Battle of New Market

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Battle of New Market
Part of the American Civil War
Cadets at New Market.jpg
"Cadets at New Market"
DateMay 15, 1864 (1864-05-15)
Result Confederate victory
Flag of the United States (1863-1865).svg United States Flag of the Confederate States of America (1863-1865).svg Confederate States
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 fought on May 15, 1864, in Virginia during the Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. A makeshift Confederate army of 4,100 men, which included cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), defeated Union Major General Franz Sigel and his Army of the Shenandoah. The cadets were integral to the Confederate victory at New Market.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" due to its status as the first English colonial possession established in mainland North America and "Mother of Presidents" because eight U.S. presidents were born there, more than any other state. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

The Valley Campaigns of 1864 were American Civil War operations and battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia from May to October 1864. While some military historians divide this period into three separate campaigns, they interacted in several ways, so this article considers all three together.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. Primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people, war broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.


As a result of this defeat Sigel was relieved of his command and replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter.

David Hunter Union Army general

David Hunter was a Union general during the American Civil War. He achieved fame by his unauthorized 1862 order emancipating slaves in three Southern states, for his leadership of United States troops during the Valley Campaigns of 1864, and as the president of the military commission trying the conspirators involved with the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.


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.

Ulysses S. Grant 18th president of the United States

Ulysses S. Grant was an American soldier, politician, and international statesman, who served as the 18th president of the United States from 1869 to 1877. During the American Civil War Grant led the Union Army as its commanding general to victory over the Confederacy with the supervision of President Abraham Lincoln. During the Reconstruction Era, President Grant led the Republicans in their efforts to remove the vestiges of Confederate nationalism, racism, and slavery.

Confederate States of America (de facto) federal republic in North America from 1861 to 1865

The Confederate States of America, commonly referred to as the Confederacy, was an unrecognized country in North America that existed from 1861 to 1865. The Confederacy was originally formed by seven secessionist slave-holding states—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—in the Lower South region of the United States, whose economy was heavily dependent upon agriculture, particularly cotton, and a plantation system that relied upon the labor of African-American slaves.

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

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]

George Crook United States Army general during American Civil War and Indian Wars

George R. Crook was a career United States Army officer, most noted for his distinguished service during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars. During the 1880s, the Apache nicknamed Crook Nantan Lupan, which means "Chief Wolf."

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 General Gabriel C. Wharton, a cavalry brigade commanded by General 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 Shipp and a two-gun artillery section. Breckinridge concentrated his infantry at Staunton, while Imboden slowed Sigel's movement southward along the Valley. [6]

John C. Breckinridge Confederate Army general and Vice President of the United States

John Cabell Breckinridge was an American lawyer, politician, and soldier. He represented Kentucky in both houses of Congress and became the 14th and youngest-ever vice president of the United States, serving from 1857 to 1861. He was a member of the Democratic party. He served in the U.S. Senate during the outbreak of the American Civil War, but was expelled after joining the Confederate Army. He was appointed Confederate secretary of war in 1865.

Gabriel C. Wharton Confederate Army general American soldier & engineer

Gabriel Colvin Wharton was an American civil engineer and soldier who served as a general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. After the war he was a politician and later resumed his engineering work.

John D. Imboden Confederate Brigadier General

John Daniel Imboden, American lawyer, Virginia state legislator and a Confederate army general. During the American Civil War, he commanded an irregular cavalry force. After the war, he resumed practicing law, became a writer, and was active in land development founding the town of Damascus, Virginia.

On the morning of May 13, Breckinridge 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 Breckinridge was at Lacey Spring eight miles south of New Market. The Confederates started toward the Union positions at 1 a.m. on May 15, hoping to trap and crush the Union army. [7]

Opposing forces




Battle of New Market
Union New Market.svg
Battle of New Market
"Field of Lost Shoes" on the New Market Battlefield Field of Lost Shoes.jpg
"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 Fork of the Shenandoah River; Colonel Augustus Moor 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's brigade on the right along the Pike; Echols was ill that morning, so his brigade was commanded by Colonel George S. Patton, Sr. 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 Moor refused to move from his position. About 11 a.m., Breckinridge decided to launch an attack on Moor using his infantry, while Imboden's brigade crossed Smith's Creek east of New Market, rode north, and recrossed the stream behind the Union lines. Union cavalry General Stahel arrived at New Market at this time with additional troops, followed shortly afterwards by Union General Sigel. [9]

Breckinridge launched his infantry attack near noon, slowly pushing Moor's infantry brigade off Manor's Hill and northward toward 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, Shipp 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 by heavy fire from Confederate artillery, while three infantry regiments attacked on the Union right and were repulsed as well. [11] The main cause of the failure of the infantry attacks was confusion within the ranks of the Union commanders; Sigel was noted to be shouting orders in his native language of German.

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, Confederate cavalry General Imboden arrived with his brigade with the news that the creek was too swollen to be crossed. Union General 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 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 Gravestone of VMI Cadet ta New Market Battlefield.jpg
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, including 10 cadets; 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 General 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]

The victory failed to stop the Union offensive however. After assuming command of the Army of the Shenandoah Hunter resumed the march southwest and defeated a Confederate force under Brig. Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones at the Battle of Piedmont on June 5, occupying Staunton the following day.

VMI casualties

Forty-seven VMI cadets were wounded in the battle (around 23%). [18] The following ten cadets were killed outright or mortally wounded:

Cadet HometownRank and Companynotes
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 VMI.

‣ Promoted to Cadet Third Sergeant, Company C on June 27, 1864, but never served

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)
Wythe County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company D
Killed in action. Reinterred at VMI 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.

‣ Listed under Company B on the monument

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)
Amelia County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company B
Died three days after the battle in a nearby private home. Buried at VMI.
Henry Jenner Jones
Class of 1867 (Freshman)
King William County, Virginia Cadet Private
Company D
Killed in action. Buried at VMI.
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 VMI.
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 VMI.
The Virginia Civil War Museum and New Market Battlefield State Historical Park where the recreation of the charge takes place Virginia Museum of the Civil War.jpg
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. It was sculpted by Cavaliere Moses Ritter von 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 conducted 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

Battlefield preservation

The battlefield is primarily preserved in the 300-acre New Market Battlefield State Historical Park. In addition, the Civil War Trust (a division of the American Battlefield Trust) and its partners have acquired and preserved 20 acres (0.081 km2) of the battlefield. [20]

Sean McNamara's 2014 film, Field of Lost Shoes , is a fictionalized account of the actions performed by the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute during the battle. The movie follows a group of seven cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, based on real characters.

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  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.
  20. American Battlefield Trust "Saved Land" webpage. Accessed May 29, 2018.


Further reading

Coordinates: 38°39′19″N78°40′42″W / 38.65515°N 78.67825°W / 38.65515; -78.67825