The Battle of New Market

Part One: The Bloody Cedars

I have spent the vast majority of my life travelling up and down Interstate 81. Hundreds of times I’ve passed right through New Market, VA, but never had the opportunity to stop. My dad was always rather militant on road trips. We could stop for gas and that was pretty much it, Bathroom breaks took place in an empty soda bottle. Recently I took a long weekend from work and traveled to Winchester, VA to do some sightseeing. On the return trip to NC I finally made it a point to stop at New Market Battlefield. What I was unaware of is the fact that Interstate 81 splits the battlefield in half, so I decided to write two posts about the battle in honor of the 151st anniversary of the battle which will occur May 15, 2015.

The area of battle that took place between what is present-day Interstate 81 and US 11(The Valley Pike) earned the nickname of Bloody Cedars. You can access this spot by one of 2 ways. The first is that you can park at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War(located on the grounds of the battlefield) and take the walking tour that leads to the Bushong Farm and the Field of Lost Shoes. There is a pedestrian tunnel that leads under Interstate 81, from which you can follow a trail to the 54th Pennsylvania Monument. The other option is to take US 11 and park at the 54th Pennsylvania Monument. Personally, I took the first option.

As you emerge from the tunnel the foot path will continue to a treeline. This is a good point to orient yourself, and keep certain landmarks in mind. From the treeline you will look across a field and in the distance you can see the 54th’s monument. To your left will be the interstate and to your right is the Valley Pike. Take note of the features that you see from the Confederate positions at the treeline and compare them to when you reach the monument and look back across the field.

Position held by the 62nd Virginia

Position held by the 62nd Virginia

The 62nd's view looking toward the 54th Pennsylvania

The 62nd’s view looking toward the 54th Pennsylvania

As the battle unfolded, the 62nd Virginia took up their positions in the treeline pictured. They appeared to be an easy target for General Stahel’s Union cavalry. An infantry attack was being planned to coincide with the cavalry charge, which Union commanders anticipated would be an easy rout of the enemy. What the Union didn’t realize was that more Confederate firepower existed than they had anticipated. General John C. Breckinridge was throwing everything he had in the Shenandoah Valley against the Union advance. General Stahel’s cavalry charged but were quickly stopped and forced to retreat.

Below I’m going to provide a photo so that you can compare what the South saw as opposed to the North. From the view of the 62nd Virginia you can see the entire field. You can see all of the key terrain features. But from the view of the Union’s line, you can’t. From their viewpoint the ground nearly looks flat, and this misconception would prove to be a fatal mistake.

View from the 54th PA looking toward the 62nd VA. Notice how from the 54th's point of view you cannot see the large valley that the 62nd sees, and they use this to their advantage

View from the 54th PA looking toward the 62nd VA. Notice how from the 54th’s point of view you cannot see the large valley that the 62nd sees, and they use this to their advantage

Despite Stahel’s failed attack, the infantry goes in. Their plan was to march to the crest of the hill and then charge across the open ground to the treeline. They had hoped that a combination of smoke and fog would mask their movements, but in the end it didn’t matter. This played directly into the hands of the 62nd. They knew the ground was not flat. The Union ranks reached the crest and charged, except they found what the 62nd knew. Waiting for them on the other side of the hill, hidden from view, were several Virginia regiments. What ensued can only be described as a bloodbath, and a retreat was soon in the works.

Around the same time that this occurred, the 62nd saw from their treeline that the 54th Pennsylvania had been left to fight alone. The Confederates launched an attack on both flanks and forced the 54th to retreat. Breckinridge’s right flank was now secure.

54th Pennsylvania Monument

54th Pennsylvania Monument

The Battle of New Market was supposed to be the final decisive battle for control of the Shenandoah Valley. The Union had anticipated minimal resistance, for they knew that General Lee had neither the time or resources to come to the aid of the Valley. Their expectations of an easy victory caused several failures. First, the Union missed numerous opportunities to perform reconnaissance. They did not anticipate the fact that Breckinridge would use everything he could find to defend New Market. This included the now famous battalion of teenage VMI Cadets, where 10 would lose their lives and their courage is now cemented in history. Control of the Valley would eventually slip from the South’s grasp in October of 1864, but for the summer, the Shenandoah belonged to the South.

Lincoln County, NC

Love, loss, and Stonewall Jackson

Lincoln County, NC lies just to the northwest of Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte. The county seat is Lincolnton, founded in 1780 near the site of the Battle of Ramseurs Mill, which took place during the American Revolution. Highway 150 runs through the county. North leads to Lake Norman and Mooresville, the NASCAR capital of the world. Further north is Salisbury, where you can view the National Cemetery, built on the grounds of the former Salisbury Prison. Then you have Highway 321. North leads to weekend getaways in the Blue Ridge Mountains, south heads to Gastonia. And then there’s Highway 73. If you are looking for a quick road trip to brush up on some history, then 73 is your road!

If you are in Lincolnton, head east on Highway 73. As you near the southern tip of Lake Norman you will come to Old Plank Rd. Take a right, and not far down you will come to Machpelah Cemetery and Machpelah Church. There is plenty of room here to park your vehicle safely off of the road. First, check out the church.

Machpelah Church

Machpelah Church

Interior view of Machpelah Church

Interior view of Machpelah Church

The building is locked but there are plenty of windows that you can look through. Inside is a view straight from the past! You will see an old wood stove, the original pews, and up top is the seating area for slaves. Dr. Robert Hall Morrison was the first pastor at Machpelah. Dr. Morrison was the founder of Davidson College. If you’re not a local and that doesn’t ring a bell then perhaps this will. His daughter Anna married Thomas Jackson, better known as Stonewall. She would become his second wife, his first had died giving birth. Anna’s sister married another well known general, Daniel Harvey Hill. After you have finished the church, head to the cemetery. Here you will find the plots of the Morrison family, including Anna’s brother, Captain Joseph Morrison. Joseph was a member of Stonewall Jackson’s staff during the war. Sevral Confederate soldiers rest here, their tombs marked by Confederate flags.

The grave of Captain Morrison

The grave of Captain Morrison

If you return to your vehicle and travel just a few miles further down Old Plank Rd. you will reach the site of Cottage Home. There is a vehicle pulloff, a Civil War Trails sign, and a historical marker dedicated to Stonewall Jackson. Where you are parked is a thick treeline. The sign says that approximately 200 yards back is where the Morrison family home stood. They had named it Cottage Home. Cottage home was where Jackson and Anna were married.

Historical marker on Old Plank Rd.

Historical marker on Old Plank Rd.

After touring these sights I suggest heading back into Lincolnton. Or really, you could start in Lincolnton and view these sights second, it’s up to you! Near downtown Lincolnton is St. Lukes Episcopal Cemetery. Here, protected by a private iron gate, is the headstone of General Stephen D. Ramseur. A native of Lincolnton, he jumped at the opportunity to fight for North Carolina. After a distinguished career, he was killed in 1864 at the Battle of Cedar Creek, near Winchester, VA. As at Machpelah, you will find numerous flags marking the graves of other Confederate veterans.

Grave of Stephen D. Ramseur

Grave of Stephen D. Ramseur

And with that, your trip is now complete. I never knew that these places existed. The only thing I ever went to Lincolnton for was to get a burger and a Set Up at my favorite drive in eatery, It’s. But then they built a Sonic right next door, and well, It’s isn’t there anymore. I found out about these places by using http://www.civilwartrails.org. It’s a great website and organization. You can contact them for free maps of any state that a battle was fought in, and it will show you all of the famous places as well as spots like this that you’ve never heard of. If you’re really into Civil War history but time, work, and money are keeping you from that big trip to a major battlefield, try Civil War Trails. It’s all free, close to home, and totally worth the time.

Sources:

Sacred Ties: From West Point Brothers to Battlefield Rivals: A True Story Of the Civil War. By Tom Carhart

All photographs are from my personal collection of my travels

http://www.markers.ncdcr.gov

http://www.civilwartrails.org

John Reynolds

Brigadier General, U.S. Army

john reynolds  One figure from the Civil War that I have always admired was General John Reynolds. He was the type of leader that you would want to fight, and even lay down your life, for. After graduating from West Point his career flourished. By the time the Civil War began, Reynolds returned to his home state of Pennsylvania to support the Union cause. After numerous triumphs, and even his own capture, his life was cut short at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

John Reynolds was born to a large family in Lancaster, PA in 1820. At the time, Lancaster was a major manufacturing hub for several new, hot, commodities. One such item produced here was the Pennsylvania long rifle, very popular among hunters and frontiersman. Another was the Conestoga Wagon, which took its name from the nearby Conestoga River. This wagon design become very desirable for families headed west on the Oregon Trail.

John Reynolds grew up in Lancaster and was later nominated for appointment to West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. He was a member of the class of 1841. While there he was taught artillery tactics, and following his graduation, he was assigned to the U.S. Artillery. Following several post assignments across the United States he was sent to Mexico, where he fought alongside so many others who during the Civil War he would either continue to serve with or fight against. Serving as an artillery commander he received brevet promotions to the rank of captain and then major following the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista, respectively.

Following his return from the war he was assigned to duty in the western United States. He participated in the Rogue River Wars and the Utah War before returning to West Point in 1860, this time as the commandant. It was sometime during his time there and when the Civil War began that he became engaged, though it was a bittersweet relationship.

Recently, I purchased the DVD “The Gettysburg Story”, and while watching it I learned of Reynolds’ relationship, something I had not previously known. Among his peers and family he was thought to be a lifelong bachelor, and unfortunately there was a reason for that. He and his fiance were of different religious faiths, something that if found out, their families and churches may disapprove of. They had hoped to keep their engagement a secret until after the war ended, when things had settled and perhaps new beginnings were on everyone’s mind.

When the Civil War began, Reynolds was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the I Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He fought at the 7 Days Battles, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. In June of 1862 he was captured during a retreat maneuver following the Battle of Gaines Mill. He reportedly fell asleep under a tree and when he awoke he was surrounded by not his comrades but a large group of Confederate soldiers. His luck would turn worse before it got better, as he was sent to the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond. Luckily at this early point in the war, prisoner exchanges were common and he was released that August, returning to I Corps.

On June 30, 1863, John Reynolds found himself back home in Pennsylvania, not far from his boyhood home. Unfortunately he was not there for a visit. The Union had been pursuing the Confederate army and they were about to collide head on at the crossroads town of Gettysburg. He was camped approximately 12 miles away from the town. Up ahead his old friend John Buford prepared to defend the town from the large rebel force with his severely outnumbered cavalry unit.

Reynolds and I Corps moved rapidly to reinforce Buford, and on the morning of July 1 they took the field. Reynolds took command of I,III, and IX Corps, the entire left wing of the Army of the Potomac. As was his usual, he rode at the head of his troops. He ordered the famed Iron Brigade onto McPhersons Ridge, and shortly following, he was struck in the head by a bullet and killed instantly.It is reported that he was on the field less than an hour during a battle that would last 3 long, bloody, days. He was 42 at the time of his death.

There were many in the army who believed that Reynolds should be in command of the Union army, following disastrous turns by generals McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker. In a twist of fate two close friends of his, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead, also found themselves on the battlefield. Hancock and Armistead would fall opposing each other on the third and final day of battle during what became known as Pickett’s Charge. Only Hancock would survive. Less than twenty years prior many of these men had fought together during the Mexican War. The Civil War was not only a war between states, but also friends. Today, a statue of General Reynolds stands atop McPhersons Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park.

reynolds statue

Sources:

Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide

Photos: Found on the Library of Congress Website

150 YEARS

April, 2015. It has been 150 years since the American Civil War ended. The past 5 years have been filled with celebrations, reenactments, dedications and remembrances. 5 years of war left a country devastated, a country that less than one hundred years earlier had fought for independence from the mighty British Empire. 5 years of bloody conflict led 2 tired armies to a small town in Virginia. General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia would square off one last time against General Ulysses S. Grant and the United States Army. Hundreds of thousands of casualties led to this moment. Thousands of miles of roads and fields. Families, friendships, and allegiances, all of them ripped apart. At long last a truce was declared and hostilities ceased. Lee would meet with Grant to discuss the terms of his surrender. Grant’s terms are well known: unconditional. Back on the battlefield the two armies waited. The U.S. hoping that their stars and stripes would remain whole, while the Confederate army hoped that their 13 stars would prevail with the birth of a new nation. Maybe one more battle, maybe a hundred more. But it would not be so. Lee would surrender, and not long after so would Johnston in North Carolina. The United States of America was born again. While there was joy in the moment, the reality is that the effects of the war would be long lasting, and even today we can draw parallels. African-Americans still struggle to find equality in America. And just as during the Civil War, our economy has been hard-hit over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Southern ports fell victim to the Union blockade. Featured imageCotton and tobacco rotted on docks. Foreign trade failed. Farms and land had been depleted of crops and animals. Yes, the war was far from over. Reconstruction would begin. The KKK would form and begin terrorizing newly freed African-Americans and their white sympathizers. The United States would expand westward and impose its will on the Native Americans. And that’s putting it nicely. But with the bad comes the good. Foreign trade would resume. The United States would climb to the top of the world superpowers. Friendships were resumed, families reunited. Some would struggle while others would find fame. Union General Lew Wallace would go on to become the governor of New Mexico during the time of Billy the Kid and would write the classic novel Ben Hur. Confederate General Joe Wheeler would become a US Congressman, and would later return to his cavalry roots as the commander of US Volunteers during the Spanish-American War on the island of Cuba. And lest we forget General George Armstrong Custer and that fateful day on the Little Bighorn River in Montana. I have been a fan of the Civil War for most of my life. At a young age, my mom and grandmother took me on my first of many trips to Gettysburg. The movies “Gettysburg”, “Gods and Generals”, and “Andersonville” rank highly on my list of favorites. I own more books than I can count, many are still waiting to be read. The beauty of the Civil War is that it offers such a broad spectrum of learning and topics. By no means do I consider myself an expert, but I do try to take in as much as I can and there is always something new to learn. In this day and age it is not something that is talked about much, the iPhone and reality shows are much more popular. But there is a growing faction who seek to keep the memory of the war alive. More and more you see parents bringing their young children to the battlefields. Reenactors take their hobby very seriously, thus allowing them to give spectators the most realistic experience possible. All over the South are historical markers signifying that a Civil War even took place nearby. Stop and read the signs, take a moment from your travels, and you may learn something! It’s things like this and the people that will hopefully allow us to still discuss the war in another 150 years.