Battle of New Market, 15 May 1864

The Shenandoah Valley had not been a happy hunting ground for Union commanders during the American Civil War. Stonewall Jackson’s Valley campaign of 1862 had played a significant role in the failure of that year’s Peninsula campaign. In 1863 Lee’s great invasion of the North had been launched from the valley. While 1864 finally saw the North victorious in the valley, that success only came after two previous failures.

First to fail was General Franz Sigel. He began his march down the valley with only 6,500 men, of whom 5,150 were engaged at New Market. His opponent was John C. Breckinridge, a former Vice President and now Confederate general. He managed to scrape together a force of almost the same size, based around two infantry brigades (Wharton’s of 1578 and Echols’s of 1622 men) and 900 cavalry under General Imboden. However, the most famous part of his army were the 227 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, further up the valley, aged between 15 and 17.

Breckinridge took the initiative, and on 15 May attacked Sigel at New Market, in the northern valley. The bulk of Sigel’s troops had either only just arrived or were still arriving at New Market when the Confederate attack was launched (the attack included a famous charge by the VMI cadets). After some severe fighting, the Union line began to collapse. First the extreme left wing broke, then the artillery fled, losing their guns. Sigel was forced to order a retreat, first to a new line and then later all the way back to Cedar Creek, very nearly at the northern edge of the valley. This defeat ended Sigel’s period of command in the Shenandoah Valley. He was soon replaced by General David Hunter, who was reinforced and order to march back into the valley.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 August 2006), article ,

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