Ramble On

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Market Battlefield and Civil War Museum

A Union cannon placed overlooking the battlefield.

We found ourselves with unseasonably warm weather on a Sunday morning last month, so after breakfast at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, I suggested that we go on an outing to the Civil War Battlefield there.  Mary and I had chanced upon it in 1993 but hadn’t been back; since we’ve been coming to the Valley I’ve wanted to go and we had never managed it until now.

The museum is a unique modern building.
There is a good museum here, and the battlefield is a state park.  There is a small theater in the museum that offers a couple of films on this topic.  It’s well worth the visit.

What’s significant about the Battle of New Market is its association with the Virginia Military Institute, or VMI.  I’ve worked with VMI alums in the past, and I know of their commitment to the school’s traditions and history – and New Market holds a special place for them.  Cadets from the school marched from Lexington, VA to New Market – just more than 80 miles, in four days during the spring of 1864.

One of two battlefield monuments, this humble memorial
is inscribed:  This rustic pile the simple tale will tale:
It marks the spot where Woodson's heroes fell.
The Confederates were there to stop a Union advance down the Valley, and the VMI Cadets were meant to be a reserve force for the battle.  Eventually, they were called into action, where a number of them were killed and many more injured. 

The Cadet Corps’ story is quite a brave one, well worth checking out in person or via the Wikipedia article linked below (there’s also a link to the museum).  But there are a couple of additional points for me to make in this post.

One of the VMI alums donated the money to acquire this site, which includes the Bushong farm that stood at the battlefield during the Civil War.  It was in this area that the Cadets advanced through what became known as the “field of lost shoes” – the ground was soggy (this field doesn’t appear to have natural drainage, despite its position on a bluff over the Shenandoah North Branch), and as they progressed over the field they bogged down and lost their shoes.

This stained glass panel memorializes the cadets who died.
A sculpture by Moses Ezekiel in the museum hall.
Among the notable cadets at the battle were a relative of Thomas Jefferson’s, and Moses Ezekiel, an internationally renowned sculptor (good bio here:  http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/moses_ezekiel.html).

We made our way through the farm and orchard, and across the battlefield, eventually coming upon a cannon placement that reminded me of how vulnerable the troops advancing through that field of fire would have been.  I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted to such a challenge, had I ever been called to do so.

Finally, as I mentioned before, Mary and I visited here in 1993.  The bluffs at the edge of the farm gave me my first look at the Shenandoah River.  How far we’ve come, eh?

Here are the links to the article about the battle, and about the museum.

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