Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Civil War gets real this weekend in Passaic County

Considering that no Civil War battle was fought in New Jersey, I've often found it difficult to relate to the conflict the way I do to the Revolutionary War. Battles for independence were fought not far from my grammar school, and I learned the names of local residents who participated, but I had no similar reference point for the War Between the States. That changed this weekend, when I discovered the stories of a handful of New Jerseyans who'd left Passaic County for the war, some never to return.

A treasure trove of locally-significant Civil War artifacts has been lurking in Paterson, deep within the archives of the Passaic County Historical Society at Lambert Castle. The donations of county residents whose ancestors fought in the War, they're available for view at the Castle over the next few days as part of the 150th anniversary of the war.

Honoring Passaic County's Civil War Veterans is a small but significant collection of uniforms, weaponry, documents, photos and artwork reflecting the four year conflict. Not only does it include battle gear, it features General Ulysses S. Grant's death mask and lapel ribbons marking the mourning period after President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Visitors with local roots can also review a roster of Passaic County residents who served in the war to see if their ancestors took part.

Most movingly from my perspective, many of the articles in the collection are traced directly back to a local resident who fought in the war. Battle becomes so much less abstract when you can relate it to someone who may have walked the exact Paterson streets you did earlier in the day. Looking at the uniforms arrayed in the exhibit, it's not hard to imagine a local soldier stopping by to pick up his jacket before going off to war. It led me to wonder what led them to enlist and their impressions of their experiences. Why, for example, was a Paterson grocer so moved by the cause that he sold his business and actively recruited scores of men to join him in battle? A reproduction broadside advertisement tells you some of Hugh Irish's motivation and practically shouts his patriotism... and you can read it for yourself at Lambert Castle.

The exhibit closes on Sunday October 2, and Civil War reenactors from the Second Rhode Island Volunteers will be camping on the castle grounds. Stop by and check it out!

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