Published on June 17, 2015

The New Market-Luray area was at the crossroads of the Shenandoah Valley's wartime campaigns. Its network of roadways - most notably the Valley Turnpike (modern US 11) - allowed armies to move with remarkable speed.  

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The New Market gap provided the only path across the 45-mile long Massanutten Mountain, an imposing ridgeline that bisects the Valley north to south, dividing it into the main Valley on the west and Luray Valley on the east.

The New Market-Luray area was at the crossroads of the Shenandoah Valley’s wartime campaigns. Its network of roadways – most notably the Valley Turnpike (modern US 11) – allowed armies to move with remarkable speed.  And the New Market gap provided the only path across the 45-mile long Massanutten Mountain, an imposing ridgeline that bisects the Valley north to south, dividing it into the main Valley on the west and Luray Valley on the east.

Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson took brilliant advantage of this landscape throughout his famous Valley Campaign. In May 1862, with the bulk of the Union army waiting north on the Valley Turnpike, Jackson abruptly turned east and crossed the New Market gap into Luray Valley along the New Market-Sperryville Turnpike (modern-day US 211).  He then used the natural screen of Massanutten to conceal his army as he moved north along the Luray-Front Royal Turnpike (modern-day US 340) to surprise Union forces at Front Royal and Winchester, temporarily driving them from the Valley and sending the Union leadership into an uproar.

Two years later a Union army under the command of Gen. Franz Sigel collided with the hastily-assembled Confederate force of Gen. John C. Breckinridge at New Market.  In the southern ranks were 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, soon to experience their baptism of fire. The Battle of New Market reached its climax in the afternoon amid the muddy wheat fields of Jacob Bushong’s farm, as the cadets, surging forward in the final Confederate charge, not only helped win the battle, but forged a legacy that has inspired generations of cadets to the present day.

In the autumn of 1864, the fortunes of war turned. In what came to be known as The Burning, Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Union army laid waste to the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Mills, barns, factories, and crops were burned, livestock destroyed and confiscated, and the agricultural bounty of the central Shenandoah Valley was left in ruins.

Today, the geography and beauty of the landscape remain much as they did in the 1860s, and interpretive signage, historic sites, and self-guided tours help you follow the story of what happened here during the war.  You may want to start your journey at the award-winning Virginia Museum of the Civil War, administered by VMI, which interprets the Battle of New Market and the Civil War throughout the Commonwealth, and also hosts a Tourist Information Center for the Shenandoah Valley.  On the other side of Massanutten, the Luray Valley Museum interprets the history of the Valley, including the Civil War years, while Luray Caverns hosts a Civil War Orientation kiosk for the area.