While many of the major battlefields of the Civil War have been preserved and interpreted by the National Park Service, a great many are protected by the state in which they preside. New Market Battlefield State Historical Park and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War are great examples of this.
Upon your arrival, you’ll notice mounted headstones by the front entrance. These six headstones were the original grave markers for six VMI cadets who died at New Market and were later interred at VMI itself. In 2005, new markers were made, and the originals were given to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, which is what visitors see today.
Inside the museum, there are three rooms/buildings connected by corridors that intersect. The first building contains the store, ticket stand, restrooms, and a room for Virginia travel info. Walking to the junction, you’ll find a gorgeous, 28-foot-long, stained glass window created by Israeli-born artist Ami Shamir. The colorful mosaic represents the valley in which the VMI cadets ran on May 15, 1864. If you look closely, you’ll find small details like the seal for Virginia, VMI, and the US, and the names of the fallen.
To the right is the Robert Raeburn Civil War Art Collection and the theater that shows a short movie explaining the battle. Once you’ve exited the theater, continue back to the junction and turn right to the Virginia museum. Artifacts and dioramas explain the war and the battle at New Market. Some of the items are unique and tell the story of the soldiers and cadets. Be sure to also browse the Kaminsky Gallery of Civil War Firearms.
At the visitor center, you should receive a pamphlet that will give a great amount of detail about the site and the battlefield, including a map that’ll take you to various key locations during the engagement, like the Bushong Farm, the Federal artillery placements, the memorial to Woodson’s Missouri Exiles, and the path of the 54th Pennsylvania on the other side of Interstate 81. The trail is one mile in length and, according to the pamphlet, will take a little less than an hour.
The highlight of this trail, of course, is the Field of Lost Shoes, where the VMI cadets ran during the rainstorm to take the 30th New York Battery. Walk – or run – in the footsteps of the 257 cadets through the field and make your way to the top of the hill. Then, follow the trail to the overlooks that look down to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The pamphlet also gives a micro-tour of the Bushong Farm, not only telling the story of the family who owned the farm, but about 19th century civilian life.
Next door to the battlefield is the New Market Battlefield Military Museum. Privately owned and operated, the museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts from across American history, not just from the Civil War. On the property are monuments and markers for the positions of regiments during the New Market battle, preceding the actions taken place around the Bushong Farm. It’s my recommendation that visitors looking to learn about the Civil War or New Market in general, should visit both museums and take at least two days to do so. The sheer volume of historical artifacts at the military museum takes the majority of the day to fully appreciate.
There are other locations in and around New Market that also deserve the casual historian’s attention, which can be found in Sarah Bierle’s book, Call Out The Cadets. She not only provides a great overview of the battle and story of the cadets, but a detailed driving tour that takes you places that are not covered on the preserved battlefield.
As I always encourage, it’s one thing to read about a battle and another entirely to walk the ground where blood was shed and courage was tested. Out of the many battlefields I’ve roamed, New Market holds a special place in my heart for the powerful experience it offers for the traveler and historian.
Virginia Museum of the Civil War
Hours: Open seven days a week, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Holiday closures: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Address: 8895 George Collins Parkway, New Market, VA 22844
New Market Battlefield Military Museum
Hours: Daily – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (Mid-April Through October)
Address: 9500 George R. Collins Parkway, New Markey, VA 22844
Admission: Adults – $12.00; Children – $5.00