Several other columns in the eastern theater were advancing around this time in 1864, in connection with Grant's main attack in the Overland Campaign. One of these was an army of 10,000 men under Major General Franz Sigel who was moving down the Shenandoah Valley. His movement was to threaten Lee's flank and strike the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, and important supply line. When the Confederates received word of this advance, Major General John C. Breckinridge, former vice president of the United States, hurried to assemble forces to meet Sigel. He even called up the 247 young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute to join his army. With his forces gathered, Breckinridge headed north to meet the advancing Federal army.
The two armies met just south of the village of New Market mid morning on May 15, 150 years ago today. On both sides troops gradually arrived and deployed in line of battle. Breckinridge placed Imboden's brigade of cavalry on his right. He sent them forward to try to lure the Federals into an attack, but Colonel Augustus Moore, commanding the Union force until Sigel arrive, did not take the bait. Finally around noon the Confederates attacked. They successfully pushed the Federals back, and after halting to reorganize their line, resumed the attack. In the area of the Bushong farm the Confederate regiments, hit by heavy Union fire, broke and retreated. Breckinridge sent in the VMI cadets to fill this gap in the line.
At 3 pm the Confederates again surged forward and charged the Union position. Although they had been repulsed several times, this time the attack went home. The infantry broke under the Confederate pressure, and the artillery was left to retreat as best it could. Five guns fell into Confederate hands, including one captured by the cadets, after a now famous charge across the “Field of Lost Shoes,” where several of them lost their shoes in the mud. With this success, the battle was won for the Confederates. Breckinridge resupplied his men, but by the time he brushed away a rearguard he found the Federals had burned the bridge across the Shenandoah River, foiling his attempts at a pursuit.
|Field of Lost Shoes. Source.|
In this fight the Union lost 91 killed, 520 wounded and 225 captured. The Southerners suffered 43 killed, 474 wounded and 3 missing. This defeat was the end of this advance for the Federals. Sigel retreated in haste up the Valley, and Grant soon replaced him with David Hunter. The Confederates, after considering an invasion into Maryland, instead transferred Breckinridge's army to join Lee at the Battle of Cold Harbor.