Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Battle of New Market and its Re-enactment

 Although the flag they died to save
Floats not o'er any land or sea,
Throughout eternal years shall wave
The banner of their chivalry.
                                                         (John Wayland, 1926)

     May brings the smell of musket fire and the volley of cannons across the Valley.  Civil War
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re-enactment camps spring up in the fields from Lexington to Winchester.  The most memorable and the oldest annual re-enactment held on its original 1864 ground is the Battle of New Market, or, the "Field of Lost Shoes" as it is commonly known because of the participation of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets.
     The first ceremonial remembrance of the battle was held at VMI in 1866 and continues every year on May 15th.  All of VMI turns out at the graves of six fallen cadets to hear the roll call of all ten cadets who lost their lives on that fateful day.  Their graves are marked by the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, who also was a cadet who fought on that same battlefield and who read the bible through the night to his fatally wounded friend and fellow cadet, Thomas G. Jefferson.[1]   Eighty miles away, on June 15th, New Market held its first memorial service and the following year, the Women's Memorial Society was formed.
            On May 21st, 1914, the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of New Market, the wheat field saw its first re-enactment of VMI cadets.  Under the leadership of Commandant Col. Wise, son of former New Market cadet John Wise, 327 cadets re-enacted their charge across the orchard and up the hill. [2]
            On Sept. 20th, 1923 Brigadier General Smedley Butler brought about 3,500 real U.S. Marines to New Market to represent Gen. Seigel’s Union troops.  This is considered the first “modern” re-enactment and “the VMI cadets were there.”[3]

            For the next forty-one years, the battlefield once more became a quiet farmland.  Two re-enactments were held; one on May 15, 1961 and another one in 1964. The “Ladies” had continued to hold memorial services throughout the years and collected enough money to erect a statue in 1898.  In 1944, George R. Collins (VMI, 1911) bought the property known as the Bushong Farm and the major part of the battlefield.  Upon his death in 1967, he left an operating endowment with the property.  Because of this, the first official re-enactment was held May 15, 1968 and it has been an annual tradition since.[4]
            Upon that hill, Union General Franz Siegel and his 6,275 men faced CSA General John C. Breckenridge and his 4,090 men.  Out-numberred and out-cannoned, Gen. Breckenridge solemnly ordered, “Put the boys in.”[5]  The cadets charged and held the gap left by the fallen 62nd, but they lost their shoes in the rain soaked freshly plowed field of mud.  Still, they captured an Union Artillery cannon and aided in the forced retreat of Seigel.  After the smoke cleared, the Union had lost 840 men; Breckenridge lost 540.  Of those, ten cadets were killed or died of their wounds and another
forty-five were wounded.
            John Wayland so aptly noted:
                        The importance of the charge of the cadet battalion in this battle has no doubt been over-emphasized; but it was striking and thrilling and effective; and because of the youth of the cadets, their steady discipline, and their splendid heroism, their unexpected participation in this battle has been given the widest renown in martial song, on flaming canvas, and in cherished story.[6]
            The re-enactment is scheduled for May 16 and 17, 2015.  Again the cannons will boom, the muskets will fire, and smoke will hover over the field.
by Cheryl Metz

[2] Ibid.
[4] Marshall, Troy D.  New Markets Long Tradition of Reenactments. Civil War News, April 2014.
[5] Harris, Scott. Put the Boys In.
[6] Wayland, John. Battle of New Market.  New Market: Henkel Press, 1926. p.15.


  1. This writing by Cheryl Metz provides the best brief, commendable account and research of the "Battle of New Market and its Re-enactment" that I have read anywhere. Thanks, Cheryl.