Conference and Christmas Suggestions

Anyone interested in New Jersey's role in the Civil War should consider attending the New Jersey Historical Commission's Annual Conference, which will be held on Saturday, December 7, at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM. This year the conference has as its theme "The Civil War and New Jersey."

The conference will feature addresses by Pulitzer Prize winning Princeton Professor James M. McPherson, whose subject will be "America on the Eve of the Civil War" and Professor William Gillette of Rutgers University, whose book, Jersey Blue: Civil War Politics in New Jersey, 1854-1865, received a 1996 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

The conference will also include panel discussions about Civil War programs for adult audiences, teaching about the Civil War, and how historical organizations might capitalize on the broad public interest in the conflict. There will be tours of historic Princeton and exhibits by publishers, museums, and Civil War and other history groups. I will serve on a panel about programs and research projects for adults and will speak on sources of New Jersey African-American Civil War military history.

The cost of the conference, which includes lunch, is a very reasonable $20 per person ($16 for students and senior citizens). For information and registration, contact: Annual Conference, NJ Historical Commission, CN 305, Trenton, NJ 08625-0305; (609) 292-6062; fax (609) 633-8168.

As I write these lines I have just returned from the Association of Mid-Atlantic Civil War Round Tables' Antietam Seminar, which was held at Villanova University. About the only complaint anyone could have about the conference was that you couldn't attend more than one breakout session at a time! I had to miss them all in the morning, since I was giving my own on the Irish Brigade's fight at Bloody Lane. The speakers and the lunch were first rate, and there was great conversation between sessions. Thanks, Jack, for the anecdote on James Buchanan as a frog. Wonder what that makes our current leadership!

Christmas will soon be upon us and I'd like to suggest a few stocking stuffers. Since I have the chance, I'll plug my own new book, Civil War Firearms, recently released by Combined Books (hard cover, $34.95). I'm particularly proud of the fact that Civil War Firearms is a Military Book Club selection and has also been awarded LSU's U. S. Civil War Center Award of Excellence.

The basis of Civil War Firearms was a series of "Yesterday and Today" columns I wrote some years back for Civil War News. The articles, considerably expanded in the book format, were two part essays on smoothbores, rifle muskets, revolvers, breechloaders and repeaters. The first segment of each essay dealt with the historical and tactical use of a given arm, and the second with how to shoot it today. Much of my interpretation of the actual tactical use of Civil War arms, particularly the rifle musket, challenges the conventional wisdom on the subject.

Pioneer Press has released several books of interest recently, and they can be purchased through the Dixie Gun Works catalog (PO Box 684, Union city, TN 38261) and other retailers. One, Bulwark & Bastion, by James R. Hinds and Edmund Fitzgerald, (soft cover, $8.95) is divided into two sections, one dealing with "musket era fortifications with a glance at period siegecraft" and another with "forts and their effectiveness in the Civil War."

The Civil War forts covered in Bulwark and Bastion are the "masonry" Fort Sumter type seacoast fortifications, seven of which were forced to surrender or demolished by artillery fire in an average of 15.1 days each. Although heavy siege guns spelled the end of the masonry fort era in coastal defense, the authors assert that the forts actually performed their primary role in delaying an enemy advance. Fort Sumter, of course, remained in Rebel hands even after the Yankee big guns had effectively destroyed it. Like the Germans at Monte Cassino, the Confederates dug into the ruins of the fort. Sumter's dedicated garrison held out until the end o the war.

This interesting little book also comes with a fortification glossary, (in English and Spanish) which identifies such obscure terms like "merlon" -- "the section of a parapet running between embrasures, usually 15 to 18 feet long." Learn all this stuff and impress your buddies the next time you visit a fort!

The other new title from Pioneer is Alejandro M. de Quesada Jr.'s The Men of Fort Foster: Enlisted Uniforms, Equipment and Artifacts of the United States Armed Forces, 1835-1842 (soft cover, $16.95).

Using archeological and historical sources, Quesada provides a detailed look at the arms, uniforms and equipment used at northeastern Florida's Fort Foster by regular and volunteer troops during the Seminole War era, a time when some senior Civil War commanders got their first taste of combat. The book is profusely illustrated with over 100 period pictures, photographs of surviving and excavated artifacts and weapons and uniformed living history participants who serve at the reconstructed fort. There has been little work done on the Seminole War period, and Quesada's book helps fill a historiographical gap.

Skilled amateur gunsmiths who just can't wait to get started on their winter musket building project will find all the bedding compounds, tools and other gadgets they need in Brownells' (200 South Front Street, Montezuma, Iowa 50171) brand new catalog #49. The Brownells folks have a lot of interesting products for non-gunsmiths as well, including excellent quality screwdrivers, pin punches and other hand tools, the use of which will eliminate the shame of buggered screws and broken wood around band spring holes on the reenactment or skirmish line next spring.

As I mentioned previously, my N-SSA unit, the 69th New York, was one of the outfits tasked with running the 1996 Fall Nationals. It was a lot of work, but Skirmish Director Wayne Shaw and the Mid- Atlantic outfits assigned to run the National did a fine job. It was a pleasure to work with all of them.

Most of our work, which included running the range during individual target shooting and scoring those targets, was done by Saturday morning, and I got a few hours off to wander around on both Saturday and Sunday. As I was wandering down Sutler's Row on Sunday, I chanced upon two men carrying beautiful Spencers, a rifle and a carbine. They turned out to be from L. Romano Rifle Company (551 Stewarts Corners Road, Pennellville, NY 13132 315-695-2066). Romano Rifle Works is the second company to begin building modern era Spencer repeaters and the second to have their rifles approved by the N-SSA Small Arms Committee.

The Romano guns, which feature Douglas Premium Grade barrels, actions machined from steel forgings and walnut stocks, come in two calibers, .56-50 center fire and .45 Long Colt. It should be noted that the .45 Long Colt chambering is not approved for N-SSA matches, but should appeal to reenactors in search of cheap blanks.

Romano also offers custom Spencer sporters, and restoration and rebarreling of original Spencers. The Romano Spencer carbine is priced at $1,950 and the rifle, $2,150.

Happy Holidays!

© 1996 by Joe Bilby

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