Bruce Altshuler Passes, NJ Civil War Museum

I must, unfortunately, begin yet another column on yet another sad note. Bruce Cameron Altshuler, founder of the North-South Skirmish Association's 79th New York Infantry, Cameron Highlanders, passed away in April. Bruce, who shot in recent years with the Lancaster Fencibles, was one of the N-SSA's premier characters, whose bagpipe serenades long made Saturday nights at the Nationals a festive occasion.

Bruce founded the 79th, a longtime N-SSA unit which, unfortunately, passed out of existance itself a few years back, in time for the Civil War Centennial, and, like many older skirmishers, was a participant in the hundredth anniversary reenactment of Bull Run. Black powder shooters around the world will recognize him as the skirmisher in glengarry cap demonstrating how to load a rifle musket in successive editions of the Lyman company's manuals.

Bruce was also the only member of the North-South Skirmish Association ever to be featured as a comic book character! He served as the model, right down to first name, of a Scottish sergeant in an early 1960s war comic. A student of the nineteenth century British army and ethnic regiments in the American Civil War as well as a shooter and a piper, Bruce Cameron Altshuler was a memorable individual among the ranks of an organization which has more than its share of such people. He will be sorely missed.

Those of you with an interest in really BIG Civil War guns will want to visit the New Jersey Civil War and Native American Museum. The Museum, sponsored by the Camp Olden Civil War Round Table, opened in May, 1996 and is New Jersey's first Civil War museum. It features an outstanding display on the "Swamp Angel," a 200 pounder Parrott gun used to bombard Charleston during the Civil War. The display is highlighted by Stewart Foulkes' large detailed diorama of the Swamp Angel in action at its "Marsh Battery."

Foulkes' work is supplemented by a textual and pictorial history of the celebrated gun's epic journey from a New York foundry to a laboriously prepared position on a quaky marsh foundation near Charleston, its controversial bombardment of the city, eventual breech explosion and the journey which led it to a scrap metal boat sailing up the Delaware River and New Jersey Adjutant General William Stryker's timely intervention to save it for posterity.

Stryker, who had served on the staff of Major General Quincy Gillmore during the siege of Charleston, identified the historically significant gun, saved it from melting in a Trenton foundry and had it mounted in downtown Trenton. Since that time, the Swamp Angel has traveled around Trenton, surviving several attempts by a historically ignorant former mayor to give it away, before finally arriving at its current resting place in Cadwallader Park. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter Camp Olden Civil War Round Table president and Swamp Angel expert Vincent Mercandetti on the premises, you should be able to cajole him into relating the fascinating history of the big gun, a tale well worth listening to.

The New Jersey museum is more than just a tribute to the Swamp Angel, however, and has a small but growing Civil War memorabilia collection, including a complete original cavalryman's uniform in good enough condition to wear to a reenactment, a flag which flew over the town of Cranbury during the Civil War and the last surviving Cranbury "Union Forever" wooden shield, a large number of which lined the town's streets during the war. The flag, shield and a photograph of First Lieutenant Marcus Stults of the 14th New Jersey Infantry's Company H, a Cranbury lad who was killed at Cold Harbor, are on loan from the Stults family and the Cranbury Historical society.

The museum's holdings also include some exotic artillery projectiles, including a U. S. 3.8 inch caliber tie-ring base James shell, one of only three known to still exist, a Confederate Read shell fired at Chancellorsville and a Swamp Angel round.

A basic firearms collections includes, as might be expected, a "Trenton" marked Model 1861 rifle musket. Also on display are an original knapsack, pocket change fused together by heat and found by a relic hunter in the area of the Wilderness battle during the early 1960s, musical instruments and other articles of Civil War material culture. New exhibits on the role of African Americans and women in the Civil War will be unveiled in the summer of 1997, and future plans include a research library and computer access to Civil War genealogy information..

As befitting an institution with its roots in American Indian archeology, the museum also has an outstanding collection of local Native American artifacts, including paint pots, pipes, fishing sinkers, projectile points, and even a canoe anchor. The museum's Native American artifacts collection is considered the best outside the New Jersey State Museum, which has loaned a piece of ancient pottery to enhance the display.

Housed in a 1730 farmhouse located in Hamilton Township Veterans' park, Hamilton, NJ, the New Jersey Civil War and Native American Museum, a member organization of the League of Historical Societies of New Jersey, is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5:00 PM and is easily accessible. Take Interstate Rte. 195 west to Hamilton Square Exit (3B). At the first traffic light, make a left turn onto Kuser Rd. The park entrance is one mile on the right and the museum is just inside the park entrance.

Curator Robert Butera (an old skirmisher who used to shoot with Forney's Marine Battalion) and other volunteers stand by to provide personal tours and interpretations of the museum collection. Admission is free, but donations are accepted and appreciated.

Brownell's Inc., the famous gunsmith supply house, has recently been granted an exclusive license to manufacture and maket J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound. J-B, an extremely fine abrasive paste developed in the early 1960s to help modern high-power rifle shooters clean copper bullet jacket fouling out of their gun barrels, is unique, in that it has additives which help cushion the abrasive action and lets the soft past liquify as it is used. Because of this, the abrasive will not stick in the bore's "pores" and continue to cut after cleaning.

J-B Compound has black powder firearm applications as well. I have used it to gently scrub out hardened old fouling in antique guns, restoring their bores to useable condition. It is also effective in removing the leading which occasionally occurs with the use of soft bullets which are not lubricated as well as they should be.

J-B Compound is available at many local gun dealers for $5.95 a jar or, for the same price plus shipping, directly from Brownells (200 S. Front St., Montezuma, IA 50171. Phone 515-623-5401, FAX 515-623-3896

My Australian friend, dentist Dick Stein, who has more hobbies and avocations than I can keep track of, is currently, along with shooting muzzle loaders, reenacting, train collecting and modern photography, traveling around the outback of Oz as a frontier photographer, capturing images of black powder shooters and reenactors with period camera equipment. Dick wishes to correspond with anyone who is into ninteenth century photography and processing to "compare notes and ideas with some of the US chaps." If you can help him out, please do so, otherwise he threatens to expose my true character and foibles to assorted Diggers and marsupials. Dick can be reached at 54 Eighth avenue, Maylands 6051, West Australia. His online address is

© 1997 by Joe Bilby

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