Arts & Entertainment

Civil War Reenactors Bring American History to Life in Berkeley Heights

Glenn Jones (left), John Andrews and Tom Eldridge demonstrate their Enfield Musket-Rifles during Saturday's reenactment event. Credits: Guy Kass
Credits: Guy Kass
Visitors explore the Sibley tent. Credits: Guy Kass
John Andrews and Tom Eldridge fire a volley. Credits: Guy Kass
Tom Eldridge talks with a visitor. Credits: Guy Kass
Tom Eldridge displays a military-issued uniform. Credits: Guy Kass
Tom Eldridge displays a dress hat and canvas bag used for carrying personal supplies. Credits: Guy Kass

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – For the watching adults, the serious men in their blue military uniforms firing their rifles into the air was fascinating. For the children with their hands clamped over their ears, it was a bit scary. But for everyone, it was a glimpse back into the history of America.

The 43d New York Volunteer Infantry set up camp on Saturday afternoon at the Berkeley Heights Public Library.  Area residents took advantage of the warm afternoon to drop by and see tents, uniforms, clothing and other Civil War replicas.

The 43d New York Volunteer Infantry is a family oriented Civil War reenacting organization and member of the United States Volunteer Battalion (USV), dedicated to the remembrance and accurate portrayal of the common civilian and soldier working to preserve the Union during the American Civil War.

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Re-enactors on Saturday demonstrated their Enfield rifle-muskets by firing two rounds. The littlest spectators covered their ears as the rifle cracks echoed through the trees.

“In a real battle, there would be thousands of guns, cannons, smoke all over the place,” said member Glenn Jones, explaining the rifle reloading process as the others did it. “A good soldier was expected to be able to reload and fire every 20 seconds.”

Jones, along with fellow reenactors Tom Eldridge and John Andrews, showed visitors their tents, cooking supplies, weapons, and clothing. While everything they use is a reproduction, Jones let visitors examine his sword, which is an actual piece from the Civil War.

A table piled with coats, shirts, hats and shoes allowed visitors to see what military men wore – and what they were given but discarded, like heavy wool shirts that were traded for civilian shirts made of much cooler cotton, and small-brimmed, fitted hats that went by the wayside in favor of wider-brimmed hats that protected their faces and ears from sun and rain.

Eldridge explained that while all the coats and pants were blue, their shades often varied due to different dye lots. Light blue pants were worn by volunteer soldiers, while dark blue pants were for full-time military men.

Jones offered tours of the Sibley tent, invented by American military officer Henry Hopkins Sibley. The huge canvas tent was inspired by the design of the teepee, and is held in place by one giant pole in the middle. Jones said the tent can sleep 18 soldiers, and when the weather is cold, a stove is set up next to the pole.

It’s all part of the magic of reenacting the day-to-day life of a Civil War soldier, a hobby that has long had many enthusiasts. Members of the 43d New York Volunteer Infantry are spread out across the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Most reside in New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New York. The real 43d New York Volunteer Infantry were also known as the Albany Rifles and the Yates Rifles. Most of the regiment was from the Albany area. However, two companies (the Yates Rifles) were from Brooklyn. They were mustered into service in September of 1861 and served in the Army of the Potomac for the duration of the war.

This year, the reenactors are focusing on the events of 1862, the second year of the war. Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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