ISSUE NUMBER 16

HISTORICAL MINIATURES BY GEORGE GRASSE
HISTORICAL MINIATURES JOURNAL

NOVEMBER 2012

HISTORICAL MINIATURES JOURNAL ISSUE NUMBER 16

PUBLISHED BY GEORGE GRASSE

THE BATTLEFIELD AT NEW MARKET IN THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY

FOUGHT 15 MAY 1864

The image above is taken from a reproduction of the article "The Day at New Market" written by William C. Davis for Historical Times Inc., 1971.  It represents the map drawn by Benjamin Colonna and published in 1914.  Cadet Colonna was the 2nd Captain of Company D, Virginia Military Institute Cadet Battalion, and, at the age of 20, fought at New Market on 15 May 1864.  The map is an accurate topographical representation of the battlefield and surrounding area.  It includes several troop dispositions during the course of the battle.  At the bottom left hand of the map is Shirley's Hill, the most dominating feature of the immediate area.  Behind it (south) is shown the initial Confederate deployment.  The first Union position is to the north just beyond and west of New Market town.

 

Photo #1: This view is taken from just behind the crest of Shirley's Hill looking north.  The width of the battlefield is defined by the South fork of the Shenandoah River, on the left, and the great Valley Turnpike, on the right.   The Battle of New Market was fought on 15 May 1864 largely as a result of Sigel's Army of West Virginia moving up, or south, of the Shenandoah Valley in concert with The Army of the Potomac's move south and into the Wilderness.  The primary objective set forth by General U. S. Grant, commanding ALL U. S. armies, was to prevent Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley from reinforcing General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia AND to escort a large re-supply wagon train to Staunton where two Union cavalry commands were to assemble after their raids into Southwest Virginia (Crook and Averill).  The only force known to be in front of Sigel was General Imboden's mixed cavalry and infantry command and the troublesome raider commands of Mosby and McNeil.  These combined Confederate forces, small as they were in size, completely bamboozled the easily fooled Sigel who committed nearly every possible military blunder during the course of this short campaign.

 

Photo #2 - This photo is taken about 50 yards back from the crest and looks to the northeast and the prominent Luray Gap in Massanutten Mountain.  To get to this spot from I-81, exit at New Market and take Virginia 211 west as though going to the main battlefield park area.  However, almost directly across from the access road to the battlefield park is a frontage road going south.  Drive up this road until you reach a Virginia State property sign that stands on the access road to the water tower.  The view spot for this photo was taken up the water tower dirt road about 150 feet from the access road.  Note that this road is unpaved and deeply rutted.  

 

Photo #3 - This photo was taken from just outside the visitor center at the battlefield site looking northeast.  At the far right and including the barn in the center is the Bushong Farm.  At the far left is the rise in the ground that anchored Sigel's left flank.  From left to right, just beyond the Bushong barn, the Confederate line was Hart's Engineer Company, Wolfe's 51st Virginia, Edgar's 26th Virginia Battalion, Clark's 30th Virginia Battalion, Woodson's Missouri Company, and Ship's VMI Cadet Battalion.  Just beyond the Bushong farm to the east was Smith's 62nd Mounted Virginia (mostly out of the photo).  This points out the disturbing fact that the Bushong Farm is the eastern limit of the battlefield site which is bisected by I-81 and then the New Market city limits.  The corresponding Union units directly opposite Confederate units in area shown in the photo are Carlin's Battery D 1st West Virginia, Snow's Battery B Maryland Light, and Wells' 34th Massachusetts supported by Curtis' 12th West Virginia in rear of the two batteries.  Overall, this is view incorporates only one-third of the actual engaged battlefield.

 

Photo #4 - Moving forward, from the area of the modern day visitor center, Confederate infantry near the center of the line to the right of the barn would be passing the Bushong Farm buildings seen here.  The VMI Cadet Battalion was still in the second line probably 300 yards to the rear but still exposed to fire aimed at the first line.  Beyond the trees behind the farm building is I-81 and the now expanded town of New Market.  Back then, that area was part of the battlefield.  We will explore this side in a few more photos and then go over to the other flank.

 

 
Photo #5 - Just to the near side of the Bushong Farm House in the previous photo, I walked north along the side of the house, past the guest house, and into the orchard.  I angled to the northwest and took this picture in the middle of the orchard with Bushong Hill in the middle distance.  If I were in the advancing Confederate infantry line, canister would be heavy.  The Confederates got to about the fence line and halted to begin return musketry primarily directed against the Union three batteries in front of them: Carlin's and Snow's batteries on Bushong Hill and Kleiser's battery partially hidden by the orchard trees but a lot closer than the other two, approximately opposite the whitish trunked tree and distant about 175 yards on a slight rise in the ground.

 

Photo #6 - Leaving the orchard and continuing our walk along the Confederate line heading for the left flank on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, I stopped here to look back into the forward edge of the orchard occupied by the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry Regiment and the 1st Missouri now coming under deadly canister fire from three Union batteries especially Captain Kleiser's 30th New York Independent Battery, in which two of my namesakes fought: Lieutenant Grasse who commanded one section of two 12-pounder Napoleons and First Sergeant Frank E. Grasse, battery first sergeant

This view is looking northeast towards the Union infantry line held by the 34th Massachusetts and probably part of the 1st West Virginia regiments.  This particular spot was the approximate position of the the 30th Virginia Battalion with the 51st Virginia Regiment to their left.  These two units received the brunt of Union artillery and musket fire. 

 

 
Photo #7 - Walking farther on, I stepped back to get an overview shot of what it may have appeared to the 51st Virginia Regiment now on the extreme left of the infantry line.  The 26th Virginia Battalion was behind it having been squeezed out of line as they moved against the bend in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River(off to the left).  The battlefield park has several replica cannons to mark the position of the various batteries and you can just barely make out the gun line representing Carlin's and Snow's batteries just above the white sign.  Casualties were running high among the three Confederate units occupying this ground between the river and the Bushong House.  Left to right, overall battle casualties were: 51st Virginia lost 14.7% (left), 30th Virginia lost (13.3% (middle), and 62nd Virginia lost 20.5% (right).

 

 
Battle Map - This map is taken from Valley Thunder by Charles R. Knight, page 149.  It shows the overall situation described in my photo panels.  Confederate units are in gray, Union in black.  The Confederate line has been pinched by the river and shows the 51st, 30th, Woodson's Missouri company, and the 62nd in the advance now stalled in front of Union artillery and infantry on higher ground.  Note that the 26th Virginia Battalion is now in a second line with the VMI Cadet Battalion supported by Jackson's battery.

 

 
Photo #8 - Heading west after a few paces, I encountered the edge of the woods growing as a strip along the east bank of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  A few steps more and I reached the walking trail shown above and took this photo aiming to the north or Union positions.  One of the great mysterious and the first of Sigel's tactical blunders was assigning just one company of the 34th Massachusetts here apparently believing that no sizeable infantry force would attempt an advance through these thickets and maintain order.  As the Confederate line advanced and actually shortened because of the bend in the river, the 26th Virginia Battalion and Hart's Engineer company began to work their way into and along this thicket line towards the Union position scattering what Union troops were in their path.  Eventually, and to their great surprise, their advance in these rough and tumble woods brought them within sight and easy musket range of the batteries of Carlin and Snow!  What a surprise this must have been especially not to have been contested.  They opened fire and started knocking down  gunners and horses.  This was such a distraction that Carlin rode over to Sigel to get help.  Sigel says he ordered a four-company battalion from the 12th Virginia Regiment who were directly behind Carlin to advance into the thickets and drive off the Confederates.  He goes on to say in his report that these men refused to advance.  I'm not so sure that Sigel ever directly went to the 12th or that he even ordered an aide to do so.  It probably never happened.  The firing from the thickets got pretty hot and, after the failed Union counter-charge, Sigel's second tactical blunder, the guns were finally ordered out of the line but several were unable to get away for lack of horses.  

 

Photo #9 - I headed north along the river trail and in about 50 feet or so turned left onto the overlook footpath.  The whole width of the thicket woods at this point is about 40 yards the rest of it being on the steep slope defines the bluff overlooking the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  This photo was taken at the overlook looking northwest.  The river flows north hence if you are moving north along the valley you are are going "down" the valley.  This view gives you a pretty good idea what the thicket woods looked like in May 1864.  Sigel probably thought that his right flank was absolutely secured at the bluff but he did not consider the possibility of a line of thick skirmishers moving through it.

 

Photo #10 - Just farther up the river walk, I turned right (east) and came out near this sight shown above which marks the general area of the Carlin and Snow batteries.  Unfortunately, I lost several photos I took from this spot.  The photo above was taken from Blue & Gray Special Issue #4 on the Battle of New Market, specifically from the General's tour section by Dave Roth and Lt. Col. Keith Gibson, VMI.  The Confederate line has been halted and is deployed just in front of the barn at the far right and extends along the fence line and the Bushong orchard.  The VMI Cadet Battalion is behind the Bushong Farm buildings marked by the white house in the center right of the photo.  von Kleiser's battery of 12-pounder Napoleons just off the left of the photo down in the swale opposite the Bushong orchard.  The combination of these 17 guns has stopped the Confederate advance and inflicted enough casualties to force the several parts of the line to fall back in disorder out of canister range.  The VMI Cadet Battalion is about to be committed to fill the gap.

 

Photo #11 - In this photo I took, Carlin's Battery D, 1st West Virginia, and Snow's Battery B, Maryland Light Artillery, are on the high rise of ground on the left, about 175 yards from this spot.  This is a representation of the position of von Kleiser's 30th New York Independent Battery.  This is what I call the swale and, from the edge of Snow's battery and in a line along the rear of von Kleiser and off the photo to the right is deployed the 34th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment supporting the batteries.  Behind the lone tree in foreground but just on the other side of the Bushong Hill rise about 150 yards to the rear is deployed the 12th West Virginia.

 

Photo #12 - Walking up to the replica guns of von Kleiser's battery and looking back towards the Bushong Farm is the field of fire of the five 12-pounder Napoleons (one had been lost earlier in the day having one of its wheels virtually shot off).  This is canister range.  The open ground is a good part of "the field of lost shoes" over which the VMI Cadet Battalion advanced.

 

Photo #13 - The lone tree seen in the previous photo marks the site of von Kleiser's battery with Carlin and Snow on the rise to the far left.  This is the view that the right of the VMI Cadet Battalion and the left of the 62nd Virginia had as they advanced against the Union line.  This advance was made just after another and most fatal tactical blunder by Sigel, that of the disjointed advance of the whole of the Union line.  The chain of command from Sigel to aides to the Union brigade commander, Thornton, and to each of the three regiments was poor so that each regiment ended up attacking by themselves and were easily repulsed one by one.  On the heels of that action, Breckenridge ordered the advance of the whole Confederate infantry line including the VMI Cadet Battalion which captured one of von Kleiser's Napoleons.  Thornton's infantry brigade and the artillery barely escaped with the help of battlefield smoke and a Confederate halt.

 

Photo #14 - As mentioned previously, the battlefield is bisected by I-81.  However, a pedestrian tunnel connects the portions in the Bushong Farm area.  Walking through the tunnel, a footpath continues eastward but only for 100 yards or so.  Near the end of that path, this is a clearing from which I took this photo showing the nature of the ground on the Union left held largely by the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry regiment from the Valley Turnpike just barely visible on the far right middle of the photo.  Going to the left, there is the prominent Knob of Short Mountain with the white pinnacle of the 54th Pennsylvania monument just below.  This is the neighborhood of the far Union left.  Most of the Union cavalry was hidden in this area in the early stages of the battle and from this general area, attempted a silly "charge" against strong Confederate infantry and artillery posted just behind this view on high ground.

 

Photo #15 - A friend of ours took this photo of my son Scott and me in the Bushong Farm complex. The farm house is on the left and open for viewing.  The Union lines are through the orchard.

 

PHOTOS TAKEN IN OCTOBER 2012

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REFERENCES and BIBLIOGRAPHY

Collier, Mark C.  Map-Packet for the Battle of New Market.  Harrisonburg, VA: Collier Mapping, 1996.

Davis, William C.  The Battle of New Market.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Davis, William C.  The Day at New Market.  Harrisonburg, PA: Historical Times, Inc, 1971 and 1979.

Guerrant, Edward O. Reverend.  Operations in East Tennessee and South-West Virginia.  Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 4.  New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956.

Holsworth, Jerry W.  VMI at the Battle of New Market.  Columbus, OH: Blue & Gray Magazine, Volume XVI, Special Issue No. 4, April 1999.  This is a noteworthy magazine issue that includes the VMI Cadet Battalion roster, walking tour narrative with color photos, and an overall account of the battle including the days leading up to 15 May 1864.

Imboden, John D.  The Battle of New Market, VA, May 15th, 1864.  Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 4.  New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956.

Knight, Charles R.  Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864.  New York: Savas Beatie LLC, 2010.

 

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