As part of our series with Civil War News, ECW is pleased to welcome Joe Bilby.
I write a column about firearms for the Civil War News and have been doing so since the early days of the publication. At that time, I was an active North-South Skirmish Association shooter, but my interest in Civil War era small arms, their history, their use in the conflict and in modern shooting, both for sport and research, dates back many years.
Born in 1943, with a father drafted two months later, I grew up in the 1950s in a generation immersed in a culture of military service. I lived in Newark, New Jersey, and, with my childhood friend, used to take a bus to New York City to browse the famed Bannerman’s militaria store on Broadway, where you could buy a Civil War percussion cap box for forty cents.
By the time I got to high school, the Civil War Centennial was approaching, and I was beginning to see myself as a writer. In college at Seton Hall University I majored in history, joined the ROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant when I graduated in 1965. That was not a good year to graduate and the following year I found myself in the Military Police Company of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. I served as a convoy escort commander and as an 81mm mortar platoon leader. When I returned to the United States I served as executive officer for the 532nd MP Company at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
After a few years teaching high school history, I worked for the state of New Jersey for almost thirty years before retiring as Supervising Investigator for the state Department of Labor. Along the way I acquired a history MA and began to write articles and books on military history, primarily the Civil War, as well as New Jersey history, along with outdoor subjects like hunting and fishing. At present I have twenty-one books in print and am also part-time assistant curator of the National Guard Militia Museum of NJ. Several of my books have dealt with Civil War weapons, including Civil War Firearms, Small Arms at Gettysburg and A Revolution in Arms: A History of The Spencer and Henry Rifle
I was the 2011 recipient of the Jane G. Clayton Award, presented by Monmouth County, New Jersey to an individual who has made significant contributions to an awareness, understanding, and/or preservation of the history of Monmouth County, New Jersey. New Jersey Goes to War, which I edited, was named the “Best New Jersey Reference Book” for 2010 by the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance. I was the recipient of a 2011 New Jersey Historical Commission Award of Merit for work on the state’s military history. In 2013 I was awarded the New Jersey Civilian Meritorious Service Medal by the state’s Division of Military and Veterans Affairs. In November 2018 I received the Richard J. Hughes Prize from the New Jersey Historical Commission for lifelong contributions to the study of New Jersey history.
I try to span several areas of interest with my column, including the historical development and use of small arms during the Civil War, technical as well as tactical, little known aspects of ammunition development, both paper and metallic cartridge, the history of firearms use by reenactors and historical interpreters over the years since living history became a mainstream event, and modern shooting tests of historic and reproduction small arms as well as N-SSA history and events. Although I am no longer an active shooter, I have friends with an intense interest and expertise in shooting and firearms history who provide me with an information network, and I consult with them regularly.