The Shenandoah Valley’s Field of Shoes

The Field of Shoes 

The war that divided a country, the Civil War, took a decidedly nasty turn in 1864, which Drawing of Cadets at New Marketculminated in the Battle of New Market. 

Even though the Confederacy was drained of manpower and resources, the fight continued with the Rebels winning many battles.

For the North, the goal was to bring down a seemingly invincible Robert E. Lee, who continued to outfox his opponents.

But with the South’s dwindling number of soldiers, it was harder for Lee to stay ahead of Union troops. Ultimately, Lee drew Grant into what would be one of the costliest and most savage battles of the war known as the Wilderness in Spotsylvania.

While that battle was raging, Grant sought to pressure Lee even more. He ordered General Franz Sigel and his 9,000 Union troops into the Shenandoah Valley, capture Staunton, and generally wreak havoc on what was called the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.”

Grant understood that if the Valley fell, so would the South’s resistance.

VMI Cadets and the Field of Shoes

With the number of Confederate troops thin, General Lee pulled some of his men and placed them under the command of General John Breckinridge to reinforce General John D. Imboden.

And he ordered 247 Virginia Military Institute cadets to act as a reserve for as long as possible.

Field of Lost Shoes

Field of Lost Shoes

On May 15, 1864, the two warring armies met in New Market, VA for a murderous battle.

The Union fire was so grueling that a portion of the Confederate line was forced to break and run, which left a 350-foot gap.

Breckinridge was then forced to fill in the line with the 247 VMI cadets. These young troops trudged through a field mucky with recent rains, only to have their shoes sucked from their feet, earning it the name, “Field of Shoes.”

Eventually, Union soldiers would retreat as the VMI cadets rushed a cannon of the 34th Massachusetts, capturing approximately 100 soldiers.

While the cadets stayed with the cannon, their fellow soldiers continued running the fight for another eight miles.

This would give the South their final major victory here in the Shenandoah Valley. In all, 48 cadets were wounded and 10 were killed.

While Grant’s efforts to break Lee failed, the Valley would soon lose its value to the Confederacy.

General Philip Sheridan would order the burning of it, and in the autumn of 1864, he did exactly that.

There’s plenty of history here in the Shenandoah Valley. Come and explore it all. Make your reservations with the Iris Inn here.