HARTFORD -- One hundred and fifty years after Confederate batteries barraged Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Civil War re-enactors Tuesday fired an artillery salute to begin four years of commemorations.

The 20-minute exercise in the state Capitol's north driveway sent loud reports and the blue smoke from spent gunpowder into Bushnell Park as hundreds of spectators cheered.

For Kevin Burke, 49, of Newington, it was a chance to dress up in his exact copy of the red-trimmed gray coats worn by Morton's Battery of Manchester, a group which served in the 3rd Connecticut Horse Artillery throughout the "War Between the States."

Burke was standing next to a mountain howitzer, one of seven working copies of various artillery pieces gathered to mark the sesquicentennial of the beginning volleys of the Civil War.

Farther down the line, Joe Marchetti, a 64-year-old structural engineer from Cornwall, wore the blue uniform of the First Connecticut Light Artillery. Marchetti stood next to a 10-pound Parrott cannon, the state-of-the-art, rifled weapon for that period that had a range of 5,000 yards. He leaned against the tall rammer and sponge used first to load, then clean the weapon.

"It was very common during a hot engagement where they couldn't sponge, that a rammer would lose his arms," Marchetti said.

One battery failed to go off during one volley, but the crew later set off the charge without incident.

Matt Warshauer, an author and Central Connecticut State University history professor who is co-chairman of the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission, said just prior to the event that the Capitol is steeped in history and that is why it is a fitting place to begin the four-year remembrance of the "War of Rebellion."

"At 4:30 this morning, the moment that southern guns opened fire on Fort Sumter, the people of South Carolina began their own remembrance of this day's historic events," he said.

"They fired their cannons at 7 a.m. this morning, the time when Maj. Robert Anderson, the union commander of the fort, actually returned fire on the South."

"It should not be missed that as we begin the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, our government is on the verge of shutdown, with partisan strife at a fever pitch and distinct efforts to turn us toward what divides," Warshauer said.

"Let us, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, dream of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who cued the re-enactment by shouting "Gentleman, man your guns," said that Connecticut's role in the war was crucial to the Union victory.

Fifty-five thousand men, 12 percent of Connecticut's population then of 461,000, served in the conflict. "Connecticut's factories supplied much of the necessary tools of the war, from munitions to clothing to rubberized tents to keep the rain out," said Malloy.

Malloy said he looked forward to remembering and commemorating the conflict over the next four years.

"That which divided us at this very moment 150 years ago has been put aside, and perhaps the final battle of civil rights having begun 50 years ago, we can honestly say we have made dramatic progress," Malloy said.

"Let no one divide us. Let us come together as we mark this 150th anniversary of the beginning of perhaps America's greatest war."