.  Young George attended Columbia University and the College of Philadelphia.  At the age of sixteen, he returned to Europe under the care of Thomas Pinckney, Minister to England. While in Europe he received formal  military instruction at academies in England, Germany, and France- where he studied military engineering.  When Izard returned to America, he was assigned to Charleston, South Carolina, oversaw the construction of Fort Pinckney, and held command over a regiment of artillerists and engineers until 1800.

In January 1800, Izard became Alexander Hamilton’s aide de camp. Later he accepted a position as secretary to William Loughton Smith, Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal.  During the War of 1812, he once was second in command to wealthy South Carolina plantation owner Wade Hampton.  Promoted to Major General, he received overall command of the Northern Army at Lake Champlain.  Here Izard, finding himself outnumbered and ill-supplied along the Canadian front, elected to pull his troops back into winter quarters in order to prepare for spring operations. Stung by criticism for excessive caution, Izard later published his correspondence with the War Department in order to vindicate his war record.   In 1825, Izard’s  public service career came to a close when he was appointed by President Monroe as Arkansas’s second territorial governor.  Here Governor Izard displayed great talent as an efficient, organized administrator and diplomat.

Document Spotlight-Treaties and Garrisons

August 28th, 2012

Recently transcriber HollyPBrickhouse brought us a fascinating document detailing the fragile balance between peace and violence. The writer advises the reader that the decision to build military garrisons forward in Indian territory depends on the state of American-Indian relations. If it looks as though the truce will hold, it would be imprudent and provocative to build forts; if the peace appears fragile, then the prudent thing would be to press forward and fortify the territory with garrisons, and as soon as possible.

Read the original document here.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Document Spotlight-Powder Cask Edition

August 20th, 2012

Today we bring you a document transcribed by BeeBeeaton. The letter covers several different topics including the status of two soldiers who had recently been court-martialed. However, there is included a section concerning the procurement of casks to hold gunpowder. The writer is attempting to have some powder casks made for the army–two hundred of them, actually–and he reports to General Knox that the best price he can get is three shillings apiece. It is his opinion that for casks of sufficient quality, they will not be able to get a better price.

Read the original document here.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Document Spotlight-Scout Payment Edition

August 14th, 2012

Recently transcriber Dapperlaw transcribed a document that reveals a little more about life on the American frontier. Also, we get a quick look at some of the War Department’s responsibilities with respect to protection of American citizens.

Specifically, the letter from 1795 details a payment made from the War Department to be issued to scouts working in the Woodford County, Kentucky region. For the 18 month period beginning April 1793, scouts were to be paid $697.17. The payments are explicitly meant to be “for the protection of Woodford County.”

Read the original document here.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Document Spotlight-Requisitions and Salary Edition

August 7th, 2012

Recently transcriber Dapperlaw transcribed a document that gives us a snapshot of how much money it took to run the Quartermaster department of the Army. Likewise, we get a quick look at the salaries of various personnel, from officers to boatmen.

In the letter, James O’Hara, the Quartermaster General, makes a request for funds to pay the salaries of various Quartermaster officers and support personnel. For six months, O’Hara projects salary costs of $13,372–this figure does not include other expenses. He breaks out the salary position, so we know, for example, that master boatmen were paid $45 per month (4 master boatmen for 4 months totaled $720); regular boatmen were paid $12 per month. It’s a fascinating look at the budget process, as O’Hara projected his costs and made the appropriate request.

Read the original document here.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

The Ups and Downs of Tobias Lear

August 3rd, 2012

Tobias Lear appears with a fair degree of frequency in the Papers of the War Department, mostly in his capacity as personal secretary to President George Washington.  He is perhaps best known for having recorded Washington’s last words, ‘Tis well,”  and for noting and carrying out Washington’s burial instructions.  Born to a relatively prosperous and connected  family in Portsmouth New Hampshire in 1762, Lear caught the eye of his uncle Benjamin Lincoln, who recommended Lear to Washington.   Beginning around 1784,  Lear went on to become virtually indispensable to Washington.  Nevertheless, Lear struggled personally and financially.  Beginning around 1793, he left Washington to pursue development of the Potomac River for commerce and navigation, but lost money.  He  apparently once pocketed the rent he  collected from one of Washington’s tenants,  which infuriated his boss.  During the so-called Quasi War with France, Lear was appointed as a Colonel and aide to Washington, though he never saw action.  Present at Washington’s death, Lear recorded Washington’s request that he not be placed into the vault for three days after his death.  (Some have suggested that Washington feared being buried alive).  Oddly, given that Washington came to despise Thomas Jefferson toward the  end of his life, Lear went on to become Jefferson’s  Consul General to the North African Coast, where he would  eventually negotiate the release of captive American sailors aboard the Philadelphia.   Lear apparently committed suicide in 1816.

 

A Pair of Overalls

August 1st, 2012

In the lists of articles of clothing which frequently appear in War Department correspondence there is an item which has a deceptively familiar name: overalls. Inventories list woolen and linen overalls for the troops, commanders write requesting additional overalls for their corps. Overalls were an important part of the suits of clothing issued to soldiers, but they did not in any way resemble the straps-over-the-shoulder coveralls people wear today.

Overalls were, very simply, trousers with a gaiter, which covered the top of the shoe. Unlike breeches, which only went to the knee, overalls covered the full length of the leg. The bottom of the leg flared out into the gaiter, with buttons on the flare for a tighter fit around the foot and sometimes a strap which went under the foot to keep the bottom of the pants from pulling up.

A 1784 engraving shows two American soldiers, a rifleman and an infantryman, in their uniforms. Both are wearing overalls, and the engraving clearly shows the straps under the boot as well as the buttons on the side.