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The Battle of New Market

May 15, 1864 in New Market, Virginia
Lynchburg Campaign

Union Forces Commanded by:
Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel
Forces Killed Wounded Captured
6,275 120 500 240*

Confederate Forces Commanded by:
Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge
Forces Killed Wounded Captured
4,090 85 320 -

**Missing and Captured
Conclusion: Confederate Victory


In conjunction with his Spring offensive, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel to move up the Shenandoah Valley along the Valley Pike with 10,000 men to destroy the railroad and canal complex at Lynchburg. Although outnumbered, Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge was able to concentrate scattered Confederate forces to meet Sigel's army near New Market. At New Market on the 15th, Sigel was attacked by a makeshift Confederate army of about 4,100 men commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge.
At a crucial point, a key Union battery was withdrawn from the line to replenish its ammunition, leaving a weakness that Breckinridge was quick to exploit. He ordered his entire force forward, and Sigel's stubborn defense collapsed. Threatened by the Confederate cavalry on his left flank and rear, Sigel ordered a general withdrawal burning the North Fork bridge behind him.  Sigel retreated down the Valley to Strasburg and was soon replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter.
On the 14th, Union cavalry under Quinn advanced south on the Valley Pike from Mt. Jackson, driving Confederate cavalry under Imboden across Meem's Bottom and beyond Rude's Hill, where defense stiffened. Reinforced by a brigade of infantry under Moor, and Wynkoop's cavalry brigade, Union forces again advanced with Imboden withdrawing to New Market. Confederate cavalry, fighting dismounted supported Imboden and established a line south of New Market behind Shirley's Hill. The Confederate line stretched thinly from Shirley's Hill to Smith Creek. Federals continued to advance, launching 2 attacks about 8:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M., both of which were repulsed. After dark, Imboden withdrew farther to the south, after successfully retarding Sigel's advance.
After midnight, Breckinridge brought most of his command north along the Valley Pike from near Lacey Spring. By 6:00 A.M. on the 15th, Breckinridge reached the Shenandoah County line. He halted near here to reconnoiter and about 8:00 A.M., sent his cavalry and artillery forward to harass the Union force under Moor at New Market. Confederate artillery unlimbered and fired from Shirley's Hill. Moor established his line along the old River Road with artillery on Manor's Hill and in St. Matthews cemetery. The rest of Sigel's infantry was spread out along the pike as far north as Edinburg. Brig. Gen. Julius Stahel arrived about 8:30 A.M. and ordered Moor to withdraw some of his troops to Bushong's Hill. While Breckinridge waited on the rest of his infantry to reach the field, Union guns at the cemetery and Confederate guns on Shirley's Hill exchanged fire.
About 11:00 A.M., Sigel arrived on the battlefield and established temporary headquarters at the Rice House. After reviewing Moor's dispositions he ordered his line withdrawn to a stronger position on Bushong's Hill, stretching between a bend in the North Fork and Smith's Creek. Sigel brought up 14 guns to support his position, leaving DuPont's battery at Rude's Hill awaiting orders. He placed cavalry on his left flank between the Valley Pike and Smith's Creek. Breckinridge deployed on both sides of the Pike and advanced his infantry in force, driving back Union skirmishers. Imboden crossed Smith's Creek with his cavalry and attempted to outflank Sigel by moving north along the east bank. By 12:30 P.M., Sigel had withdrawn entirely from the town of New Market.
About 2:00 P.M., Breckinridge launched an all-out assault against the Union position on Bushong's Hill. When the Confederate attack stalled under heavy small arms and artillery fire, the VMI battalion was ordered to fill the gap in the line near the Bushong House. About 2:45 P.M., the Union cavalry under Stahel attacked up the Valley Pike, riding into massed artillery which Breckinridge had shifted east from Shirley's Hill. Stahel was repulsed with heavy casualties.
About 3:00 P.M., Sigel directed a confused counterattack, which was soon repulsed. Confederate sharpshooters began picking off Union gunners on Bushong's Hill north of the farm, and Sigel ordered the batteries withdrawn. When the artillery fire slackened, Breckinridge ordered a general advance and swept the Union line off Bushong's Hill. Union forces began a general retreat.
On his own initiative, Capt. Henry DuPont brought up his battery to cover the retreat. He unlimbered first near the Harshburger House, then withdrew his pieces rearward en echelon as the Confederates advanced. Sigel fell back to his supports at the Cedar Grove Dunker Church and cemetery and organized a holding action, while his confused troops reorganized. DuPont's artillery continued to slow the pursuit.
About 4:30 P.M., Breckinridge ordered a halt to regroup confronting the Union line at Cedar Grove Church. Imboden's cavalry returned from their fruitless effort to get in rear of Sigel's army to burn the Meem's Bottom Bridge across the North Fork (the creeks were swollen with rainfall). An artillery duel continued until about 5:00 P.M. Breckinridge was unable to organize another attack and, by 7:00 P.M., the Union army escaped across the North Fork and burned the bridge. Sigel retreated down the Valley Pike rapidly, leaving his badly wounded at Mt. Jackson. He arrived at Strasburg on the following day.
Sigel was decisively defeated on the 15th, and the Valley remained in Confederate hands until Maj. Gen. David Hunter renewed the Union offensive on the 26th. The battle of New Market is noted for the participation of a battalion of VMI cadets, who distinguished themselves in combat beside veteran troops.
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