Two hundred and fifty-seven young men between the ages of 15 and 24 marched into the Battle of New Market as the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets. Although Confederate leadership initially strove to keep the cadets in reserve and relative safety, dire circumstances forced them onto the front lines and into the charge that clinched Southern victory. When the smoke of their first battle cleared, the cadets had captured a Union cannon and a number of prisoners. But 57 of their number had been wounded and a further 10 were killed or would ultimately succumb to their wounds.
Although nearly a century and a half has passed since the battle, the legacy of the sacrifices made by cadets on that field are still part of daily life on the VMI campus.
Rat Attack. Only after crossing the Field of Lost Shoes do new students take the Oath of Cadetship.
Virginia Military Institute
Each time they pass the parade grounds, cadets pass under the gaze of a massive bronze and granite monument bearing the names of all 257 cadets who participated in the battle. “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” was sculpted and donated to the Institute by alumnus Moses Jacob Ezekiel, one the foremost sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beneath the statue lie the remains of six cadets killed in action or mortally wounded at New Market.
Each year on the anniversary of the battle, the campus community participates in a ceremony commemorating the cadets who died in combat. The first ceremony took place only two years after the battle, and the current tradition of performing a roll call of the dead was in place by 1887. Today, additional elements of the ceremony extend its significance to honor the sacrifices of all Institute alumni who have served their country.
Visits to the New Market Battlefield play a major role in the lives of first-year students or “Rats.” At the conclusion of their first grueling week on campus, the entire class visits the battlefield and, after a series of tours and lectures, recreates the Corps of Cadets’s march across the Field of Lost Shoes and takes the official Oath of Cadetship. Later in the school year, the students recreate a portion of the original march from Lexington to the battlefield, covering 23 miles from Harrisonburg to New Market.
Historically minded cadets also have the opportunity to participate in a student Civil War round table on campus, regularly holding discussions and participating in living history events at the battlefield. In recent years, members of the round table have reenacted the entire 80-mile march
from Lexington to New Market undertaken by their forbearers.
Cadets who lost their lives at the Battle of New Market
Private McDowell. Subject of popular young adult novel, "The Ghost Cadet."
Corporal Samuel Francis Atwell of Company A, a member of the class of 1866, who died of his wounds 66 days later. Atwell is buried beneath the New Market Monument on the VMI campus.
First Sergeant William Henry Cabell of Company D, a member of the class of 1865, who was killed in action.
Private Charles Gay Crockett of Company D, a member of the class of 1867, who was killed in action. Crockett is buried beneath the New Market Monument on the VMI campus.
Private Alva Curtis Hartsfield of Company D, a member of the class of 1866, who died of his wounds 42 days later.
Private Luther Cary Haynes of Company B, a member of the class of 1867, who was mortally wounded.
Private Thomas Garland Jefferson of Company B, a member of the class of 1867 and great great nephew of President Thomas Jefferson, who was mortally wounded.
Jefferson is buried beneath the New Market Monument on the VMI campus.
Private Henry Jenner Jones of Company D, a member of the class of 1867, who was killed in action. Jones is buried beneath the New Market Monument on the VMI campus.
Private William Hugh McDowell of Company B, a member of the class of 1867, who was killed in action. McDowell is the subject of a popular young adult novel, The Ghost Cadet. He is buried beneath the New Market Monument on the VMI campus.
Private Jacqueline Beverly Stanard of Company B, a member of the class of 1867, who was killed in action.
Private Joseph Christopher Wheelwright of Company C, a member of the class of 1867, who was mortally wounded. Wheelwright is buried beneath the New Market Monument on the VMI campus.
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