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Last Monday Tom and I went to a book fair just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia; and on the way home we stopped at the New Market Battlefield. After watching the Emmy award winning movie entitled "Field of Lost Shoes" I was so saddened at the thought of the waste of human lives, especially young boys, I decided I would do this week's tidbit on that battle.

The Battle of New Market, on May 15, 1864, isn't considered a major battle of the Civil War but to the cadets of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) it was a baptism by fire. A corps of 257 VMI cadets, some of whom were as old as 25, but the majority of which were teenagers with some as young as 15 marched to their first battle at New Market. Can you imagine sending your 15-year-old son into battle? How horrible that must have been for the mothers of those boys. But then sending anyone off to war is a heartrending experience.

Up until May 1864, the cadets of VMI were being trained in the military way of life. I doubt that any of them really expected to be thrust into the fighting. But all that was to change on the evening of May 10thwhen they were awakened and called together to hear the order handed down by General Breckinridge, C.S.A. I would imagine those boys didn't sleep much that night, partly because of the preparations they needed to make but also because of the uncertainty of the future.

Union General Franz Sigel and his troops marched up the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester to New Market with the intent of taking Staunton. By so doing he could cut the Virginia Central Railroad line and thus cut off General Lee's main supply line. The only southern troops in the valley in May 1864 were about 1,500 men under General Imboden. General Breckinridge, who was in Southwest Virginia at the time assumed command of the southern forces in the Shenandoah Valley and ordered the Institute's Corps of Cadets into action to support Imboden's men.

The following chronicles the corps' march to New Market.

May 11, Wednesday. The cadets left the campus in the rain and marched to Midway about 18 miles away. At the end of the march, the corps set up camp and slept in the rain.

May 12, Thursday. The corps marched 18 miles in pouring rain to reach Staunton

May 13, Friday. The corps, after joining Breckinridge's troops, marched an additional 18 to 20 miles to just south of Harrisonburg.

May 14, Saturday. The corps continued through Harrisonburg to within 7 miles of New Market. At the end of this march of about 15 miles, the boys reached a wood where they camped for the night. Sometime during the day, north of New Market, there had been a skirmish between Sigel's advance troops and Imboden's men.

May 15, Sunday. Around 1 a. m. the cadets were wakened and began their march to the battlefield, on the Bushong farm. They left in the blackness of a rainy night, but didn't reach their destination until after sunrise, if it could be called that. They were in the middle of a driving rainstorm.

At the beginning of the battle the Union forces totaled 6,500 while the Confederates numbered 4,500. Breckinridge hoped to defeat Sigel's troops without having to send the cadets into battle but when he realized the need for reinforcements he said:

"Put the Boys in... and may God forgive me for the order." General John C. Breckinridge. Accessed 10/2/2005, available from civilwarmini.com/chap0.htm: Internet.

The boys began their descent down Shirley's Hill at a walk because no one had told them any differently but when they realized they were being fired upon they broke into a run. Up until that time there were no casualties but on the descent several of them were wounded in the onslaught of bursting shells. At the bottom of the hill they were ordered to discard unneeded equipment and what they saw before them amazed them more than the awfulness of the battle. Some of the 'seasoned' men were being ordered at gunpoint to form into ranks and proceed. I would think this would cause the boys much alarm. Here were men who had seen battle before refusing to go forward. Every boy's heart must have been in the clutches of fear, and their stomachs must have hit the ground. Oh what a horrible thing they were facing. But the boys never faltered, they charged across the Bushong wheat field so muddy from the downpour that many of them lost their socks and shoes earning the field the name "Field of Lost Shoes." The charge continued up Bushong's Hill and the Confederates routed the Union troops driving them into retreat.

This was a hard won and sad victory for the cadets; ten cadets were killed and 47 wounded. Overall Confederate casualties numbered 600 while Union casualties were 800. Even though the Shenandoah Valley remained under Confederate control for only a few months the battle lives till this day as an example of youthful heroism.

The following is a list of the ten cadets who died either at the Battle of New Market or later from wounds suffered that day.

Samuel Francis Atwill. Born 1846 in Virginia; Corporal, Co. A.; suffered a leg wound which was not considered serious but resulted in lockjaw causing a painful death on July 20, 1864.

William Henry Cabell. Born 1845 in Virginia; First Sergeant, Co. D; died in action of a wound to the head received while in the cadet charge.

Charles Gay Crockett. Born 1846 in Virginia; Private, Co. D.; died in action from a wound to the heart.

Alva Curtis Hartsfield. Born 1844 in North Carolina; Private, Co. B; died June 26, 1864 in Petersburg, Virginia.

Luther Cary Haynes. Born 1845; Private, Co. C; died June 15, 1864 in Richmond, Virginia.

Thomas Garland Jefferson, grandson of Thomas Jefferson. Born 1847 in Virginia; Private, Co. B; died May 18, 1864.

Henry Jenner Jones. Born 1847, Virginia; Private, Co. D; died immediately from an exploding shell.

William Hugh McDowell. Born 1846 in North Carolina; Private, Co. B; died in battle.

Jaqueline Beverly Stanard. Born circa 1844 in Virginia; Private, Co. B; died in battle.

Joseph Christopher Wheelwright. Born 1846 in Virginia; Private, Co. C; died June 2, 1864.

As sad as the deaths of these young men may be, one cadet survived the war and went on to become a famous sculptor. Moses Jacob Ezekiel born in 1844 was the first Jewish cadet at VMI. He was in the charge against the Union lines and was by his best friend, Thomas Garland Jefferson's bedside when he died. When the war was over Moses continued his studies at VMI and graduated in 1866. During this last period, he met General Lee, who encouraged him to pursue his dreams of becoming an artist and earning a reputation in whatever he decided to do.

In the late 1860's he studied art in Cincinnati and Berlin where he earned a prestigious award that enabled him to study in Rome. He became an expatriate and lived in Rome for more than forty years but most of his sculpture commissions were for works erected in the United States. His art adorns such places as Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; the Confederate Cemetery at Johnson's Island, Ohio and Arlington National Cemetery. His Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery is based on the prophet Isaiah's words "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." As a tribute to his work, the Emperor of Germany and King of Italy knighted him and he became known as Sir Moses Ezekial. He remained a true and loyal son of the South and stipulated that when he died he be returned to America and buried at the base of the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery.

If you go to www.vmi.edu/archives/records/smith/64may1.html#may11you'll find selected letters from the VMI archives regarding the Battle of New Market.

If you go to www.civilwarhome.com/VMI%20Cadets.htmyou'll find part of a larger article called "How Young They Were" from the book "The Civil War, Strange and Fascinating Facts" by Burke Davis

Portions of the above were taken from the following Internet sites:




Couper, William. The VMI New Market Cadets.The Michie Co., 1933; and One Hundred Years at VMI.Garrett and Massie, 1939, 4 vols. The detailed history of the Institute from 1839-1939.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux