The Civil War
In the 1860 election, Jerseyans split their electoral vote between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. There was no great enthusiasm for war in the state, but the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter ignited patriotic fervor. New Jersey sent the first full brigade of militia to defend Washington. By the end of the war the state had raised 37 regiments of infantry, 3 of cavalry and 5 batteries of artillery. New Jersey units included two “Zouave” regiments (33rd and 35th), with uniforms modeled on North African troops in French service like that of the 33rd New Jersey on display.
New Jersey claimed that 88,500 men served in the state’s name during the war, although the actual number seems to be closer to 73,000. Almost 3,000 black Jerseymen served in United States Colored Troops regiments. Those soldiers were a diverse lot, representing a state in the process of change from a rural, parochial past into an industrial, cosmopolitan future. Their motives for going to war were varied and many — patriotism, anger at the firing on Fort Sumter, a desire to abolish slavery, the excitement and change of going to war, the fact that they were unemployed and soldiering was a job.
New Jersey’s soldiers reflected the ethnic and religious mosaic that became the state’s future. Among them were native-born American Protestants, like Colonel Robert McAllister of the 11th New Jersey Infantry, and Jews, like Medal of Honor winner Colonel George W. Mindil of the 33rd New Jersey Infantry. And then there were Irishmen, like Captain James B. Turner, a Jersey militiaman who joined the famed Irish Brigade and was killed in action in the Wilderness. There were Italians, like musician Alexander Vandoni of the 27th New Jersey Infantry, and there were Poles, like Colonel Joseph Karge. There were Germans, like Captain William Hexamer of Battery A, 1st NJ Arty, and there were African American men, like First Sergeant William F. Robinson of the 22nd United States Colored Infantry, who was commended by his captain as “especially distinguished for gallant conduct.”
New Jerseyans fought in all of the Civil War’s major campaigns, distinguishing themselves in numerous battles, and their sacrifice assured the survival of a united and free country – not a country without faults, not a country without problems, but a country with infinite possibilities — possibilities that have carried us into the 21st century. For this we owe a debt of gratitude to these long dead men of the 19th century.