The Virginia Museum of the Civil War, historic Bushong Farm, and self-guided battlefield tour provide many opportunities to reflect upon the Battle of New Market which raged just outside the museum and farm on May 15, 1864.
In the spring of 1864, Union commander In Chief Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant decided to drive the Confederacy out of the Shenandoah Valley.
It was felt that the agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley was a major importance to the Confederates as it supplied many
of the needed supplies for their armies. Grant ordered Major
General Franz Sigel’s army of
10,000 to secure the Valley.
that the Union
Army had entered the Valley, Confederate 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 257 cadets commanded by Lieutenant Colonel
Scott Ship and a two gun artillery section.
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 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. The VMI cadets
battalion was kept in reserve, while Imboden's cavalry was east of the
turnpike. Breckinridge attempted to lure the Federals into attacking him
using cavalry and artillery but they refused to move from their position. About
11 a.m., Breckinridge then decided to launch an attack on the Federals 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.
Breckinridge launched his infantry attack near noon, slowly pushing the
federals 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. As the Confederate line formed near the Bushong farm, 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 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 repulsed, while
three infantry regiments attacked on the Union right and were repulsed as well.
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. 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 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.
Virginia Museum of the Civil War-New Market Battlefield State Historical Park depicts this battle along with many other battles along with a film called
Field of Lost Shoes. After visiting the museum one can then walk
the fields that the battle took place which includes Jacob Bushong's farm.