Tag Archives: Virginia Military Institute

The Battle of New Market

May 15, 1864 – Major General John C. Breckinridge led a makeshift Confederate army in trying to stop the Federal drive up Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General Franz Sigel, commanding the Federal Army of West Virginia, had been assigned to deprive the Confederate armies of the vital foodstuffs produced in the fertile Valley. By this time, his troops had moved south to Woodstock, but his force had shrunk from 10,000 to 6,500 men because he had to detach units to guard his lengthening supply line.

Breckinridge’s Confederates left Staunton on the morning of the 13th to join forces with Brigadier General John D. Imboden’s cavalry at New Market. Imboden dispersed Federal cavalry commands at Front Royal and New Market, inflicting about 150 casualties and putting 800 enemy troopers out of action in the two combined engagements.

Sigel continued south from Woodstock on the 14th to Mount Jackson, a farming center at the terminus of the Manassas Gap Railroad, about seven miles north of New Market. Imboden’s Confederates skirmished with the Federal vanguard and exchanged artillery fire before heavy rain stopped the fighting for the night.

During this time, Imboden’s cavalry joined Breckinridge’s main force, which now numbered close to 5,000 men. Breckinridge established a defensive line at New Market with Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton’s brigade on the left (west) and Brigadier General John C. Echols’s brigade on the right (east). Echols was out sick, leaving his brigade under Colonel George S. Patton (grandfather of World War II General George S. Patton).

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shipp’s 247 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, aged 15 to 17, were held in reserve. Shipp recalled that Breckinridge “informed me that he did not wish to put the Cadets in if he could avoid it, but that should occasion require it, he would use them very freely.”

By the morning of the 15th, Sigel had two infantry brigades about a mile north of New Market. Their line was between the North Fork of the Shenandoah River to their right (west) and the Valley Turnpike to their left (east). More infantry arrived and took positions to the left of the two brigades, on either side of the turnpike. Federals in the center held Manor’s Hill.

Breckinridge used his artillery and Imboden’s cavalry to try coaxing the Federals into attacking his strong line. When that failed, he advanced his force to meet the Federals north of town. The Confederates marched through New Market amidst cheering residents and drove back the Federal pickets.

Breckinridge halted just north of town, still hopeful that the Federals would assail him first. A heavy artillery duel ensued, but the Federal infantry would not attack. Breckinridge therefore ordered his own assault. The Confederates advanced in early afternoon and pushed the Federals off Manor’s Hill.

Sigel arrived on the scene and formed a new line on Bushong’s Hill, with Federal infantry on the right and center, and Major General Julius Stahel’s cavalry on the left. Breckinridge halted his men to dress their line before resuming the advance at 2 p.m. As the Confederates closed in, 17 Federal guns opened on them. The Confederate center wavered and broke.

At 2:45, Breckinridge decided to fill this gap with the VMI cadets, saying, “Put the boys in, and may God forgive me for the order.” The cadets, called “katydids” by the veterans, charged into the center as Shipp was wounded and replaced by Captain Henry A. Wise. Shipp later wrote:

“Great gaps were made through the ranks, but the cadet, true to this discipline, would close in to the center to fill the interval and push steadily forward. The alignment of the battalion under this terrible fire, which strewed the ground with killed and wounded for more than a mile on open ground, would have been creditable even on a field day.”

During this time, Sigel directed Stahel’s cavalry to counterattack the Confederate right, but the Federals were repelled by heavy artillery fire. Federals tried another counterattack on the Confederate left, but confusion among the commanders made this ineffective, and it was repulsed as well.

The Confederate advance resumed around 3 p.m. Several VMI cadets lost their shoes while marching across a muddy field, giving it the nickname the “Field of Lost Shoes.” The Federal infantry started breaking under the pressure, prompting the artillerists to withdraw their guns. The Confederates captured five cannon, one of which was taken by the VMI troops.

The “Field of Lost Shoes” | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Wise remembered, “Our esprit de corps made us vie with the magnificent veterans to our right and left. They yelled, we yelled with them. The onrush was irresistible.” As the Federals retreated, Breckinridge halted his men until the supply wagons could catch up.

Sigel withdrew northward and formed a rear guard on Rude’s Hill. When he received reports that the Federals were exhausted and nearly out of ammunition, he ordered a retreat to Mount Jackson, across the Shenandoah River. The Federals crossed and burned the bridge behind them, preventing Breckinridge from pursuing. When Sigel arrived at Mount Jackson, he ordered another retreat to Strasburg, 20 miles north.

The Federals sustained 831 casualties (93 killed, 482 wounded, and 256 captured or missing), while the Confederates lost 577 (42 killed, 522 wounded, and 13 missing). The VMI contingent lost 10 killed (including a descendant of Thomas Jefferson) and 47 wounded, or 23 percent of their total. They played a relatively small role in the battle, but their brave performance made them heroes in the South.

After this resounding Confederate victory, Breckinridge’s men cheered “such as had not been heard in the Valley since Stonewall Jackson had led them” in 1862. Breckinridge praised his troops, “particularly the cadets, who, though mere youths, had fought with the steadiness of veterans.” This ensured that the Valley would continue feeding the Confederate armies in Virginia and elsewhere.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, initially suggested that Breckinridge pursue Sigel all the way down the Valley and invade Maryland, but the rivers were too swollen and supply lines too long for this to be feasible. Instead, Lee urged Breckinridge to hurry his command east to Hanover Junction, where he could reinforce Lee’s army.

Sigel’s army had been routed but not destroyed. This embarrassing setback enraged the Federal high command; Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck told Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, “Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do nothing but run; never did anything else.” Grant had little faith in Sigel as a commander before this battle, and now he was convinced that Sigel must be replaced.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 444; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 88; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20404; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 408; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5232-52, 5270-90; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 438-39; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28-30, 32, 34-39; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 260-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 501-02; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 723-24; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527-28, 707-08

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The Death of “Stonewall” Jackson

May 10, 1863 – Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, commanding the Second Corps in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, died after being shot on May 2.

Jackson had sustained three gunshot wounds, two of which resulted in the amputation of his left arm just below the shoulder. Following the procedure, an ambulance took him to Guiney’s Station, near his former headquarters about 10 miles south of Fredericksburg. It was hoped that he would be safe from Federal cavalry raids there. Jackson arrived on the 4th, where he began convalescing at the Chandler estate.

Lt Gen T.J. Jackson following his amputation | Image Credit: OldVirginiaBlog.Blogspot.com

Over the next three days, Jackson’s wife, Anna, joined him, and he appeared to be recovering. His medical director, Dr. Hunter Maguire, noted that the general seemed stronger each day, regaining his appetite and responsiveness. Regarding his wounds, the pious Jackson told a visitor, “Many would regard them as a great misfortune. I regard them as one of the blessings of my life.”

Jackson complained of fatigue and slept most of the 6th. He woke at 1 a.m. on the 7th with severe nausea and pain on his left side. Dr. Maguire arrived later that morning and determined that Jackson had developed pneumonia in his right lung. Maguire applied most of the customary treatments for that time, including bloodletting, mercury, antimony, and mustard compresses.

The doctor then wrapped Jackson in warm blankets and administered a combination of whiskey, opium, laudanum, and morphine. This helped numb the pain, but it also put Jackson into a state of delirium. He spent the next two days going in and out of fevered consciousness.

Meanwhile, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, had been informed that Jackson’s recovery was proceeding well. Now he was told that Jackson had taken a turn for the worse. Lee said, “Tell him to make haste and get well, and come back to me as soon as he can. He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.”

On the 9th, Dr. Maguire informed both Lee and President Jefferson Davis that Jackson’s chances of survival were doubtful. Lee said, “Surely General Jackson will recover. God will not take him from us now that we need him so much.” The editor of the Richmond Whig wrote:

“We need have no fears for Jackson. He is no accidental manifestation of the powers of faith and courage. He came not by chance in this day and to this generation. He was born for a purpose, and not until that purpose is fulfilled will his great soul take flight.”

Not convinced that he was nearing his end, Jackson asked Dr. Maguire for his opinion. The doctor said that recovery was likely impossible. Jackson resigned himself and said, “If it is the will of my Heavenly Father, I am perfectly satisfied.” Anna read the Psalms to him, as he was attended to by his doctor and other physicians, his minister, his aide, and his slave Jim Lewis. One of the attending physicians said they had “done everything that human skill could devise to stay the hand of death.”

Early on the 10th, Anna told her husband the doctors had determined that by day’s end, he “would be with the blessed Saviour in His glory.” Jackson disagreed; he called in one of the attending physicians and asked, “Anna informs me that you have told her that I am to die today. Is that so?” The physician said yes. Jackson said, “Very good, very good. It is all right. It is the Lord’s day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

Jackson requested the visitors to sing his favorite hymn, “Shew pity, Lord; O Lord, Forgive; Let a Repenting Rebel Live.” When Dr. Maguire asked him if he wanted brandy, Jackson said, “It will only delay my departure, and do no good; I want to preserve my mind, if possible, to the last.” Around 1:30 p.m., a physician informed him that he probably had no more than two hours to live. Jackson replied, “Very good. It is all right.”

He soon slipped back into delirium, where he was back on the battlefield calling out, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action!” Then his voice trailed off until he briefly rallied, smiled, and said, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Then Jackson died.

A courier delivered a message to Lee bearing the news. Lee responded by issuing General Order No. 61 to the Army of Northern Virginia:

“With deep regret the commanding general announces the death of Lieutenant General T.J. Jackson. Let his name be a watch-word to his corps who have followed him to victory on so many fields. Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in the defense of our loved Country.”

Jackson’s body was taken to Richmond, where it was placed for public viewing at the Capitol on the 12th. City businesses closed. A funeral service took place the next day, attended by many mourners. Several other soldiers who had died at Chancellorsville were also being interred in Richmond or sent to their homes. Jackson’s family accompanied his body on a canal barge taking them to Lynchburg, en route to Lexington, where Jackson had taught at the Virginia Military Institute.

The casket arrived at Lynchburg on the 14th, where an escort of V.M.I. cadets brought it to Lexington and placed it in Jackson’s old lecture hall. A short funeral service was held at the Presbyterian Church the next day, where Jackson’s casket was draped with the first Confederate flag ever made. The casket was then taken to the cemetery south of town for burial under the shade of trees. As a popular song went, “The Gallant Stonewall was no more.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 360-61; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 282, 284-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 313, 316-18, 430; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 294; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5525, 5560-71; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39, 160-61; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 391-92; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 351; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 210-11