"We remember the New Market cadets because they represent both a challenge and a support. I believe that the VMI Spirit was
born on that May day in 1864, and I believe that the New Market Corps stands as a bond among all who have worn the cadet gray.
Every cadet, every alumnus, is forever able to draw upon one stirring and reassuring thought, the thought that if they could do
it, so, God willing, can I"
- Chester B. Coolrick, Jr., VMI class of 1937In the spring of 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant set
in motion a grand strategy designed to press the Confederate nation into submission. "My primary mission," reasoned Grant, "is
to...bring pressure to bear on the Confederacy so no longer could it take advantage of interior lines." Control of the
strategically important and agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley was a key element in General Grant's plans. While he confronted
General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the eastern portion
of the state, Grant ordered Major General Franz Sigel's army of 10,000 to
secure the valley and threaten Lee's flank.Receiving word that the Union Army had entered the valley, Confederate General John C. Breckinridge pulled together all available forces to repulse the latest threat. The Cadet
Corps, over half of whom were first year "Rats", were called to join Breckinridge and his army of 4,500 veterans. The cadets
marched 80 miles in four days to meet up with General Breckinridge's Confederate force. The cadets were intended to be a reserve
and employed in battle except under the most dire circumstances. The two armies met at New Market on May 15, 1864. "I shall
advance on him", the aggressive Breckinridge declared. "We can attack and whip them here and I'll do it." As the general rode by
the cadets he shouted, "gentlemen from VMI, I trust I will not need your services today; but if I do, I know you will do your
duty."In the drenching rain, union artillery located in town fired upon the Confederate line as it began its advance from the south.
After brushing aside union skirmishers located west of town, the rebel infantry line came within rifle range of Federals
positioned along a ridge north of the farm owned by Jacob and Sara Bushong.Cadet John Howard saw a badly wounded Confederate officer lying on his side waving his sword to inspire the grey line forward.
"Another shell exploded and he was cut down for a second time...What effect that waving sword had on anyone else, I do not know,
but I know there was no giving back as we passed forward through the storm.""The bursting of shells about us was incessant," recalled cadet Gideon Davenport, "One of these passing directly through our
colors...about thus time we passed a group of wounded soldiers who cheered us, but a shell, intended for us, burst in their
midst, and they fell silent. Suddenly there was a crack in our front - a gap appeared in our ranks, and First Sergeant Cabell,
Privates Wheelwright, Crockett and Jones fell dead, and others were wounded. The opening was immediately closed, and the line
went forward in the best of order. Nothing could have been finer done." Still in the reserve line, the cadets had to part as the
marched around the Bushong farmhouse; companies A nd b to the right, companies C and D to the left.The front rank of the Confederate line paused at the split rail fence separating Jacob Bushong's orchard and wheat field.
receiving massed fire from the federal muskets and artillery, the right flank of the 51st Virginia Regiment, the 30th Virginia
battalion, and the left flank of the 62nd Virginia Regiment melted away. Noting the confusion in the Confederate line, Sigel
ordered an attack. Breckenridge knew he must quickly fill the 350 foot gap in the center of his line or abandon the field. One of
his staff suggested sending in the untried cadets. "I will not do it," Breckinridge replied. "General you have no choice,"
responded the desperate officer. "Send the cadets in," Breckinridge ordered, "and may God forgive me..."The 257 VMI cadets stepped into the gap along the fence just as the 34th Massachusetts started its attack. Along the orchard
fence line, cadet John Howard recalled,"It was an ordinary rail fence, about four feet high but as i surmounted to topmost rail
it felt at least ten feet up in the air and the subject of hostile aim. But in clearing this obstruction i was leaving all
thought of individuality behind," The cadets met the Union charge and turned it back. Now the entire Confederate line swept
forward over the rain soaked and recently plowed wheat field. This field would later be dubbed the "Field of Lost Shoes" by the
cadets because of the many pieces of footwear that were pulled off the cadet's feet by the suction of the mud as the Corps
charged forward.Meanwhile Sigel's infantry lurched forward awkwardly and ineffectively. They fell back across the blood drenched mud.
Anticipating the results of his failed charge, Sigel began to withdraw his artillery. Into the federal fire marched grey
soldiers. Only a few yards separated the armies when the blue line broke. The Confederates swept over the federal position
capturing a cannon. cadet O. P. Evans climbed atop the gun and victoriously waved the Institute Flag. general Breckinridge rode
by, doffed his hat, and shouted "Well done!"General Sigel staged a rapid retreat northward to Strasburg, leaving the field and the valley to General Breckinridge's army
and the exuberant VMI cadets. Never before or since has an American Cadet Corp participated as a unit in pitched battle.The battle was not without it's cost to the Cadet Corps. Ten cadets were killed outright or died later of wounds. Forty Five
cadets were also wounded in the fight. Sergeant Cabell, Corporal Atwill, and Privates Haynes, Jefferson, McDowell, Stanard,
Wheelwright, Crockett, Hartsfield and Jones all Died on the field of Honor. These cadet names are memorized by every cadet. No
class goes though VMI without thanking these cadets for giving their lives.