By Jeff Sovelove
Rain and drizzle couldn’t keep history enthusiasts away from Sunday’s Civil War re-enactment at Historic Speedwell in Morristown.
Visitors were treated to a taste of 19th-century army camp life, including drills, firing demonstrations, bayonet practice, and the crowd favorite: Cannon firings.
Big Bang at Historic Speedwell, video by Jeff Sovelove:
Members of the First NJ Artillery Unit A provided the big booms, joined by the 15th New York Cavalry Regiment and the Second New Jersey Brigade, which demonstrated musket firing for the crowd.
Greg Belcastro of the Second New Jersey Brigade explained that at the beginning of the war both armies used smooth-bore muskets, which were only accurate to about 100 yards or so. But as the war went on, the armies switched to rifled muskets firing the Minié ball.
The Minié ball was a conical shaped bullet with ridges that fit into rifling grooves in the musket barrel that made it accurate out to about 500 yards, resulting in casualty rates that would be unthinkable today.
Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove:
Members of the 15th New York Cavalry demonstrated their Sharps and Spencer carbine rifles. Their shorter barrels made them less accurate than the longer rifled muskets, but they were breach loading, which meant that they were easier to use from horseback.
The Spencer was the first US rifle issued that used metallic cartridges, which were loaded into a 7-round tubular magazine in the butt of the gun. A popular saying of the time was you “could load it on Sunday and shoot all week.”
Spencer carbine, ‘load it on Sunday, shoot all week,’ video by Jeff Sovelove:
Visitors also were able to get a sense of the medical treatment available to the troops. Even though amputation techniques were primitive by modern standards, the field hospitals of the time had a 75 percent survival rate, a vast improvement from previous wars.
There also were displays of typical living quarters for both officers and enlisted men, and a display of medicinal plants used during the war.
The First NJ Artillery Unit A fired its six-pound bronze cannon, made in 1844 in Boston. This gun probably was used in the Mexican-American War in 1846 and may have been used in the opening years of the Civil War.
It was capable of firing six-pound solid shot (hence the name), two types of exploding cannonballs, or canister shot, which was a can filled with one-inch steel balls packed in sawdust. It often was used against troops at close ranges with devastating effect.
When fired in peacetime for demonstration purpose, the big boom and belch of flame definitely was a crowd-pleaser!
Boogie-woogie bugle boy: Video by Jeff Sovelove: