Civil War comes alive in chilling detail at Historic Speedwell in Morristown

Cpl. Donald Lopuzzo demonstrated firing and reloading while kneeling and prone, at Civil War weekend, Historic Speedwell, June 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove


By Jeff Sovelove

The Blue and the Grey returned to Morristown’s Historic Speedwell over the weekend to give visitors their annual taste of the Civil War.

Re-enactors were on hand from the 2nd NJ Brigade, the 7th NJ Field Hospital, the 7th NJ Signal Corps, the Society of Jersey Blues, and the 1st NJ Artillery Battery A.

The latter group brought an authentic six-pound bronze cannon, cast in 1844 in Boston.

JNOOM! Civil War weekend, Historic Speedwell, June 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Capable of firing a solid, six-pound cannon ball (hence the name), the weapon could also fire canister — exploding shot fused to explode over the head of enemy troops — essentially turning the cannon into a giant shotgun.

If enemy troops were closing in, artillerymen even could fire “double canister,” consisting of one gunpowder charge and two canisters packed with one-inch iron balls and sawdust.

Devastating at short range, it turned charging men and horses into red mist.

Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove. Click /hover on images for captions:

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Keeping history alive often is a family affair. Greg Belcastro is the first sergeant of the 2nd Jersey Brigade. His wife Mary portrays a washer woman, and their son is the brigade’s captain.

Vinny, 8, of Springfield, holds a six-pound cannon ball, at Civil War weekend, Historic Speedwell, June 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Re-enactors dressed in various uniforms of the day, including frock coats and sack coats. The 144th Pennsylvania Zouaves showed off flamboyant baggy pants, short red jackets, and turbans.

When a regiment of 1,000 men was raised by an officer they were free to add something distinctive to their uniforms; the 2nd NJ Brigade wore white spats to make them stand out on the battlefield.

Robert F. Costello portraying Abraham Lincoln chats with the troops, at Civil War weekend, Historic Speedwell, June 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

A mock battle, with Confederates attacking from across a pond, was a real-crowd pleaser. So were the cannon firings.

As Belcastro explained, it took nine steps to reload a musket rifle. An experienced infantryman could get off three shots per minute.

Reloading was complicated if the soldier was kneeling or laying down, and if it was rainy or humid, the rifle often didn’t fire.  As a consequence, very few battles were fought in bad weather.

On Saturday, Robert F. Costello was in attendance as Abraham Lincoln, for a Freedom Walk that was part of the annual Juneteenth celebration in Morristown.

The Rev. Forrest Pritchett reads the Emancipation Proclamation; video by Jeff Sovelove for, June 9, 2019:

Walkers gathered in front of L’hommedieu House, where the Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett,  director of Seton Hall University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program, read the Emancipation Proclamation. Then, after a salute by the NJ 2nd Regiment, they marched 1.2 miles to the Morristown Green .

Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett with the 2nd NJ Brigade, at Civil War weekend, Historic Speedwell, June 2019. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

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