As a part of his spring offensive against Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Gen. Franz Sigel to move through the Shenandoah Valley along the Valley Pike and destroy the railroad and canal complex at Lynchburg. At New Market on May 15, Sigel was blocked by a makeshift Confederate force commanded by Gen. Breckinridge. Breckinridge seized the initiative and attacked Sigel’s numerically superior force, driving them out of town and onto the hills to the north. Attacks by Federal cavalry and infantry failed. At a crucial point, a Federal battery was withdrawn from the line to replenish its ammunition, leaving a gap that Breckinridge was quick to exploit. He ordered his entire force forward, including the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Cadet Battalion, causing Sigel's line to break. Threatened by the Confederate cavalry on his left flank and rear, Sigel ordered a general withdrawal, burning the North Fork Bridge behind him as he retreated north to Cedar Creek.
Sigel’s defeat resulted in his relief of command and replacement by Gen. David Hunter. The Battle of New Market was one of the last major Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley and was the only instance in American history where a student body—the VMI Corps of Cadets—participated in a pitched battle. At the center of the Confederate line, the young cadets were steady under fire and exhibited impressive valor on the field.
The Battlefield Today:
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Virginia Museum of the Civil War
New Market Battlefield State Historical Park
8895 George Collins Parkway, New Market, Virginia 22844
Self-Guided Tours: A podcast tour of the Battle of New Market is available at civilwartraveler.com/audio
Valley Thunder:The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Campaign, 1864
By Charles Knight
'Valley Thunder' is the first full-length account in more than three decades to examine the combat at New Market on May 15, 1864.
Click to Purchase
Shenandoah County in the Civil War: Four Dark Years
By Hal Sharpe
Four major battles took place in and around Shenandoah County: New Market, Toms Brook, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek.
Click to Purchase