The Battle of New Market and Its VMI Cadets: The Forgotten Ones

For any shortcomings Union Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel might have had as an officer, his braveness, no less than, appeared past reproach. A local of Hungary, Stahel had served with the U.S. Military for the reason that conflict’s outset, serving to kind its first German American regiment—the eighth New York Infantry—after which seeing motion within the First Bull Run Marketing campaign. Regardless of the Union setback at Cross Keys throughout Stonewall Jackson’s celebrated 1862 Shenandoah Valley Marketing campaign, Stahel obtained regard as “courageous and enthusiastic…seen in the course of the day within the thickest of the struggle, encouraging and urging on his males.” Additional commendation would are available in August for his efforts with the Military of Virginia at Second Bull Run—one more Federal defeat in that calamitous second yr of the conflict.

On Could 15, 1864, the 38-year-old commander discovered himself engaged on the necessary Shenandoah Valley crossroads city of New Market. Serving as cavalry commander of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s Division of West Virginia, Stahel was being counted on to play a distinguished half in Ulysses S. Grant’s three-pronged conquest in opposition to Richmond that spring. As Grant’s Overland Marketing campaign pushed via central Virginia towards the Accomplice capital and Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler superior up the Peninsula from Norfolk, it was the duty of Sigel’s military to additional disrupt the Insurgent defenses and hold sources and reinforcements away from Robert E. Lee’s Military of Northern Virginia.

Julius Stahel, who resided in Prussia and England after fleeing Hungary, arrived in New York in 1859 and started working at a German-language newspaper. Early within the conflict, he commanded cavalry in John Frémont’s Mountain Division and John Pope’s Military of Virginia.
(Library of Congress)

Although comparatively small in scale, the Battle of New Market was signature in some ways. Most well-known have been the contributions of the Virginia Army Institute’s Corps of Cadets, referred to as into the fray out of desperation by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge and finally enjoying a task in a surprising Accomplice triumph. For Breckinridge, New Market could be a very welcome success, coming within the wake of hard-luck Western Theater setbacks earlier within the conflict at battles akin to Stones River and Chattanooga. Breckinridge dealt with his drive adroitly in opposition to Sigel’s huge military, almost twice the scale as his. 

There have been Union heroes, too: Medal of Honor recipient James M. Burns of the first West Virginia; Captain Henry A. du Pont, Battery B, fifth U.S. Artillery; Colonel Jacob Campbell, Lieutenant George Gageby, and Captain Edwin J. Geissinger of the 54th Pennsylvania—to call just some.

What stays unsure is how precisely Sigel allowed what in all probability ought to have been a snug victory get away from him. The incessant rain and stormy climate wherein the armies clashed figured as main culprits, after all, as did Sigel’s seeming command complacency and lack of urgency in reaching New Market forward of the Confederates. Breckinridge’s capacity to take action allowed him to dictate important facets of the pending showdown.

Usually ignored in assessing the battle, nonetheless, is Stahel’s mindset on Could 15 and the way significantly it impacted the consequence. Early within the afternoon, even with the motion unsettled and the climate worsening, Sigel’s vital benefit in numbers nonetheless supplied promise of a Federal victory. But Stahel, his cavalry aligned a number of miles behind the Union left flank on the Valley Turnpike, was rising more and more stressed. Not referred to as a bystander, the Hungarian lastly determined that motion was wanted and ordered an ill-advised, full-blown cost. The domino impact from that might value Sigel’s military dearly.

Cavalry had but to be a significant factor. Earlier within the day, Accomplice Colonel John Imboden’s troopers had moved east of Smith’s Creek together with McClanahan’s Battery to enfilade the Union flank. Hearth from McClanahan’s weapons pressured the withdrawal of Union cavalry and Alfred von Kleiser’s battery, however when Imboden later tried to cross again throughout the creek to get behind the Federals, the swollen waters proved too nice an impediment.

“It was raining exhausting for the final hour, the bottom was soaked, we have been on low floor and there have been puddles of water in all places about us…,” grumbled Jacob Lester of the first New York Veteran Cavalry, including that he and his comrades quickly “acquired orders to ‘draw sabre’ and I knew we have been to cost….Horses acquired caught within the mud and fell over one another and in a second we have been mired up like a flock of sheep.”

The order from Stahel was in response to an obvious advance on his proper by Accomplice Brig. Gen. John Echols’ Brigade and the dismounted 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry. As Sarah Kay Bierle posits in Name Out the Cadets: “Stahel determined the cavalry had been inactive sufficient for at some point and concocted a grand scheme match for a Napoleonic battlefield, however which might not translate nicely on the Valley Pike.”

Stahel, who had first gained discover combating in the course of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49, had lengthy studied and admired such Napoleonic techniques, however the common clearly misjudged in believing an all-out cost on this terrain and underneath these circumstances would succeed. Along with the mud, a ravine with damaged floor lay forward of the Federal horsemen, and the Valley Pike (modern-day Route 11) featured low stone partitions that might funnel them right into a compressed entrance and go away them simple Accomplice targets.

It’s doable Stahel had no thought how nice a menace he confronted; even then, it may not have been sufficient to make him rethink. The rain and low-lying battlefield smoke significantly hindered visibility, and Breckinridge—deducing a probable cost—had aligned his males completely. The Accomplice place was shaped right into a defensive “V”: three batteries within the middle, the twenty second Virginia Infantry on the left, and the twenty third Virginia Battalion on the fitting. (Jackson’s Battery was simply west of the pike, positioned behind the 62nd Virginia.)

Included within the meeting of cannons on so-called Battery Heights have been two weapons manned by VMI cadets, lined up behind {a partially} demolished rock fence. Below the command of Lieutenant Collier H. Minge, a fellow cadet, they’d be the primary from the institute to see fight and wouldn’t disappoint, dealing with their weapons like seasoned professionals. “We acquired shortly into motion with canister…,” Minge recalled. “When the smoke cleared away the cavalry appeared to have been fully damaged up.”

The collective Accomplice firepower introduced a fast finish to Stahel’s brazen cost. Stahel had despatched forth roughly 1,000 horses, however the lead parts by no means acquired near the Accomplice weapons, reduce down en masse in the midst of the street. As Rand Noyes of the twenty second Virginia later wrote: “Just one man on an unmanageable horse got here via….” The first New York rallied for a second try, however was shortly undone by pleasant hearth.

“They have been prepared for us,” lamented Sergeant William A. McIlhenny of the first Maryland (U.S.) Potomac House Brigade, also referred to as Cole’s Cavalry. “Our battalion marched immediately into their artillery hearth. Shells have been dropping throughout us and musket balls have been whistling. The rebels have been so shut that we may see their lengthy gray line of squaddies advancing. The place have been our regiments of infantry?

“The insurgent infantry was nearing gunshot vary. Simply as they began firing a regiment of our males arrived. We fell again for them to kind in line. Nevertheless it was too late! The rebels have been upon us, firing at shut vary. They mowed our males down like grass. Our cavalry tried to maintain collectively, however have been impeded by the retreating infantry males escaping from the new hearth of Breckenridge’s pursuing males. A lot of them didn’t escape. All the way in which to the Shenandoah River they have been scorching on our heels.”

VMI cadets of the class of 1867
The VMI cadets pictured right here, members of the Class of 1867, all fought on the Battle of New Market. Backside row, from left: Edward M. Tutwiler, John L. Tunstall, and Thomas G. Hayes. Prime row, from left: Hardaway H. Dinwiddie and Gaylord B. Clark.
(Virginia Army Institute archives)

Recalled Lester: “A shell from the insurgent artillery struck a person at my aspect carrying away half of his head and spattering his brains, hair and whiskers all around the proper aspect of me. The identical shell carried away the left shoulder and arm of a person in entrance of me and struck one other man farther on sq. within the again, handed via and as he toppled from his horse I noticed his entire entrance torn open and a torrent of blood flowing from it.”

In a June 1908 letter to Accomplice Colonel George M. Edgar, Minge reminisced concerning the outstanding historical past his cadets had made:

“[W]e have been hurried right down to place No. 3 on the fitting and simply off the turn-pike street….Right here we acquired shortly into motion with cannister in opposition to Cavalry charging down the street and adjoining fields. I feel all of the weapons [Major William] McLaughlin had have been thrown down up to now. I imagine the Artillery aided the Infantry very materially in opposition to this final daring transfer of the enemy. When the smoke cleared away the Cavalry appeared to have been fully damaged up, and we noticed no extra of them to the shut….

“I’ve heard that the conduct of the boys composing the Part was counseled each by Gen. Breckinridge and the Main. Expensive Previous Col. [William Henry] Gilham mentioned some good issues about us, however his love for us would have ignored our faults if we had dedicated any. Main Thomas M. Semmes of the Institute…was charged with the duty of seeing that we didn’t run away, and I’ve been informed that he additionally had some very type phrases for us.”

Lieutenant Collier Minge, VMI cadet
Collier H. Minge, an 1864 VMI graduate, later labored within the cotton commerce in New Orleans. “I used to be put in command,” he wrote, “little question…to my being the then senior Captain of the Corps.”
(Virginia Army Institute Archives)

McIlhenny had questioned the absence of Union infantry assist in the course of the failed cavalry assault. Because it turned out, the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry was close by, positioned subsequent to the Valley Pike on terrain Minge referred to in his letter as a “dale”—that includes rolling hills and a bunch of low cedar bushes. Aligned to the 54th’s rapid proper was the first West Virginia Infantry, which in flip was flanked by the thirty fourth Massachusetts Infantry. The dreadful circumstances and battle chaos, nonetheless, created uncertainty for all three of these regiments, and uncoordinated advances beginning after 3 p.m. would flip notably dire for the 54th Pennsylvania.

Earlier within the conflict, the 54th had seen obligation primarily in protection of a stretch of the B&O Railroad between Cumberland, Md., and what would turn into Martinsburg, W.Va. New Market could be one of many regiment’s first true engagements and it might hit the Keystone State boys exhausting. In roughly two hours of combating, the 54th suffered 174 casualties—almost 31 p.c of its 566-man power. To their credit score, the Pennsylvanians remained engaged for a while earlier than being pressured to retreat from the sphere.

At one level, Sigel’s Union traces had stretched roughly greater than a mile west from Smith’s Creek to the North Fork Shenandoah River, simply north of Jacob Bushong’s affluent farmstead. The combating had progressed west following Stahel’s failed cost and the 54th Pennsylvania’s battle on floor to be labeled “The Bloody Cedars.” A Federal place on an increase subsequent to the river, nonetheless, remained comparatively robust, manned by the artillery models of Captains Alonzo Snow, John Carlin, and Alfred von Kleiser in addition to parts of the thirty fourth Massachusetts and 1st West Virginia.

Sigel wished the 54th Pennsylvania, 1st West Virginia, and thirty fourth Massachusetts to advance in junction. That will not occur. The first coated about 100 yards earlier than falling again, leaving the 54th and thirty fourth remoted on its flanks.

When a spot opened within the Accomplice line across the Bushong Farm, worry grew that the Federals would exploit it. Thus far, Breckinridge had held the cadets in reserve, reluctant to ship them in. Urged on by an aide, Main Charles Semple, he lastly relented: “Put the boys in, and should God forgive me for the order.”

VMI cadets advance across the "Field of Lost Shoes"
The VMI cadets start their advance throughout the so-called “Discipline of Misplaced Sneakers” north of the Bushong Farm, captured in a Don Troiani portray. Word the lifeless Federal under the tree, possible a thirty fourth Massachusetts soldier.
(Troiani, Don (b.1949)/Bridgeman Photographs)

The cadets’ advance down an incline towards the Bushong Home started ominously, as a Federal shell exploded of their midst, killing three: William Cabell, Charles Crockett, and Henry Jones. Fears that the cadets may run have been promptly put to relaxation, although, even after one other cadet, William McDowell, was shot and killed and a number of other others have been wounded.

The VMI boys joined the road of Brig. Gen. Gabriel C. Wharton’s Brigade across the Bushong Farm. Their place was receiving regular hearth from von Kleiser’s batteries in addition to the thirty fourth Massachusetts and 1st West Virginia.

A stealth advance alongside the river by members of the 51st Virginia and the trailing twenty sixth Virginia put Snow’s and Carlin’s weapons in jeopardy, nonetheless, and hearth from the Accomplice proper produced vital Federal casualties.

The 300 or so yards of elevated floor that immediately separated the cadets and von Kleiser’s weapons have been caked with ankle-deep mud—no deterrent within the least, it might show. Their bayonets mounted, the cadets abruptly surged ahead. Even when a number of misplaced their sneakers within the muck and have been pressured to proceed barefoot, the momentum was unstoppable.

Likewise impeded by the muddy terrain, von Kleiser’s uneasy males struggled to shift again the battery’s six weapons. When the relentless cadets overran his place, von Kleiser would lose one in every of his weapons. He then was pressured to desert a second, its wheels mired within the mud.

This text first appeared in America’s Civil Warfare journal

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The Union place atop the ridge collapsed and the fraught Federals retreated towards Mount Jackson, ultimately crossing the North Fork of the Shenandoah and burning the lone bridge there to cease brief the pursuing Confederates. It had been a spectacular, well-deserved victory, however for the triumphant Confederates, it might solely delay the inevitable.

A few days later, Grant eliminated Sigel from command. In June, Sigel’s alternative, Maj. Gen. David Hunter, torched the Virginia Army Institute in Lexington earlier than advancing towards Lynchburg. Stahel continued as commander of the division’s cavalry, and his efforts on the Battle of Piedmont on June 5 earned him a wound and a Medal of Honor. He resigned from the Military in February 1865.

Union Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan ultimately assumed command of what turned the Military of the Shenandoah and unleashed a marketing campaign of devastation upon the area’s bountiful agricultural sources—“The Burning,” because it was infamously recognized in Southern hearts. Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, marked the efficient finish of any Accomplice navy hopes on this once-critical theater of conflict.

Chris Howland is editor of America’s Civil Warfare.