Friday, May 15, 2009
Many Were Only 15
General Ulysses S Grant began his Overland Campaign in May 1864. He ordered Major General Franz Sigel to enter the Shenandoah Valley to clear it of Confederates. There was very little in the way resistance. In order to stop the advancing Union soldiers Major General John C Breckinridge put together as many troops as he could find in the area, including 257 Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute.
The VMI cadets marched 80 miles in four days in order to be part of Breckinridge’s army. Many of these cadets were only 15 years old. On May 15th 1864 the two forces met near New Market Virginia. Union General Sigel deployed on a ridge north of the town, and pushed skirmishers forward. Breckinridge took the offensive; he formed his soldiers south of New Market and placed the VMI troops in reserve.
Breckinridge’s men pushed through New Market, and met the Union skirmishers on the north side of town. He sent Brigadier General John Imboden’s cavalry around the Union right to flank them. The Confederates overtook the skirmisher and they fell back to the Union line. Breckinridge’s men advanced, but the Union taking advantage of their position thinned out the Confederate line.
When a gap opened in the Confederate line, Breckinridge had to order the VMI cadets into line. The VMI soldiers got into line just as the 34th Massachusetts was beginning their attack. VMI fighting side by side with Breckinridge’s seasoned troops were able to repel the Union. They surged through the mud and made an assault on the Union position braking through the Union line and forcing them from the field.
The battle of New Market cost the Union 96 dead 530 wounded and 225 missing. Confederates lost 43 dead, 474 wounded and 3 missing. VMI had 10 cadets killed or mortally wounded. The Union would withdraw to Strasburg and leave the Shenandoah Valley to the Rebels until Major General Philip H Sheridan would take it back latter in the year.
Other reading about this battle
Cadets At War: The True Story of Teenage Heroism at the Battle of New Market
Seed Corn of the Confederacy: The Story of the Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute at the Battle of New Market