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American Civil War: Battle of New Market

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Battle of New Market - Conflict:

The Battle of New Market occurred during the American Civil War.

Battle of New Market - Date:

The VMI Corps of Cadets helped win the battle on May 15, 1864.

Armies & Commanders:

Union

  • Major General Franz Sigel
  • 6,275 men

Confederate

  • Major General John C. Breckinridge
  • 4,090 men

Battle of New Market - Background:

In May 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant began his Overland Campaign against Confederate forces in Virginia. To support this advance, he ordered Major General Franz Sigel to enter the Shenandoah Valley and clear it of Confederate troops. Moving up the valley, Sigel initially encountered little resistance. To meet the Union threat, Major General John C. Breckinridge hastily assembled what Confederate troops were available in the area. This included the 257-man Corps of Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute.

Battle of New Market - Making Contact:

Though they had marched 80 miles in four days to join his army, Breckinridge hoped to avoid using the cadets as some were as young as 15. Advancing towards each other, Sigel and Breckinridge's forces met near New Market on May 15, 1864. Deploying on a ridge north of the town, Sigel pushed skirmishers forward. Spotting the Union troops, Breckinridge opted to take the offensive. Forming his men south of New Market, he placed the VMI cadets in his reserve line. Moving out around 11:00 AM, the Confederates advanced through thick mud and cleared New Market within ninety minutes.

Battle of New Market - The Confederates Attack:

Pressing on, Breckinridge's men encountered a line of Union skirmishers just north of the town. Sending Brigadier General John Imboden's cavalry around to the right, Breckinridge's infantry attacked while the horsemen fired on the Union flank. Overwhelmed, the skirmishers fell back to the main Union line. Continuing their attack, the Confederates advanced upon Sigel's troops. As the two lines neared, they began exchanging fire. Taking advantage of their superior position, the Union forces began to thin out the Confederate line. With Breckinridge's line starting to waver, Sigel decided to attack.

With a gap opening in his line, Breckinridge, with great reluctance, ordered the VMI cadets forward to close the breach. Coming into line as the 34th Massachusetts began their attack, the cadets braced themselves for the onslaught. Fighting with Breckinridge's seasoned veterans, the cadets were able to repel the Union thrust. With Sigel's attack faltering, Breckinridge ordered his entire line forward. Surging through the mud with the cadets in the lead, the Confederates assaulted Sigel's position, breaking his line and forcing his men from the field.

Aftermath of the Battle of New Market:

The defeat at New Market cost Sigel 96 killed, 520 wounded, and 225 missing. For Breckinridge, losses were around 43 killed, 474 wounded, and 3 missing. During the fighting, ten of the VMI cadets were killed or mortally wounded. Following the battle, Sigel withdrew to Strasburg and effectively left the Valley in Confederate hands. This situation would largely remain until Major General Philip Sheridan captured the Shenandoah for the Union later that year.

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