The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864
This is another short history, this time by Savas-Beattie publishing. But rather than being an obscure battle, this is a new retelling of a battle and campaign that probably gets written about more than it deserves from a military sense.
In the start of Grant’s 1864 campaign in Virginia, he set the satellite forces about the state to advance to occupy the forces the Confederates had opposing them and keep them from reinforcing Lee. In the end, these aims all failed for the North, mostly due to these forces being led by high ranked generals shunted off to these unimportant regions to keep them away from the main army,
Here, the man in question was Franz Sigel, a German born officer who fought in the early campaigns in Missouri in 1861 with mixed success, and then was moved east and never had mixed success again. Grant was hoping that Sigel would watch while the more talented General Ord took command of the advancing forces. Sigel, however, wanted to lead the attack and his political importance with the German citizens was too much to overrule him.
The military moves were simple. Sigel moved south. The rebel general Breckinridge scrambled to collect troops to face him, most notably including the student militia troops of Virginia Military Institute. The two armies met north of town, in a narrow location that made the best of the inferior numbers of the Confederates. That, and the inertness of Sigel led to his troops being shot up piece by piece. Eventually after being worked on the Confederates drove them out and they retreated North.
Even so, at a point of the battle Breckinridge needed to commit the VMI troops to the battle, and in the final charge to win the day they famously took a battery. Hence the battle being kept alive in VMI, and overall Southern memory,
The writing has the appropriate level of detail for such a battle. It doesn’t overdwell on it, or skip little incidents.One charming note about the book is the annotation on one map of the location of the author’s house. I haven’t seen that before.
The battle did get Sigel fired, and Breckinridge and most of his men sent on to join Lee. Within a month or so, a second attempt by General Hunter overran the Valley, so there was little impact of this battle on “saving the Valley”. Hunter himself would be driven off in June and July by Early, and finally Grant would send Sheridan and overwhelming force to put paid to the military importance of the Valley by fall.
This is a great updated treatment of the battle and campaign, even if it isn’t that important of one.