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Saturday, April 25, 2009


When you look out at the Virginia countryside and the amazingly gorgeous springtime in the Shenandoah Valley, it is so difficult to imagine the wasteland that existed here during the Civil War. Carol, Rob and I spent most of a day at the New Market Battlefield, a battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley on May 15, 1864. The site is maintained by Virginia Military Academy (VMI) for one very important reason: to fill the ranks for this battle, the South took the boys from VMI. Two hundred fifty seven boys marched from their VMI classrooms to join General John C. Breckinridge

While the original plan was to leave the boys--some as young as 15--as reserves, General Breckinridge felt forced to send them into battle. Six cadets perished that day, and four more died from their wounds. During the battle, the Confederates swept over the Federal position.

The museum--The Hall of Valor--is a fount of information attractively and interestingly presented. Entering the museum is quite moving. There is a beautiful stained glass window--more like a wall--somewhat abstract but also very factual. One section lists the names of the ten fallen cadets;

another section displays the Confederate flag; another the seal of Virginia. The display is very moving, and I watched people pause, move closer, and look at many of the individual sections. It is very quiet in the Hall of Valor.

Within the museum's building is an area highlighting the region’s Civil War heritage. Many artifacts are on display including maps, uniforms, clothing and photographs. The battle, the boys, and their "sneak visits" to relatives before they marched off to battle are presented dramatically and poignantly. After the war several of these cadets went on to become governors, congressmen, Medal of Honor winners, and leaders in many different fields. One, the first VMI Jewish cadet, held Thomas Jefferson's grandson in his arms and read to him from the New Testament as the boy died of his wounds. Moses Ezekiel went on to become an internationally renowned artist whose works are still displayed in Europe and the United States. Among his honors was a German knighthood. Looking at the men these boys became, one pauses and wonders about the ones who died in that battle.

Outside the museum building, we visited the Bushong farm. That day on the grounds of this prosperous farm founded prior to the Revolution, 1200 soldiers fought and died. Today's sunny day and greening fields give no inkling of the terror that must have knotted the guts of soldiers who saw long lines of men marching shoulder to shoulder suddenly appear at top of the rise of one of these rolling hills. As the battle raged around them, the Bushong family hid in the cellar, praying, I'm sure, that they would survive.

Every Civil War site is a reminder of the fact that war is hell. But a visit to New Market, a tribute to mere boys, is a moving and important experience.

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