The Battle of New Market lasted just three days in May 1864, and yet it has left its mark on the small town ever since.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the battle, and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War has invited hundreds of the soldiers’ descendants to attend a special reception before a re-enactment many times larger than the typical annual restaging of the battle.
“It’s taken on a real family reunion-type feel,” said Maj. Troy Marshall, site manager of the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, located next to the battlefield. “They haven’t been together in decades and [are] coming back to celebrate [their] cadet heritage.”
Instead of examining genealogy from present day back to the Civil War, an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington recently worked forward to find descendants using names of veterans of the Battle of New Market.
Nearly 1,000 of those descendants have been invited to the invitation-only reception, which will be held on the evening of May 16.
Many people didn’t know they were descendants of soldiers who fought in the Battle of New Market until they were contacted about the reception, Marshall said.
He’s interested in seeing how people react to other descendants of the battle’s veterans. It’s not every day that one meets a descendant of someone who fought alongside — or even against — their own ancestor.
“They’re meeting, probably, for the first time,” he said.
What makes the Battle of New Market different from others in the Civil War is the involvement of 257 VMI cadets who fought as a unit in the battle.
Many of the VMI cadets — who marched the 84 miles from the institute in Lexington to New Market, a journey that is still re-created each year — were as young as 15.
Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge tried to hold off as long as possible, partly because some of his own cousins made up part of the reserve, but eventually was forced to send them into the battle.
“That’s when he literally teared up and said, ‘Put the boys in and may God forgive me that order,’” Marshall said.
Ten cadets were killed in battle or died later from the effects of their wounds; 45 were wounded, according to VMI archives.
Astonishingly, they were able to capture a Union cannon and the battle eventually ended with a Confederate victory, thanks in large part to the cadets’ bravery.
The New Market Battlefield State Historical Park features one of the longest-running re-enactments in the country. Typically, about 600 volunteers gather in mid-May at the battlefield and camp out with Civil War-era gear, and VMI cadets participate, as well.
But this year, about 3,000 re-enactors are expected to re-create different aspects of the conflict, including the main battle over three days. Marshall said he hopes to see up to 10,000 spectators for the events from May 16 to May 18.
Plans have been in the works for months, and the weekend is expected to be a huge economic boost for New Market and Shenandoah County. Such an influx of tourists staying in hotels and eating at restaurants will bring a great deal of tax revenue to the area, Marshall said, and it also will raise awareness about what else the Valley has to offer.
“Folks are going to be coming in and they’ll find out about all the other stuff,” he said. “They’ll be taking advantage of that while they’re here, or maybe make future plans.”
Admission will be $10 per person, per day at the gates, and $8 per person, per day if paid ahead of time. Children 9 and younger get in free.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www2.vmi.edu/museum/nm/reenactment/reen%20announce.htm.
Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org