Volunteers fight to preserve the history of the American Civil War

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

During a weekend drive through any New Jersey town, it’s hard not to notice one of the 2nd New Jersey Brigade’s living history events.

“It’s important to demonstrate and to go about teaching the public about the Civil War because it’s such a turbulent time in our history when we were against one another over the rights and freedoms of states and of people,” said 2nd New Jersey Brigade President Mike Milling.

The nonprofit’s members research historical figures by combing through both personal and government records.

“To give our own interpretation of, accurate mind you, a combination of both the records so this way you get a mish mosh, which is actually probably closer to real life,” said Milling.

The 2nd New Jersey Brigade is run by about 200 volunteers. They coordinate about 20 living history events each year and give presentations at schools and parks throughout New Jersey. They travel out of state for reenactments, as well. The organization is also dedicated to donating funds to civil war battlefield preservation.

A sergeant in the signal corps uses the wig-wag system.

“The wig-wag system is a process in which we wave a flag to the left and to the right and using binary codes — or 1s and 2s, lefts and rights — we can encrypt messages and send it through that way,” said Paul Egbert, a signal corps volunteer. “So our job was to find the highest, most visible position. If we couldn’t find one, we had to make one and we would get our messages off that way. If we were encroached upon by the enemy, we were instructed to run and to get out of there.”

Which sometimes led to injury, and that kept the field hospital busy. This hospital was stocked with supplies including plenty of tools and instruments needed for amputations.

“This was the beginning of what was called the minie round, and it was not very devastating to soldiers,” said Milling. “The minie round is shaped like modern day bullet, it’s the pointed front except it has a hollow back.”

“It would rip and shred muscle, tissue, and arteries and veins, so we basically had a man bleeding to death and that’s why the most common operation that we did was an amputation,” said Michelle Catona, field nurse volunteer.

For these volunteers, living history event like these aren’t just about educating people about the Civil War.

“Also about the ingenuity that was forged during this time and America’s perseverance to come together again,” Milling said.