New Jerseyans can practically reach out and touch the Revolutionary War. The spirits of George Washington, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, and others can especially be felt in Princeton, Trenton, Bordentown, and elsewhere throughout this part of the state. Less is known, however, about New Jersey’s involvement in the Civil War.
“We hear so much about Revolutionary War history and rightly so, because so much of the war happened here,” says David Martin, a teacher at the Peddie School in Hightstown, as well as a Civil War historian and author. “But not much happened here in the Civil War; New Jersey was more of an industrial state. However, at Gettysburg, New Jersey furnished about 4,000 troops, one of the biggest groups in the battle, and the troops fought well.”
With this in mind, and to mark the Sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the battle, which occurred July 1 through 3, 1863, Martin will present the free lecture, “New Jersey at Gettysburg,” Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m., at the Roebling Museum in Roebling. Sponsored by the New Jersey Civil War 150th anniversary committee, the lecture will detail the role New Jersey played in this historic conflict, touching upon the 15 New Jersey units that fought at Gettysburg.
Later in June the Roebling Museum will unveil a new exhibit, “Steadfast Under Fire: Washington A. Roebling, Civil War Engineer,” opening Saturday, June 22, and running through December 31.
“The Roebling Company supplied wire rope to various locations throughout the war via request to superintendent Charles Swan from Washington Roebling,” says Patricia Millen, the museum’s executive director. “The exhibit will explore, among other things, the suspension bridges he made during the war. The wire was supplied by the Trenton facility of the John A Roebling’s Sons Company.”
In addition to the exhibit, and partnering with Camp Olden Civil War Roundtable of Hamilton, the lawns around the museum will host a living history encampment, Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23, from 11 a.m.to 4 p.m. each day. This encampment of Civil War re-enactors will showcase a soldier’s life on the battlefield.
Among its special historic attractions will include chief aeronaut for the Army of the Potomac, “Professor” Thaddeus Lowe (portrayed by Kevin Knapp) and his hydrogen balloon, explaining balloon surveillance during the Civil War. Other units in attendance will be the 6th New York Artillery, which will demonstrate cannon firing.
Many dignitaries portrayed by re-enactors will also attend, including Governor Charles Smith Olden (portrayed by Bruce Sirak, president of Camp Olden Civil War Roundtable) and General Gouverneur K. Warren (portrayed by Patrick Dunigan), Roebling’s commander during the war and future brother-in-law. A Civil War kid’s tent will feature Civil War signal flag making, and pontoon bridge building.
The Roundtable is a 20-year old nonprofit run by community members and is named after Camp Olden, which opened in 1861 as the first training camp set up for New Jersey soldiers during the Civil War. Named after the Princeton-born governor at the time, the camp was a training ground for the first nine regiments of the state’s troops.
The exhibit “Steadfast Under Fire” explores Washington Roebling’s movement through the war as an engineer and builder of military suspension bridges for the army, as well as his pivotal role on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge after the war, and a native of Trenton, also conducted balloon reconnaissance during the war (hence, the presence of a Civil War aeronaut at the encampment).
Explaining Roebling’s role at Gettysburg, David Martin says, “Roebling was a staff officer and one of the guys who saved the day, especially on the second day of the battle, when the key to the Union’s position was Little Round Top, which was being brutally attacked by the South.”
Roebling was one of the initial officers on Little Round Top. Observing signs of Confederate troops approaching, he reported to General Warren, and the two then descended the hill to find troops to secure this tactical position. Roebling assisted in hoisting artillery up the hill, while Warren sent two of his aides to gather infantry support. The two aides were able to secure a brigade from the Union V Corps, which immediately occupied the hill and defended the left flank of the Army of the Potomac against repeated Confederate attacks. At about the same time, Roebling was able to send the 140th New York Volunteers to the hill, providing much needed reinforcements.
These next few years will be heady times for Civil War aficionados, and 2013 is especially exciting because of the battle that occurred in the small southeastern Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, 150 years ago. Of the all the names associated with the Civil War, “Gettysburg” is the most recognized, Martin says. “Lincoln is second,” he says.
“During the lecture and slide show, we’ll discuss where each unit was and what they did, show their monument, and show their flags and whatnot,” Martin says. “There are many interesting stories about some of the groups, some of the actions people may not have heard about. Most of the information is in my latest book.”
He refers to “New Jersey at Gettysburg Guidebook,” published by the N.J. Civil War Heritage Association Sesquicentennial Committee ($15), available at the lecture. (Proceeds from sales benefit this all-volunteer committee.) Martin’s newest work is one of six different titles he has written and is a no-nonsense guide to the various units from the Garden State, with maps showing where they fought in the battle, where their monuments rest today, the senior officers involved, even descriptions of the burials in the New Jersey plot of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Even if people know New Jersey was in the Civil War, some don’t know which side our state was on. The southernmost county in the Garden State — Cape May County — is below the Mason-Dixon Line, and therefore some believe New Jersey was pro-Southern.
“However, South Jersey is also where the Quakers were, and they were pro-war, because they were anti-slavery,” Martin says. “The anti-war (contingent) would have been the Democrats up in Jersey City and Newark. Overall, New Jersey was a conservative state during the war. We provided more troops then we were asked for, and there is no question about our loyalty.”
Though New Jersey troops at Gettysburg may not be as celebrated in books and film as those from Pennsylvania and New York, the men fought gallantly, especially the 11th New Jersey Infantry, which “saw heavy action on the right wing of the III Corps and lost 11 of its 17 officers during the fighting along Emmitsburg Road on the afternoon of July 2,” Martin writes in his book. “Its total casualties at the battle amounted to well over half of its engaged strength, the highest numerical (153) and percentage (55.6 percent) loss of any New Jersey unit at Gettysburg.” Many of these troops were from Mercer and Middlesex counties, as well as northern New Jersey counties.
The 12th New Jersey Infantry, comprising troops from Burlington and Camden counties, as well as other southern and western counties in our state, played a significant role in repulsing the Confederate attack known as Pickett’s Charge, on the afternoon of July 3.
“It was one of the few regiments on the field armed solely with .69 caliber smoothbore muskets instead of the more common .577 and .58 rifled muskets that most infantry units carried,” Martin explains. “The smoothbore muskets had a shorter range but discharged a very effective ‘shotgun’ effect when fired with a ball and buckshot, a characteristic that would prove invaluable on the afternoon of July 3. This is why the 12th is sometimes known as the ‘buck and ball’ regiment, a fact that is commemorated on their monument.”
Born and raised in central Michigan, Martin has been curious about the Civil War as long as he can remember, perhaps because his great-grandfather, George Martin, fought in the war, with the 8th Michigan Battery. “However, he did not fight in the east: he fought in the west, at the battle of Vicksburg (Mississippi) for one, and fortunately, he survived,” says Martin, an East Windsor resident.
Martin’s father was a chemist and his mother was a homemaker. Both indulged his early interest in history and let him plan family trips to see various historic locales.
“I guess I took over when it came to family vacations,” he says. “We used to travel every summer for a week or two to historical places in the east, with our trips concentrated on the Civil War battles because of the centennial in 1961-1965. For example, I planned the trips to Pennsylvania and Virginia, where we saw Mount Vernon, etc. My mother also enjoyed history, and did the scrapbooks from our trips.”
Martin attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1971 with a B.A. in Ancient Greek. He then came to Princeton University, to earn an M.A. (1973) and PhD (1975) in classics.
Martin’s career at the Peddie School began in 1975, teaching Latin and history. He held the position of head of the language department and was the longtime director of Peddie’s summer school program. He also coached soccer and lacrosse. “I am now the senior teacher at Peddie,” Martin says. “I’m the oldest one there.”
Son Peter (P.J.) Martin attended the Peddie School and then Drew University, in Madison. “He used to teach, but is now starting up a sports clothing company, ‘Uncommon Fit,’” Martin says.
Speaking of the Peddie School, Martin notes that its namesake, Thomas Baldwin Peddie (1808-89), the Scottish-born manufacturer of leather goods, grew wealthy during the Civil War by making knapsacks for the Union Army. Peddie then turned to the public good and donated $25,000 to the then Hightstown Female Seminary. In 1872, the school took its current name in his honor.
As fascinated with military history as he is, Martin believes war “is an awful way to settle differences, and I don’t care for modern wars. I think that the Civil War was the last of the old wars but also the first of the modern wars,” he continues. “The Civil War had submarines, iron-clad warships, railroads, rifles, and artillery that had longer ranges. The country and military was heading toward modernism, so in many ways, it was a modern war.”
New Jersey at Gettysburg, Roebling Museum, 100 Second Avenue, Roebling. Lecture by Dr. David Martin of the Peddie School, Civil War historian, and author. Wednesday, June 12, 7:30 p.m. Free. Reservations are required to attend this free lecture.
Steadfast Under Fire: Washington A. Roebling, Civil War Engineer, Roebling Museum. Opens Saturday, June 22, and runs through Tuesday, December 31. A Civil War Living History Encampment Weekend will be held on the lawns surrounding the museum, Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23, 11 a.m. 4 p.m.
Registration is not required for visitors to see the encampment, and the grounds are open, free of charge. Regular admission applies to visit the museum: adults, $6; seniors and children 6-12, $5; free for members and children under 6. 609-499-7200 or www.roeblingmuseum.org.