21 Members of the
1st Virginia Infantry converged
from Arizona, Colorado, Maryland and Virginia for the 145th anniversary
reenactment of the Battle of New Market, the famed Shenandoah Valley action
of the Civil War in which the young cadets of the Virginia Military
Institute gallantly distinguished themselves in a successful charge against
an enemy battery, a charge which tipped the scales to victory.
anniversary event included street fighting in the town of New Market on
Friday, a swirling battlefield scenario on Saturday and then on Sunday the
highlight of the event - the reenactment of the Battle of New Market, which
took place on the actual historic battlefield and flowed through the very
fields, pastures and orchards and swirled around the very same buildings of
the historic Bushong Farm - just as in 1864.
including a prayer meeting and hymn singing helped remind all of real lives
and real life.
A fine time was
had by all and we look forward to our next event in Virginia.
At one point during the New Market reenactment we advanced
quickly through a part of the Bushong Farm "capturing" a number of federals
including a brass band who being good sports and fine fellows who knew how
to adapt and play their roles well, quickly "galvanized", formed up
immediately to our rear and began playing "Dixie", thus the theme song of
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Another letter has surfaced from Private Christopher of the
Volunteer Infantry, one detailing the
Battle of New Market in May 1864. This letter appeared in the
Williamsburg Star a few weeks later. We note here the soldier did not
write expressly for publication, as was his common practice, but for family.
His brother, still running the paper in Christopher's absence, no doubt felt
compelled to run the letter anyway as was the practice with many letters
from both the Union and Confederate forces.
May 17, 1864
My Dearest Family, loyal supporters in our cause,
I write to you with great relief and joy, as our Confederate brethren have
once again demonstrated their superiority against the aggressors of the
north. The hand of THE LORD was surely with us on this day, as the victory
was sealed by the Corps of Cadets from our Virginia Military Institute.
Our commanders dispatched us to battle upon hearing General Sigel had
advanced into the Shenandoah. As the day of Battle arrived we took our
places, positioned initially behind a row of artillery. Hundreds of men
stood shoulder to shoulder in several battalions awaiting the order to
advance as we saw a line of Federal skirmishers in the fields of tall green
grass below the ridge.
"Now that's a beautiful sight," a compatriot remarked to me as we marveled
at the line of cannons pointed towards the enemy. However, it was not as
beautiful as the thunderous booms as they fired one at a time along the
lines, peppered with rebel yells from the ranks. I do believe we greeted the
yanks with appropriate hospitality.
In a moment of inspiration, our commander offered a song to rally our
company, not the "The Bonnie Blue Flag," but something else. "I'd like us to
sing the Doxology" he said.
"Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him, all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!"
Our voices sang in perfect unison with not a sour note among us. We sang as
bravely as we fought, proclaiming our Ultimate Allegiance, and the troops
surrounding us hushed in reverent silence. Tears welled in eyes.
Minutes later the sergeant told us to keep the column tight as we advanced
on the double-quick through the mud of last night's rain to meet the enemy.
I am glad we did not trip over one another as we sprinted in our full gear
to form line of battle in the field beyond, yelling all the way. Before any
chance to catch our breaths, we heard the orders to load and fire, and our
battalion was enveloped in volley after volley amongst the shouting of the
officers. Soon, our commanders shouted, "Independent company fire!" and our
captain ordered us to fire at will.
The shouting of the Colonel and wing commanders, echoed by the company
Captains grew as loud as the firing itself. I could barely make out the line
of Federals in the distance between the calls to load and fire. I stood
crowded in my place in the rear rank amid staggered files and struggled to
take aim in the midst of smoke and noise. The Sergeant Major somehow found
time to critique my technique. "Make sure you're coming back to a 'T' so you
can get that second band through!" one barked to me, referring to the
necessary foot posture when firing over the first rank's shoulder. At the
moment, I had not been overly concerned with my feet, or with any letter of
the alphabet save for one: 'D', as in death to tyrants. Sic semper tyrannis!
We advanced towards the Bushong farmhouse, chasing the Yanks bank. We met
another line of them across a yard near the barn, on the other side of a
picket fence, and our ranks formed up again. The zing of musket balls echoed
with terrifying volume from the sides of the building as we exchanged fire
once more, loading and firing with building fervor.
"Are you all right, Private Christopher?" our captain called.
"Yes!" I reiterated, not giving any hint of distress, determined to carry on
in spite of the difficulties before us.
We kept pushing the Yankees back, watching them appear before us and then
duck back without warning, even though their numbers suggested they could
weather several of our volleys. I later heard a Federal fife and drummer
separated from their company only to fall directly into the sights of our
advancing line. They quickly began playing "Dixie" with wide smiles upon
their faces, and the attempt at appeasement did not go unappreciated. The
aggressors managed to pick off a couple of our company, who crumpled wounded
to the ground only to be rousted again to the line by the urging of our
captain and the fervor of their will.
Having chased the bluebellies out of the farm, their lines fell back into a
dip beyond a split rail fence. Here we formed again, the front rank
kneeling, taking advantage of the modest protection offered by the low
fence. I struggled to find enough elbow room to crouch and fire. "Let him
through!" the captain shouted. I pushed my way into position and awkwardly
loaded from my knees as the Federals fired at us through the tall grass. We
needed only a couple of volleys to push them further back, upon their
By this time, the dozens of shots had nearly depleted my cartridge supply.
Six shots remained.
"I'm out, Captain!" a fellow soldier shouted.
My compatriots were down to their last rolls of powder, digging into the
boxes of others to resupply themselves or taking ammunition from the fallen.
Our commander ordered us to make sure we had enough for one more volley. We
would have to make sure every shot counted.
We prepared to push the Yanks back again, but as we loaded once more, we
received the order to halt. The VMI Cadets, who had marched more than 80
miles to this point and were the last reserve and resort of Gen.
Breckinridge, took the fight to the retreating enemy, overrunning a key
artillery battery and creating a panic which broke the demoralized enemy and
sent them fleeing.
The victory left us heartened at the righteousness of our cause, and our
officers noted our bravery and tenaciousness. "You boys looked darned good
today," one told us as we stood in formation after the yanks had fled.
I continued to marvel at the courage of the cadets, and how they possessed
more than I shall ever have in their storehouses of youth, strength,
courage, and bravery. I had the honor of meeting two of them the day before
this battle, and I am reassured our country's future armies will be led by
capable and competent hands.
I look toward the day when I shall rejoin you once again in Williamsburg,
and in this victory we pray that day might soon arrive.
Your Servant In The Cause,
1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
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