The Battle of New Market: Self-Guided Tour

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Categories: History
Publisher: | Date published: 12/29/2003


The Battle of New Market was the first of a series of engagements taking place in the summer and fall of 1864 that destroyed Confederate power in the Shenandoah Valley, although the battle itself hardly presaged such an outcome. The battlefield has been preserved and developed in relatively recent times. It has, however, been an object of interest and reverence almost since the moment the battle ended. The Battle of New Market was waged between two provisional field organizations hastily assembled by their respective commanders days before contact. Confederate success in the face of greater odds seemed to be a repetition of the days of Stonewall Jackson. Just as in those days of 1862, this was the result of able leadership characterized by a clear vision of the strategic and tactical situation, agility, and synchronization. The Federal defeat can be attributed to the reverse of these principles. Federal strength was frittered away in a series of doctrinaire decisions devoid of reality. Unit cohesiveness was disregarded, and forces were committed with little concept of the Federal objectives or the tactical situation. The battle may be summarized as a Federal movement to contact, Confederate defense and counterattack, and a hasty Federal withdrawal. Rarely has a battle demonstrated the virtues and defects of opposing commanders so clearly. The quality of the units on either side was never in question. The participation of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets and the success of the other Virginia troops in defending their homes give the battle an added poignancy; the endurance, courage, and dedication of the Federals can be an equal source of pride. Understanding the battle's outcome provides valuable insight into leadership, cohesiveness, and the operational art.