Tag Archives: new York State Military Museum

Arnold Or Gates: Who Was The Hero of Saratoga?

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Saratoga October 1777  - L to R Sir John Burgoyne, Benedict Arnold and Horatio GatesOn Saturday, April 11, 2015, from 2 to 3 pm, the NYS Military Museum at 61 Lake Ave in Saratoga Springs will host a debate on an old question: Horatio Gates or Benedict Arnold…who is the real hero of the Battles of Saratoga?

National Park Rangers Joe Craig and Eric Schnitzer will present this structured discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of American Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold and how each helped, or hindered, the American victory in the world-changing Battles of Saratoga, called the “most important battle of the last 1,000 years.” Continue reading

WWII NY National Guard Records Go Online

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When 28,969 New York National Guard Soldiers mobilized in the fall of 1940 as the United States prepared for war, clerks filled out six-by-four inch cards on each man.

Now, thanks to a team of 15 volunteers, those records–listing names, serial number, home, and unit, and later on annotated with hand written notes on whether or not the Soldier was killed or wounded– are available online from the New York State Military Museum.

“I’ll bet you that we are the only state that has such an item on the web,” said retired Army Col. John Kennedy, one of the volunteers who turned the index card information into digital data.

Kennedy, a World War II veteran himself, and the other volunteers spent a year keying the information on the cards into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The digital information is now available on the museum’s website and can be downloaded and searched.

The museum put this information online so it can be used by people researching their family history or the history of World War II and New York’s role in it, said Jim Gandy, the assistant librarian and archivist at the museum.

“Not only can you research a specific individual but you can also research who enlisted from what town; where men in the New York National Guard were born, or how old the average age of the men was. We indexed most data points on the cards including: date, city, state and country of birth; ID number; hometown, unit; rank; as well as enlistment and separation dates”, Gandy explained.

In September 1940-a few months after France was overrun and defeated by the German Army and the British were fighting for survival in the air-the United States had an Army of 269,000 men. The German Army, meanwhile, had 2.5 million.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt convinced Congress to call up the 300,000 men in the National Guard for a year to double the size of the nation’s Army and prepare for any German threat.

On Oct. 15, 1940 the 28,969 members of the New York National Guard, including the entire 27th Division, reported to their armories to begin processing for a year of active duty. This is the data now available from the museum website.

For the 90-year old Kennedy, who keyed in the data on 6,500 Soldiers, the task brought back memories of his own World War II service. A Cohoes native, he joined the Army Reserve in 1940, transferred to the New York National Guard in 1941 and went to war in Europe in 1944 with the 8th Infantry Division.

He recognized the names of many of the 108 Soldiers on the list who cited Cohoes as their hometown because he had grown up with them, Kennedy said.

Kennedy, who now lives in Florida and served in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard until retiring in 1981, volunteered to help with Gandy’s project because he’s made the history of World War II and the role of New York’s units in it his hobby.

Bruce Scott, an Albany resident and another volunteer who keyed in the data, got involved in the project because he wanted to do something from his home that would be useful to others.

Scott, Kennedy and the other volunteers were critical, Gandy said. Without their work this kind of project would be impossible for the museum to carry out.

Eventually the Soldiers of the 27th Infantry Division who were called for training in the fall of 1940 went on to serve in the Pacific, securing Hawaii from a feared Japanese invasion in February 1942, invading Makin Atoll and the Island of Saipan, and eventually fighting on Okinawa. Other New York National Guard Soldiers called up in 1940 served in rear area security duty and fought in Europe.

The museum’s next web project is to create an index of which battles New York’s Civil War Regiments fought in, Gandy said. The data base will make it easier for historians to determine which regiments fought in which battles and the losses that were sustained in each fight. If anyone would like to volunteer, they may contact the museum at 518-581-5100, Gandy said.

The index card database can be found on the museum website.

Photo: A typical index card of a New York Army National Guardsman. Each card was 6 inches wide and 4 inches high.

Civil War Battle Flag Exhibit Opens at Capitol

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A new exhibit of Civil War battle flags, “1861: Banners for Glory,” has been unveiled at the State Capitol, featuring eight flags significant in the first year of the war – including the storied Marshall House Flag, which prompted one of the first skirmishes of the war.

“As the nation looks back on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I encourage New Yorkers to visit this moving exhibit in the State’s Capitol,” said Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The flags are a physical connection to our nation’s history, and I am tremendously grateful to the private individuals and organizations who have partnered with New York State to make this exhibit possible.”

“The collection of New York’s historic battle flags held by the Division of Military and Naval Affairs on behalf of the citizens of New York is a reminder of the courage and sacrifice of the almost 500,000 New Yorkers who fought in the Civil War,” said Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York. “I’m pleased that this exhibit will allow more New Yorkers to share in that history.”

The exhibition will run in the New York State Capitol’s eastern entrance area through June 2012. The exhibit is taking place thanks to a combination of a $30,000 grant from the Coby Foundation, a New York City organization that funds projects in the textile and needle arts, and approximately $13,000 in donations from private citizens.

The exhibit features the massive 14- by 24-foot Marshall House Flag, which Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Volunteers, attempted to remove from the Marshall House hotel in Alexandria, Virginia – a flag visible across the Potomac in Washington, D.C. With a small party, Ellsworth climbed to the roof and cut down the flag prompting an exchange of gunfire with hotel owner James Jackson, in which both Ellsworth and Jackson were killed.

The Marshall House incident became national news and plunged the entire country into mourning – the North for Ellsworth, the South for Jackson. President Abraham Lincoln, ordered an honor guard to deliver Ellsworth’s body to the White House for a funeral service. Ellsworth, the first Union officer to be killed in the conflict was then laid in state at City Hall in New York City and the State Capitol in Albany respectively before being buried in Mechanicville, New York. The Marshall House flag accompanied Ellsworth’s body home to New York State.

Since 2000, the New York State Battle Flag Preservation Project, a collaboration between the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, has conserved and properly stored over 500 of the state’s 2,000 flags carried into battle by New York State regiments.

Photo: Marshall House Inn, circa 1861-1869. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Civil War: Remembering the Seventh Regiment

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It was a military movement, but it was also a party, on April 19, 1861 as the men of the Seventh Regiment of the New York State Militia (the name change to National Guard came in 1862) set out for the Civil War.

“New Yorkers cheered and applauded as the Silk Stocking Regiment marched through the city. The line of march was a perfect ovation. Thousands upon thousands lined the sidewalks. It will be remembered as long as any of those who witnessed it live to talk of it, and beyond that it will pass into the recorded history of this fearful struggle,” the author of the Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Military Statistics of the State of New York remembered in 1866. Continue reading

Museum Puts NY Civil War Soldiers Info Online

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As the Nation prepares to observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center is making capsule histories of 360,000 New York Civil War Soldiers available online.

The entire roster of New Yorkers who served during the Civil War Years, 1861-1865, is now available online, as well as the five annual reports issued by the Bureau of Military Statistics from 1864 to 1868 that chronicle the accomplishments of New Yorkers in battle.

The Civil War began on April 12 1861 when Confederate cannons fired on Union-occupied Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Caroline. On April 19 1861 the New York National Guard’s 7th Regiment was mustered into service and departed for Washington to defend the Capitol.

More than 360,000 Soldiers enlisted in New York regiments to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Capsule histories of those Soldiers military records were recorded from 1893 to 1906 in 17 volumes based on data from the New York Adjutant General’s Office and the War Department, the predecessor to today’s Department of the Army. These records have been posted in PDFformat and are searchable.

The Bureau of Military Statistics was established by the Legislature in 1863 to record the history of New York’s volunteer Soldiers by collecting newspaper clippings, artifacts, and securing the battle flags of returning units. The Bureau published five reports summarizing the information collected and detailing the contributions made by New Yorkers during the Civil War. These records are also in searchable PDF format.

That collection of printed materials, weapons, artifacts and battle flags is maintained by the Military Museum today under the control of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Visitors to the museum’s website can find out that John Hurley, the assistant surgeon of New York City’s 69th Infantry Regiment, who enlisted on Nov. 1 1862, was killed accidently in camp on April 15, 1863 near Falmouth, Virginia. Or they can learn that the towns of Onondaga County collected $8.2 million in taxes to pay bonuses to Soldiers enrolling in volunteer regiments in 1862.

The museum staff has also begun scanning in, and making available online most of the thousands of Civil War newspaper clippings that the museum has preserved since the 1860s.

“The Civil War was a critical time in the history of the United States and of New York,” said Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York. “I am pleased that the New York State Military Museum has been able to make this fascinating information readily accessible to New Yorkers and all Americans.”

“With the addition of these new online resources, the Military Museum and Veterans Research Center continues to make important historical and genealogical works from its collection more easily available to the public through our website.” Michael Aikey

“Almost everybody who contacts me is amazed at how much we have been able to put online,” said museum archivist Jim Gandy. “Without fail they are thankful that it is online because some of the stuff only exists on microfilm so you can’t even get it from the library.”

The process of digitizing these historic documents began almost eight years ago and has relied heavily on volunteers willing to spend time scanning in documents, Gandy said.

The museum’s catalog of its collection of photographs, books, articles, and paintings is also being turned into digital information and is now searchable online, Gandy said.

While the museum holds vast amounts of information about the Civil War and is making that available online, other military data of interest to history and genealogy buffs is also now available online.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers the names of all 13,025 who served as officers in the New York State Militia, the precursor to the New York National Guard, prior to 1858, have been indexed. Local high school students fulfilling the obligation to spend 20 hours volunteering did much of this work over the last year, Gandy said.

Another volunteer project involved establishing a searchable database of the 23,315 members of the New York National Guard who were awarded the New York State Long and Faithful Service Medal between its inception in 1894 and 1963.

The Military History Museum is also the custodian of New York’s Civil War Battle Flags. More than 800 flags collected when regiments returned from the war are stored. Many of those have been conserved.

Other items now available online at the New York State Military Museum website relate to the New York National Guard’s history in World War I and World War II.

Copies of two publications issued just before and during World War I, the “Rio Grande Rattler” from 1916 and the “Wadsworth Gas Attack “from 1917 are now available for download from the website.

The Rio Grande Rattler was published when the New York National Guard was mobilized and sent to the Mexican Border in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson following a raid on Columbus New Mexico by the troops of Mexican Revolutionary Poncho Villa. New York National Guardsmen guarded the border with Mexico in 1916 just as they would in 2006.

In 1917, New York’s 27th Division was mobilized for service in World War II and trained at Camp Wadsworth South Carolina.

Twenty-three years later the Guardsmen of the 27th Division were again on federal service, this time at Fort McClellan Maryland following President Franklin Roosevelt’s activation of the National Guard for one year of service following the successful German invasion of France. The yearbook published for the division’s Soldiers that year, which includes photographs of every unit and key officer, as well as pictures of the training, can be downloaded.

Key links on the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center Website:

Roster of New York Volunteers during the Civil War

Annual Reports of the Bureau of Military Statistics, 1864-1868

New York State Militia Officers Prior to 1858

List of Long and Faithful Service Medal Holders

The Wadsworth Gas Attack and Rio Grande Rattler

Photo: The painted silk regimental battle flag carried by the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.

NY Military Museum Director to Speak

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Michael Aikey, Director of the New York State Military Museum, and a founding member of the Capital District Civil War Round Table, will give a talk on November 13th at the Schenectady County Historical Society. His topic is the collections of the New York State Military Museum housed in the historic Saratoga Armory building. The museum preserves the military history of New York State, and the history of New York State’s National Guard. Aikey’s talk will be a special introduction to the museum located in Saratoga Springs.

The museum was started in New York State in 1863, during the Civil War, and moved to several locations before finding a permanent home, in 2001, in the Saratoga Armory at 61 Lake Avenue, Saratoga Springs, New York. The museum houses over 10,000 artifacts from the Revolutionary War period to the present, including historic weapons, artillery pieces, uniforms, flags and artwork. The museum has a gallery, a library, a gift shop and offices for the Veteran Research Center, an oral history program. Aikey’s talk will be of particular interest to anyone interested in the military history of New York State, and the place in history of New York State veterans, including the history of the New York Army National Guard.

Michael Aikey has been working for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA) since 1996 serving as the Director of the New York State Military History Task Force, Librarian/Archivist, and Deputy Director, before moving to the directorship of the New York State Military Museum/Research Center in 2002. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany’s School of Information Science and Policy, with experience working in both public and academic libraries before going to DMNA.

Mr. Aikey was a founding member of the Capital District Civil War Round Table, has published articles on military history, guest curated several museum exhibits and worked as an NEA grant consultant. He lectures on New York State military history and the Civil War. Currently he serves on the Capital District Library Council’sboard of directors. His spare time is frequently involved in historical research, and tinkering with classic British cars.

This program is free and open to the public. There will be refreshments at 1:30 pm on Saturday prior to the talk at 2:00 pm. The Schenectady County Historical Society is located at 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305. The building is wheel chair accessible with off-street parking. For more information contact Katherine Chansky at (518) 374-0263 or email librarian@schist.org. Find directions to SCHS at www.schist.org.

NYS Military Museum Wins History Award

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An online project created by the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center and the Saratoga Springs Public Library has won one of two First Prize awards in a contest sponsored by the History Channel.

Honoring Saratoga Veterans, a page available at the library website, features interviews with six Saratoga County residents who served in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and Iraq. The videos, recorded as part of the museum’s Veterans Oral History Program, help tell the story of Saratoga residents in America’s wars.

The History Channel prize, awarded in conjunction with the Institute for Museum and Library Services, recognizes libraries which created local programs, exhibits or media projects to tell about the role of their communities in the larger American story.

The contest was created in conjunction with the History Channel series: “America: The Story of Us.” It was open to libraries around the country and recognized 13 winners, which shared $35,000 in prize money. The Grand Prize Winner-the Lower Macungie Library in Macungie, PA-received a $15,000 prize for an exhibit on the impact of the Apollo 13 flight, on the local community.

The Saratoga Springs Public Library will receive $5,000 in prize money which library director Issac Pulver says will be shared by the museum. The other First Prize Winner was the Erie Community Library of Erie, Colorado, with a project called ” Erie: From Working Coal Town to Suburban Boom Town.”

Ten second prize winning libraries received ten $1,000 prizes.

The New York State Military museum houses over 10,000 artifacts dating from the Revolutionary War to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that relate to New York State’s military forces, the state’s military history and the contributions of New York’s veterans. The artifacts include uniforms, weapons, artillery pieces, and art. A significant portion of the museum’s collection is from the Civil War.

The museum also owns the largest collection of state battle flags in the country and the largest collection of Civil War flags in the world. Of the over 1700 flags in the collection, more than 60% are from the Civil War.

The library and archive holdings in the Veterans Research Center include a 2000 volume library of military and New York State history, over 6,000 photographs, unit history files, broadsides, scrapbooks, letters and maps.

New York Army National Guard Featured in Museum Exhibit

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The history of the New York Army National Guard from the Spanish American War to Iraq and Afghanistan will be featured in a New York State Museum exhibit that opened May 28 and will run through March 2011.

Entitled “Citizen Soldier: New York’s National Guard in the American Century” the exhibit includes almost 7,000 square feet of gallery space covering the service of New Yorkers through world wars, natural disasters, the 2001 terrorist attacks and Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Wall panels, dioramas, photos, uniforms, equipment and weapons displays are being completed. The exhibit will also feature personal stories of Soldiers – past and present – including women Soldiers serving in the modern Guard’s ranks.

A restored World War II M8 “Greyhound” Armored Car was moved into position in front of the Citizen Soldier Gallery on Wednesday, May 19 as delighted visitors including fourth grade elementary school students from Jeffersonville, Sullivan County looked on.

The vehicle is just one of many display items that will be used to tell the story of New York’s Citizen Soldiers who served at home and abroad during some of the nation’s darkest times. New York Soldiers of the 101st Cavalry Group used M8s in Europe during World War II.

“This is one of the largest exhibits ever produced here,” said Pat Jordan, the museum’s Director of Community Relations. “This will be here through March 2011,” she added. “We are also developing a series of special events and programs including documentary screenings, book signings and other events that are being scheduled during the exhibit’s run.”

The New York State Museum is the nation’s largest and oldest state museum and hosts innovative exhibitions and programs year round. More than 700,000 visitors annually come through its galleries to see both permanent and temporary exhibits including the “World Trade Center: Rescue, Recovery, Response,” “Adirondack Wilderness,” and “Native Peoples of New York.”

Expert curators, historians, designers and other professionals design and produce the exhibits on site from photos and artifacts in New York’s archives and historic collections as well as using selected items on loan from private sources, like the armored car and other items from Gregory Wolanin from Albany.

“Citizen Soldier” will also include materials from the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs who have been working with the New York State Museum staff since last year to plan and support the exhibit.

The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New years Day. For more information, visit the New York State Museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov

Photo: A World War II-era M-8 armored car is manuevered into position by its owner, vehicle collector Greg Wolanin, as the centerpiece of a New York State Museum exhibit honoring the service of New York Army National Guard Soldiers. The 101st Cavalry Group of the New York NationalGuard operated M-8s during their service in Europe in 1945. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Steven Petibone, New York Army National Guard.

Historic New York National Guard Records Online

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There are now 53,671 more pages of New York National Guard records available online on the New York State Military Museum website. Printed out, that much information would take be 18 feet high if the pages were stacked up, or reach more than 9.7 miles laid end to end.

The digital files include 197 issues of the New York National Guardsman Magazine (shown at left) published between 1924 and 1940, and National Guard annual reports from 1858 to 1955. It’s a treasure trove of information available to genealogists, historians, and military buffs with the click of a computer mouse.

“I can search across 150 different Adjutant General reports in ten seconds and to do this by hand would take me all day,” said Jim Gandy, the assistant librarian and archivist at the museum.

“Our collection is a tremendous resource and this is an opportunity to broadcast this tremendous resource to the widest possible audience,” said Museum Director Michael Aikey.

“We get 15,000 people through the museum each year, but the website is getting several million hits,” Aikey added. “I come from the public library world and the goal is to get as much information easily available, readily available to the public.”

The searchable pdf-format files can be opened online and are also downloadable. The cost of the scanning project was $12,000. Biele’s Information Technology Systems in West Seneca did the scanning work in 2005. However, the museum’s website couldn’t accommodate posting the documents until upgrades were made this year, Gandy said.

The Adjutant General’s Annual reports contain data on the number of Soldiers and Airmen in National Guard units, training exercises, officers’ names and units, and expenses.

The National Guardsman Magazine includes professional articles, reports on unit athletic events and social activities, and period advertising. Publication of the National Guardsman was suspended in the fall of 1940 when the entire National Guard was mobilized in response to the successful German invasion of most of western Europe in the spring of that year.

While the new online documents provide a window to the state’s military past that’s fascinating to any military history buff, some of the biggest users of the state’s records have always been amateur genealogy researches, Gandy said.

Both the National Guardsman Magazine and the Adjutant General’s reports are full of names and dates. This kind of information is valuable to people trying to flesh out their family histories and find out exactly what rank Uncle Bill held, Gandy explained.

The demand from amateur genealogists for information is so great that the museum is working on a deal with Ancestry.com, a popular genealogy resource, to make online documents available there, Aikey said.

Putting the documents on line makes them accessible to people around the country, and also allows researchers to look through them without damaging the originals, Gandy added. Too many fingers opening and closing old books and magazines, even when done carefully, eventually wears those documents out.

The collections of the New York State Military Museum date back to 1863 when an officer in the Adjutant General’s office was assigned to collect press clippings and other memorabilia about New York regiments serving in the Civil War. Today New York has one of the outstanding state archives of Civil War material, much of it available on line, as well as the largest collection of unit battle flags in the nation.

The Unit History Project section of the Military Museum website includes extensive on-line historical information on all New York Civil War military units, as well as in other conflicts.

To view copies of the New York National Guardsman and the Adjutant Generals Reports on line click on “research” on the New York State Military Museum homepage on the left hand side of the screen. Links to the magazines and reports are below on the Research page.