Discover New Jersey’s Rich Military History Through Rare And Vintage Photos

New Jersey’s military history dates back centuries, to before New Jersey was even a state…before the United States ever existed. One of the first wars to be fought on Garden State soil was the French and Indian War. It was during this war, in 1758, that the Old Barracks were built in Trenton.

The barracks were meant to house British soldiers during winter months and they served that purpose until 1766. During the Revolutionary War, the barracks were used for a variety of purposes by both the British and the Colonists. In 1777, they served as an army hospital – the first hospital in the Western Hemisphere. The barracks still stand and now function as a museum in Trenton.

The Old Barracks are just the beginning of New Jersey’s military history. Our state has been called the Crossroads of the Revolution because it had a key geographical location at the center of the fledgling United States. Washington had headquarters across the state and, by the time the war was over, New Jersey saw 296 engagements (battles) – more clashes than occurred in any other colony.

New Jersey also has ties to the war of 1812. Over 6,000 New Jerseyans fought in the war, including three major figures – William Bainbridge of Princeton, Zebulon Montgomery Pike of Lamberton (whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named after), and Lt General Sir George Prevost of Hackensack. There were also several battles in Garden State waters.

When it comes to the Civil War, there were no battles fought in New Jersey, but nearly 80,000 soldiers from the state fought for the Union. New Jersey had a VITAL role in World War I – 75 percent of troops sent overseas were trained in the Garden State (at Camp Merritt, Cresskill, and Fort Dix). There was also a training center for women entering the Signal Corps. New Jersey was a target of German sabotage and the war officially ended in Raritan (now Bridgewater).

World War II brought over a million jobs to New Jersey, with The Curtiss-Wright Corporation in Paterson building 139,000 aircraft engines, more than any other firm in the country. Shipbuilders in Camden and Kearny built a quarter of all the destroyers used by the U.S. Navy, and the Bethlehem Steel and Todd Shipyards in Hoboken built thousands of ships. Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey provided the majority of bandages and surgical dressings for allied troops. Fort Dix served as a reception and training center for 1.3 million soldiers and Atlantic City hotels were taken over by the Army Air Corps.

191,000 New Jerseyans served in the Korean War and five New Jersey servicemen were awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Korea. 1,487 New Jerseyans died during the Vietnam War, most being men in their twenties. There was one female nurse from the Garden State (Eleanor Grace Alexander from River Vale) and one young man who had just turned 18 (Jeffrey Lynn Scheller from Rahway). Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. from Trenton led all coalition forces during the Gulf War.

Thousands more New Jerseyans served and lost their lives in the Middle East following 9/11. I’d like to honor them all this Memorial Day, along with every man and woman who fought for the United States, making the ultimate sacrifice. May they never be forgotten.

What I’ve offered here is just the briefest of summaries when it comes to New Jersey’s military history but you can learn a bit more by browsing the photos below.

We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/nominate/