The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley

Battle of New Market

May 15, 1864 part of the Lynchburg Campaign

General Location: The battlefield actually begins just south of Rude's Hill and runs South along Route US 11 to the vicinity of town of New Market. The main area of interpretation is located near intersection of I-81 and rte. 211 and in the battlefield park. In the Park, the Virginia Military Institute has an excellent museum and several original buildings from the Bushong Farm which was a focal point during the battle. Battle lines extended from Shenandoah on west to Smith Creek on east. Action extended from Shirley's Hill in the south to Rude's Hill in the north

Forces Engaged and Casualties Suffered

Principal Commanders: [c] Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge; [u] Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel

Confederate forces consisted of two infantry brigades (Echols and Wharton), the VMI cadet battalion, Imboden's cavalry brigade, and several artillery batteries, totaling about 5,300 men. A little over 4,000 of these troops were engaged in combat at some point during the conflict. Confederate losses were about 553 men: 63 killed, 480 wounded, and 10 missing. Official records place the number killed at 50 but analysis of unit records and cemeteries in the area identified an additional 13 men not previously counted.  Many of the Confederate dead were interred in the  
The Union forces were composed of one infantry division under Sullivan (two brigades: Moor and Thoburn), one cavalry division under Stahel (two brigades: Tibbits and Wynkoop), and five batteries of artillery, totaling 8,940 of which 6,275 were engaged. the Federals suffered 841 casualties of which 96 were killed, 520 wounded and about 225 missing or captured.

Significance of the Battle 

As part of his 1864 spring offensive, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel to advance south along the Valley Pike to destroy the railroad at Staunton and then to move on the rail complex at Lynchburg. Although outnumbered, Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, former senator and vice president of the US, was able to concentrate scattered Confederate forces to meet Sigel's army near New Market. Sigel was decisively defeated on 15 May 1864, and the Valley remained in Confederate hands until Maj. Gen. David Hunter renewed the US offensive on 26 May. The battle of New Market is noted for the participation of a battalion of VMI cadets, who distinguished themselves in combat beside veteran troops.

Description of the Battle

Cavalry Actions: As with many Civil War battles the Battle of New Market began with a clash of opposing cavalry.On 14 May 1864, Union cavalry under Quinn (mainly 1st NY Cavalry Lincoln) advanced south on the Valley Pike from Mount. Jackson, driving Imboden's 18th Virginia cavalry across Meem's Bottom and beyond Rude's Hill, where defense stiffened. Reinforced by a brigade of infantry under Moor, and Wynkoop's cavalry brigade, The Federals again advanced and Imboden withdrew to New Market.

The Confederate cavalry consisting of one battery of artillery, the 18th Virginia and the 23rd Virginia cavalry and the 62th Mounted Virginia Infantry, dismounted and fought on foot establishing a thin line south of New Market between Shirley's Hill to Smith Creek. The Union forces continued to advance, launching two attacks, both of which were repulsed. After dark, Imboden withdrew farther to the south, after successfully retarding Sigel's advance.

The Crack of Artillery in the Night:

After midnight, Breckinridge brought most of his command north along the Valley Pike from near Lacey Spring. By 6 a.m., 15 May, Breckinridge reached the Shenandoah County line. He halted near here to reconnoiter and about 8 a.m. hours sent his cavalry and artillery forward to harass the Union force under Col. Moor in New Market. Confederate artillery unlimbered and fired from from the heights of Shirley's Hill. Moor established his line along the old River Road with artillery on Manor's Hill and in Saint Matthews (currently the Lutheran) cemetery. The rest of Sigel's infantry was spread out along the pike as far north as Edinburg. Brig. Gen. Julius Stahel arrived about 8:30 a.m. and ordered Moor to withdraw some of his troops to Bushong's Hill. While Breckinridge waited on the rest of his infantry to reach the field, Union guns in the cemetery and Confederate guns on Shirley's Hill exchanged fire.

Map of the Battle of New Market prepared by the Civil War Preservation Trust.  Join and help support endangered battlefields

CWPT may of the Battle of New Market

US Deployment and Initial Confederate Attacks:

About 11 a.m., Sigel finally arrived on the battlefield and established temporary headquarters at the Rice House. After reviewing Moor's dispositions he ordered his line withdrawn to a stronger position on Bushong's Hill, stretching between a bend in the North Fork and Smith's Creek. Sigel brought up 14 guns to support his position, leaving DuPont's battery at Rude's Hill awaiting orders. He placed cavalry on his left flank between the Valley Pike and Smith's Creek. Breckinridge deployed on both sides of the Pike and advanced his infantry in force, driving back US skirmishers. Imboden crossed Smith's Creek with his cavalry and attempted to out-flank Sigel by moving north along the east bank. By 12:30, Sigel had withdrawn entirely from the town of New Market. The 18th CT and 123th OH Infantry Regiments resisted the Southern advance on Manor's Hill before joining the main battle line at Bushong's.

The Struggle for Bushong's Hill:

About 1400 hours, Breckinridge launched an all-out assault against the Union position on Bushong's Hill, using the 26th VA, 30th VA, 51th VA, and 62nd VA mounted infantry. The 62nd Virginia, although normally a mounted unit, fought on foot this day and suffered more than 50 percent casualties. When the Rebel attack stalled under heavy small arms and artillery fire, the VMI battalion was ordered to fill the gap in the line near the Bushong House. About 2:30, the General Stahel's Union cavalry attacked straight up the Valley Pike, riding directly into massed artillery which Breckinridge had shifted east from Shirley's Hill. Stahel was repulsed with heavy casualties. Soon after the failure of the cavalry charge, Sigel directed a confused infantry attack, which was soon repulsed. 

Confederate sharpshooters  from Woodson's Missouri boys and the 62nd mounted Infantry began picking off Union gunners on Bushong's Hill north of the farm, so Sigel ordered the batteries withdrawn. Limbers were brought forward but hitching up the guns did not go smoothly. When the artillery fire slackened, Breckinridge ordered a general advance and swept the Union line off Bushong's Hill. In this assault, the VMI cadets captured a gun and many men of the 34th MA.

To the east near the Valley Pike, elements of the 34th MA and 54th PA Infantry continued to resist, covering the Union retreat. The men of the 54th Pennsylvania, scattered in the cedars near the pike kept the on-coming Confederates busy and allowed many of the men from other units and the supply wagons which had been brought forward to escape.

The Confederates regrouped and came on again applying more pressure.  The 54th Pennsylvania and the 34th Massachusetts were eventually driven back, and the Union forces were now in a rout.

                      "Put the Boys In"

On his own initiative, Capt. Henry DuPont (US) brought up his battery to cover the retreat. He unlimbered first near the Harshburger House, then withdrew his pieces rearward en echelon as the Confederates advanced. Sigel fell back to his supports at the Cedar Grove Dunker Church and cemetery and organized a holding action, while his confused troops reorganized. DuPont's artillery continued to slow the pursuit.

(To the right is a photograph of the 54th Pennsylvania Monument located on the west side of the Valley Pike and directly across the road from the Old Valley Pike Country Store.)

About 4:30 in the afternoon, Breckinridge ordered a halt to regroup confronting the Union line at Cedar Grove Church. Imboden's cavalry returned from their fruitless effort to get in rear of Sigel's army to burn the Meem's Bottom Bridge across the North Fork (the creeks were swollen with rainfall). An artillery duel continued until about 1700 hours. Breckinridge was unable to organize another attack and, by 1900 hours, the Union army escaped across the North Fork and burned the bridge. Sigel retreated down the Valley Pike rapidly, leaving most of his badly wounded at Cedar Grove Church and at the Confederate Hospital at Mount Jackson. He arrived at Strasburg on the following day.

The Battlefield Today

The Virginia Military Institute owns battlefield land and operates a museum and visitor center. The New Market Battlefield Historical Park was established by VMI in 1967. The Hall of Valor was constructed on the battlefield and opened in 1970. The park contains about 280 acres: 24 acres of Shirley's Hill (recently acquired), about 40 acres east of I- 81 around the Pennsylvania monument, and about 215 acres at the Hall of Valor parcel adjacent to the steep bluffs overlooking the North Fork Shenandoah River. The park protects and preserves about ten percent of the core area of the New Market battlefield, but this includes several areas of the most severe infantry fighting. The cavalry field, covering most of the area east of US 11 to Smith's Creek, remains in agricultural use. The village of New Market is listed in the National Register as a historic district.

The 54th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument locate on the west side of US 11 one mile north of New Market

54th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument

I-81 bisects the battlefield and battlefield park, and interchange 67 of I-81 empties at the base of Manor's and Shirley's Hill. The park is limited in its ability to interpret its separate parcels at Shirley's Hill, Bushong's Hill, and at the Pennsylvania monument.

Two monuments were erected by veterans on the New Market battlefield and these are contained within the VMI battlefield park. The Missouri (Woodson) monument near the Bushong House commemorates the role of Co. A, 1st Missouri cavalry, that fought in the battle. The second monument commemorates the role of the 54th Regiment Pennsylvania infantry, located directly east of Bushong's Hill but separated from the main park by I-81.

 The vicinity of Rude's Hill, Meem's Bottom, Mount. Airy, and the Cedar Grove Church is prime agricultural land that preserves the rural-historic integrity of this area. Meem's Bottom and Rude's Hill were the scene of many armed encounters during the war because these features formed a "choke point'' on the Valley Turnpike. Confederate cavalry defended the North Fork Shenandoah River crossing and used Rude's Hill as an observation post. The well preserved estate, Mount Airy, served as a way station for Confederate staff officers and partisans, including Henry Kyd Douglas and Harry Gilmor.

More Information about the VMI cadets

The VMI Corps of Cadets fought as a unit at the Battle of New Market, Virginia, on May 15, 1864. Two hundred fifty-seven cadets were on the field, organized into a battalion of four companies of Infantry and one section of Artillery. The youngsters were cadets at Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, some 80 miles south. In a Confederate emergency of May, 1864, they were quickly marched north toward an advancing Union Army.

Links for The Battle of New Market (Virginia)

The Battle of New Market (Virginia)--The VMI Corps of Cadets fought as a unit at the Battle of New Market, Virginia, on May 15, 1864. Two hundred fifty-seven cadets were on the field, organized into a battalion of four companies of Infantry and one section of Artillery.

Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley 1863-1865--This web site contains a complete accounting of the Battle of New Market, and of other important battles in the Shenandoah Valley during the final years of the war.

Battle of New Market Had it not been for the unselfish heroism of 247 teenagers, in fact, there would be no $2 million Civil War museum to explain the Battle of New Market or the war's larger canvas. The youngsters were cadets at Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, some 80 miles south. In a Confederate emergency of May, 1864, they were quickly marched north toward an advancing Union Army.

New Market Staff Ride

Cadets in the Fray--The most celebrated schoolboy performance of the war was the baptism of fire of the Virginia Military Institute Cadet Corps at the Battle of New Market, Virginia-the only such instance in the war.

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