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Battle of New Market
Part of the American Civil War
DateMay 15, 1864 (1864-05-15)
LocationShenandoah County, Virginia
Result Confederate victory
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Franz Sigel John C. Breckinridge
6,275[1] 4,087[2]
Casualties and losses
841[3] 531[4]

The Battle of New Market was a battle fought on May 15, 1864, in Virginia during Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. A small Confederate army, which included cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (V.M.I.), forced Union Major General Franz Sigel and his army out of the Shenandoah Valley.


In the spring of 1864, Union commander in chief Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant set in motion a grand strategy designed to press the Confederacy into submission. Control of the strategically important and agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley was a key element in Grant's plans. While he confronted General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the eastern part of the state, Grant ordered Major General Franz Sigel's army of 10,000 to secure the Valley and threaten Lee's flank, starting the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Sigel was to advance on Staunton, Virginia in order to link up with another Union column commanded by George Crook, which would advance from West Virginia and destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad and other Confederate industries in the area. Sigel's force totaled about 9,000 men and 28 cannons, divided into an infantry division commanded by Brig. Gen. Jeremiah C. Sullivan and a cavalry division commanded by Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel (detachments made during the campaign reduced the Union force to about 6,300 by the time of the battle).[5]

Receiving word that the Union Army had entered the Valley, Major General John C. Breckinridge pulled together all available forces to repulse the latest threat. His command consisted of two infantry brigades under John C. Echols and Gabriel C. Wharton, a cavalry brigade commanded by John D. Imboden, and other independent commands. This included the cadet corps of VMI, which had an infantry battalion of 247 cadets commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Scott Ship and a two gun artillery section. Breckinridge concentrated his infantry at Staunton, while Imboden slowed Sigel's movement southward along the Valley.[6] On the morning of May 13, Breckingridge decided to move north to attack Sigel instead of waiting for Sigel to reach Staunton. By the evening of May 14, Sigel's advance forces had reached a position north of the village of New Market, while Breckingridge was at Lacy's Springs eight miles south of New Market. The Confederates started towards the Union positions at 1 a.m. on May 15, hoping to trap and crush the Union army.[7]


Battle of New Market


"Field of Lost Shoes" on the New Market Battlefield.

The two forces made contact south of New Market about mid-morning, with the main Union line west of the town near the North Forth of the Shenandoah River; Colonel Augustus Moore initially commanded the Union forces present on the battlefield at this time, which consisted of his infantry brigade and part of John E. Wynkoop's cavalry brigade. Additional Union regiments arrived throughout the morning and deployed between the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Valley Turnpike, with the main line centered on Manor's Hill. Breckinridge deployed Wharton's brigade on the Confederate left west of the Valley Turnpike and Echols' brigade on the right along the Pike; Echols was ill that morning, so his brigade was commanded by Colonel George S. Patton. The VMI cadets battalion was kept in reserve, while Imboden's cavalry was east of the turnpike.[8] Breckinridge attempted to lure the Federals into attacking him using cavalry and artillery but Moore refused to move from his position. About 11 a.m., Breckinridge then decided to launch an attack on Moore using his infantry, while Imboden's brigade crossed Smith's Creek east of New Market, ride north, and recross the stream behind the Union lines. Stahel arrived at New Market at this time with additional troops, followed shortly afterwards by Sigel.[9]

Breckinridge launched his infantry attack near noon, slowly pushing Moore's infantry brigade off of Manor's Hill and northward towards the rest of Sigel's army, which was deploying on a hill north of Jacob Bushong's farm known as Bushong's Hill. Once past the town of New Market, the Confederates halted to dress ranks, shift units along the line, and reposition their artillery units. Breckinridge resumed his attack about 2 p.m.[10] As the Confederate line formed near the Bushong farm, massed Union rifle and artillery fire disorganized the Confederate units in the center, forcing the right wing of the 51st Virginia Infantry and the 30th Virginia Infantry Battalion to retreat in confusion, while the rest of the Confederate line stalled. Breckinridge reluctantly ordered the VMI cadet battalion to fill the gap; while the battalion was moving forward to the Bushong orchard, Ship was wounded and was replaced by Captain Henry A. Wise. At this time, Sigel launched two counterattacks. On the Union left, Stahel launched a mounted charge with the cavalry but was routed, while three infantry regiments attacked on the Union right and were repulsed as well.[11]

After the repulses of the Union attacks, Breckinridge started his advance again shortly after 3 p.m. with his infantry force; while crossing a field near Bushong's orchard, several VMI cadets lost their shoes in the mud, which led to the field being called the "Field of Lost Shoes". As the Confederate line got closer to the Union artillery, Sigel's batteries were forced to retreat as the infantry started breaking towards the rear. Five cannons were abandoned to the Confederates, one of which was captured by the VMI cadet battalion. Battery B of the 5th U.S. Artillery, which had just arrived on the field, and two infantry regiments slowed the Confederate pursuit.[12] At this time, Breckinridge halted his forces until the supply trains arrived to resupply the troops. While the infantry was being resupplied, Imboden arrived with his brigade with the news that the creek was too swollen to be crossed. Sullivan arrived during this time with the 28th and 116th Ohio Infantry; Sigel managed to organize a rearguard on Rude's Hill, with Sullivan's infantry east of the turnpike, some of Stahel's cavalry west of the road, and the artillery behind the line. Due to the exhaustion of the men and low ammunition, Sigel decided to retreat back across the Shenandoah River to Mount Jackson. The Union army managed to cross the river and burn the bridge before the Confederates could catch up.[13]


The grave of Joseph Christopher Wheelwright at the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park

Union casualties totaled 841 for the battle: 96 killed, 520 wounded, and 225 captured or missing, a casualty rate of 13.4%. The Confederates lost 43 killed, 474 wounded, and 3 missing, 13% of the army. The wounded from the battle were cared for in Bushong's barn and in the town at the Smith Creek Baptist church and a warehouse, while the dead were buried in the graveyard of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church.[14] Sigel staged a rapid retreat northward to Strasburg, leaving the field and the Valley to Breckinridge's army. After learning of the Union defeat, Grant became furious and replaced Sigel with David Hunter; Sigel was assigned to command the department's reserve division based in Harpers Ferry.[15] Sergeant James Burns of the 1st West Virginia Infantry received the Medal of Honor in 1896 for saving the regimental flag in the battle.[16]

The Confederate victory allowed the local crops to be harvested for Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and protected Lee's lines of communications to western Virginia. The Virginia newspapers and the Confederate soldiers in the battle compared Breckinridge to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Following Sigel's retreat, Lee suggested that Breckinridge follow the Union army and invade Maryland; however, the flooded rivers in the northern Shenandoah Valley and the length of his supply line prevented Breckinridge from making a pursuit. Breckinridge's forces were transferred to eastern Virginia, where they reinforced Lee's army at the Battle of Cold Harbor.[17]

VMI casualties

Forty-seven V.M.I. cadets were wounded in the battle.[18] The following ten cadets were killed outright or mortally wounded:

Cadet [1] Hometown Rank and Company notes
Samuel Francis Atwill
Class of 1866 (Sophomore)
Atwillton, Virginia Cadet Corporal
Company A
Died on July 20 at the home of Dr. Stribling in Staunton. Buried at V.M.I.
William Henry Cabell
Class of 1865 (Junior)
Richmond, Virginia Cadet First Sergeant
Company D
Killed in action. Buried at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond
Charles Gay Crockett
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
Virginia Cadet Private
Company D
Killed in action. Buried at V.M.I. in 1960.
Alva Curtis Hartsfield
Class of 1866 (Sophomore)
Wake County, North Carolina Cadet Private
Company D
Died on June 26 in a Petersburg hospital. Buried in an unmarked grave in Blandford Church Cemetery, Petersburg.
Luther Cary Haynes
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
Essex County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company B
Died on June 15 at the old Powhatan Hotel Hospital, Richmond. Buried at his family home “Sunny Side”.
Thomas Garland Jefferson
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
(a descendant of Thomas Jefferson)
Amelia County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company B
Died three days after the battle in a nearby private home. Buried at V.M.I.
Henry Jenner Jones
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
King William County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company D
Killed in action. Buried at V.M.I.
William Hugh McDowell
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
(The Ghost Cadet by Elaine Marie Alphin)
Beattie's Ford, North Carolina Cadet Private
Company B
Killed in action. Buried at V.M.I.
Jaqueline Beverly Stanard
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
Orange, Virginia Cadet Private
Company B
Killed in action. Buried in Orange, Virginia.
Joseph Christopher Wheelwright
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
Westmoreland County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company C
Died on June 2 at the home of a doctor in Harrisonburg. Buried at V.M.I.

The Virginia Civil War Museum and New Market Battlefield State Historical Park where the recreation of the charge takes place.

The New Market Day ceremony is an annual observance held at VMI in front of the monument Virginia Mourning Her Dead, a memorial to the New Market Corps, sculpted by Sir Moses Ezekiel, VMI Class of 1866, who was a veteran of the battle. The names of all of the cadets in the Corps of 1864 are inscribed on the monument, and six of the ten cadets who died in the battle are buried at this site. The ceremony features the roll call of the names of the cadets who lost their lives at New Market, a custom that began in 1887. As the name of each cadet who died is called, a representative from the same company in the modern Corps answers, "Died on the Field of Honor, Sir." A 3-volley salute is then carried out by a cadet honor guard, followed by Taps played over the parade ground. To culminate this ceremony, the entire Corps passes Virginia Mourning Her Dead in review.[19]

See also


  1. Davis, p. 190.
  2. Davis, p. 192.
  3. Davis, p. 195.
  4. Davis, p. 196.
  5. Davis, pp. 18–20, 24.
  6. Knight, pp. 77, 246–248.
  7. Knight, p. 89, 100, 117.
  8. Knight, pp. 118, 121–124.
  9. Davis, p. 80–83, 87–88; Knight, pp. 129–180..
  10. Knight, p. 136, 141–142; Davis, p. 102–103.
  11. Davis, pp. 114–1120, 124–126, 128–130.
  12. Davis, pp. 130–146.
  13. Davis, pp. 146–152.
  14. Davis, pp. 158–159, 194, 196.
  15. Davis, pp. 157, 164–166.
  16. Knight, p. 203.
  17. Davis, pp. 179–184.
  18. Knight, p. 246.
  19. Davis, pp. 174–176.


Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 38°39′19″N 78°40′42″W / 38.65515°N 78.67825°W / 38.65515; -78.67825

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