For Immediate Release: March 2, 2018
Battlefields Foundation Announces Preservation Victory at New Market Battlefield
13.5 Acres of Core Battlefield Preserved
NEW MARKET, Va.— Today the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation announced the preservation of 13.5 acres of core battlefield at New Market – the first step of a multi-stage preservation project at the New Market Battlefield. The newly-preserved land lies within the Town of New Market, just two blocks from the Foundation’s headquarters at the Strayer House in the center of town. With this success, the SVBF has now preserved a total of 220 acres of the New Market Battlefield.
The preservation of the 13.5-acre “River Road” property was made possible through the generosity of SVBF Board Treasurer Harry Ridgeway and his wife Trish, both of Winchester. “Battlefield preservation is important to us,” said the Ridgeways. “And this was an especially worthwhile project, providing a connection between two other preserved sites, and the opportunity to lay the ground for a new walking trail.”
The purchase of this 13.5-acre tract kicks off the preservation of multiple battlefield properties that lie on the east side of Interstate 81. The Battlefields Foundation is in the midst of preserving properties within the Town of New Market, with the intention of creating a 1-mile greenway walking trail. The trail will help connect battlefield visitation with the downtown and help tell the story of the oft-forgotten part of the battle in town.
The VMI-operated Virginia Museum of the Civil War, which includes the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, is one of the finest battlefield parks in the state, and does an outstanding job of telling the story of the battle, but most of the park’s land lies west of the highway. The bisection of the historic battlefield by the Interstate prevents visitors from understanding the full scope and scale of the fighting. The SVBF’s preservation and trail plans east of the Interstate aim to change that, and will benefit VMI’s existing battlefield park, the town of New Market, and the cause of historic preservation.
“Preserving this, and other parcels within the town of New Market, will allow visitors to experience the battlefield like never before,” said Keven Walker, CEO of the Battlefields Foundation. “And it will encourage an understanding of how that terrible conflict tore through our towns and cities.”
The newly preserved site played a key role in the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. The original road trace for the “River Road” ran across the property and was the first defensive line used the by Union army during the opening portion of the battle, and from where they exchanged rifle and artillery fire with the Confederates located to the southwest on Williamson’s Hill.
The position was commanded by Union Colonel August Moor, a German-born Mexican War veteran from Cincinnati, whose troops included those from the 1st West Virginia and the 123rd Ohio. Moor’s position had to be abandoned when it was overwhelmed by the advance of Confederate forces under Generals Gabriel Wharton and John Echols, which consisted of the 62nd and 23rd Virginia regiments. After capturing the position, the Confederates used the roadbed to launch their next offensive, which played a key role in their startling victory.
At the time of the battle, the River Road branched off the Valley Pike, ran just to the south of historic St. Matthews Lutheran Church located at the north end of the town of New Market, crossed westward over Manor Hill and ran to and beyond the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The road ceased being functional when it was effectively divided with the construction of I -81 in the early 1960’s.
The Battlefields Foundation will develop and install interpretive signage on the new 1-mile greenway trail. The signage will not only tell the story of the battle on the property; it will also connect that history to the battle stories in the center of town and at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War’s signature battlefield park.
“Creating new battlefield parks and augmenting existing ones will be a major focus of the Foundation in the coming years,” said Walker. “From one end of the National Historic District to the other, we will be working to improve battlefield access in ways that serve visitors and help drive heritage tourism to local communities.”