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.
- See New Market Today
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At a crucial point, a Federal battery was withdrawn from the line to replenish its ammunition, leaving a gap that Breckinridge was quick to exploit.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.