MONTVILLE, NJ – Montville Township’s Boy Scout Troop 74 met First Sergeant Gregory Belcastro of the 7th NJ Infantry Company “A” on October 21st at their troop meeting. Belcastro, who has been a Civil War soldier re-enactor for 18 years, taught the troop about the Civil War, Gettysburg and New Jersey soldiers’ role.
Buried Here in Montville
Montville Township Historical Society President Kathy Fisher opened the meeting by telling the scouts that a Civil War soldier is buried directly next to the church where the troop meets, by the name of George Buggins.
“War was tough on entire communities,” continued Belcastro. “The companies were structured by entire counties from New Jersey. If one company suffered heavy losses, an entire community lost its youth.”
Belcastro went on to describe his uniform to the scouts.
“We wore a long, wool uniform, called a ‘frock coat,’” said Belcastro. “It protected the men’s thighs, and was a fancy-looking uniform. New Jersey was the only state in the union that issued men this uniform, and always looked sharp in the field.
“On my head is a ‘forage cap,’ which was a little floppy, but named because if the soldiers didn’t get enough food, they could flip it upside down and collect food in it, because the cap expands to twice its size.
“On my ankles are white pieces of canvas called ‘gators,’ which served as a cheap boot. The commanding officer of the 7th New Jersey, Colonel Francine, bought all of his soldiers these white gators, so they stood out on the field. Even today, I can spot my men on the field, too.”
Belcastro also showed the scouts his pack, filled with a candle, sewing and shaving kits, and hard tack.
“They also carried games like checkers, cards and dice, but just before a battle the road would be strewn with these items. It was considered a sin to play cards or dice, so the soldiers would discard the items so if they were hit, the items wouldn’t be found with them.”
The Civil War was rough on New Jersey, Belcastro told the scouts. There were one thousand men in the New Jersey brigade at the start of the war, but before the fighting had actually started two years later, there were only 375 left.
“Illness and disease claimed them,” stated Belcastro. “Most of the soldiers were farm boys, but when they met the city boys from Newark and Trenton, those men had been exposed to mumps and measles and it spread to the others. There were 275 left by 1863, a year later, and after the first day of Gettysburg only 125 New Jersey soldiers remained.”
Belcastro then showed an early Civil War rifle and a later Civil War rifle to the scouts. He explained that grooves cut into the barrel improved the accuracy of the later rifle. He also demonstrated the bayonet feature of the musket. He explained military tactics, called linear or Napoleonic tactics, in which the soldiers formed a shoulder-to-shoulder line to fight, which equated to heavy loss of life.
“Sharp shooters were told they weren’t men, because they hid in trees and bushes,” he said.
Later in the war, more accurate guns were used and Grant changed tactics after a 20-minute 1864 battle resulted in 8,000 casualties.
Trip in November
Belcastro’s visit was spurred by the Troop’s November camping trip, which will be a trip to see the Gettysburg battlefield; touring Crystal Cave Park; experiencing the Escape Room, an interactive entertainment experience that requires teamwork to solve a puzzle to reach the goal; and visiting the Antique Automobile Club of America.
The 2nd NJ Brigade will be re-enacting “Winter on the Home Front: A Civil War Christmas” on December 5th and 6th at Historic Speedwell. For more information, click Christmas
For more information about the 2nd NJ Brigade of the 7th NJ infantry Co “A,” click HERE
For more information about Montville Township’s Boy Scout Troop 74, click HERE