A recent USA Today article claimed that as many as 50,000 persons in the US take part, at least occasionally, in the hobby of Civil War reenactment. One of the most impassioned and enthusiastic students of local history that I met at the History Faire at the County Fair in Columbus, NJ last week was the solitary Civil War reenactor who bivouacked at the entrance to our tent each of those four sticky searing days.
Edwin L. Kaewell hopes to capitalize on the resurgence in interest for reenactment for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by forming a squad for the 23rd Regiment NJ Volunteers—a regiment in which at least two Riverton residents served during the Civil War.
Since HSR President Gerald Weaber and I had just spent the previous two weeks readying our Society’s History Faire display on Riverton’s response to the Civil War, I was drawn to Mr. Kaewell’s earnest recruiting appeals to passers-by and was already imagining that his success could eventually benefit a part of our own mission as well—to create an awareness of our borough’s Civil War heritage.(See a 2 min., 45 sec./28.7 MB video clip here.)
Many reenactors assume a “persona,” of a historical character which they create, complete with backstory, while others represent real people. Using first-person interaction, Civil War reenactors often recreate the daily activities, thoughts, and behavior of these characters and speak as if they were living in the 1860s.
Historical interpreters staging a living history encampment stay in character as Civil War soldiers, giving visitors the feeling that they are learning first-hand about life in the 1860s. All participants–presenters and spectators–engaging in such an authentic living history experience will probably understand the legacy of freedom and unity that the Civil War bestowed upon our Nation as well as the soldier’s experience and sacrifice in a way that no book can convey.
Imagine a future July Fourth in which a squad of Civil War reenactors dressed in their Prussian blue woolen coats, sky-blue trousers, and heads topped with kepis marches in the parade or stages an encampment as part of those festivities.
Even better—imagine if we in the HSR could give enough research and support to the unit that would encourage some members to role-play the part of a historical Rivertonian and incorporate actual events into their person’s backstory.
To mark the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, each of the participating historical societies at the Burlington County Farm Fair displayed information and artifacts relevant to their respective community’s response to the conflict. A check of past newsletters shows that the topic has received little attention, except as it related to other subjects, so we have some catching up to do.
With so many Civil War history and genealogy enthusiasts, quite possibly, some readers of this column may have a head start on us, so we sincerely invite anyone with more facts or suggestions for sources of information to please contact us.
What we are initially looking for are additional names of Civil War veterans who have spent some part of their life in Riverton, either before entering service or afterward. A preliminary examination of records yielded at least 16 veterans’ names associated with at least eight different regiments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. See that veterans list here. We appeal to our readers to dust off those family albums and shake those family trees to see if we missed anyone.
Ultimately, a comprehensive treatment of Riverton’s response to the Civil War needs to include much more—the actions of women on the home front while men were at war; the support of some normally pacifist-believing Quakers who fought to defend their abolitionist views; the effects of conscientious objectors; the influence and support of clubs, fraternities, churches, and various institutions; and the contributions of the business community to the war effort, and more will all be investigated.
The following brief abstract of the 23rd NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment is part of the research on Riverton and the Civil War which we exhibited, and we post it here as a down payment on what is certain to be a larger body of research over the course of this four-year observance of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial. The chronicle of this unique regiment may stir someone to enlist in Edwin Kaewell’s reenactment unit or perhaps support his effort materially.
For more information on the four-year-long commemoration of the Civil War, and a foot-in-the-door for starting your own research, here are three suggestions:
- The New Jersey Civil War 150th Anniversary Committee’s website plays a large part in our state’s observation and commemoration of New Jersey’s part in the Civil War.
- This comprehensive National Park Service site has a unique search feature which allows searching by a soldier’s name as well as searching through lists of names in any regiment.
- The Civil War Trust has been involved in historic preservation efforts since 1987, and has saved over 30,000 acres of America’s Civil War battlefield land.
We thank County Historian Joe Laufer for a great experience at the first History Faire at the County Fair in Columbus, NJ, and we look forward to doubling our display area for the second. It afforded an unmatched opportunity to interact and network with members of other historical societies as well as a chance to try those amazing pulled-pork sandwiches at the nearby Amish food vendor stand. There will be more to report about our Farm Fair encounters in another post. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor
P.S. Here’s another old Moorestown image, courtesy of one of our patrons of postcard collecting. He writes:
“An early view of 101 E. Main Street at Chester Ave. in Moorestown. Afterward, this store would become Doughten’s and then later Matlack’s store. This is an early view and is a card that I had never seen before in all the years I have been collecting postcards. Please add this to the Riverton website.”
P.P.S . Regarding the comment made about the above Garrigues’s Cash Grocer post card by resident fact-checker Paul Schopp. my postcard collector friend who contributed the above scan writes,”Thanks, and Paul is quite right…. Thanks for keeping me accurate.”
I must echo my friend’s remark. Pullleeeze do not hesitate to tell us when we get something wrong. When I was in the classroom and one of my students pointed out a mistake I had made, I encouraged them to keep score as a devious way of getting them to pay closer attention. So start counting. I’m just glad that Gerald and I aren’t the only ones reading this column. – John McCormick
The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything. ~Edward Phelps