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Disaster at New Market

BY 2nd Lieutenant William A. McIlhenny

Submitted by: Mark Dudrow

May 16, 1864

These last few days have been disastrous for the Union Army in Virginia! Early yesterday morning we were ordered to march from Cedar Springs to New Market. Our cavalry battalion was in the advance with the infantry away behind us. Even before we got to New Market we heard the sounds of battle.

When we got in sight of the town our battalion was immediately thrown out on the skirmish line on the north side of the town. The rebel line of battle under General Breckenridge was drawn up just south of the town. They were ready for us.

Our battalion marched directly into their artillery fire. Shells were dropping all around us and musket balls were whistling. The rebels were so close that we could see their long grey line of infantrymen advancing.

Where were our regiments of infantry? The rebel infantry was nearing gunshot range. Just as they started firing a regiment of our men arrived. We fell back for them to form in line

But it was too late! The rebels were upon us, firing at close range. They mowed our men down like grass. Our cavalry tried to keep together, but were impeded by the retreating infantry men escaping from the hot fire of Breckenridge' s pursuing men. Many of them didn't escape. All the way to the Shenandoah River they were hot on our heels.

Our cavalry had keen the first to cross the river in the morning, and now we formed a rear guard under General Taylor and were the last to re-cross it. Then, with musket balls still whistling around us we had the job of setting fire to the bridge which our engineers had built just six days before.

We rode all night and passed through the gap in the mountains at Mt. Jackson. From there on we retreated to Cedar Springs In good order. The rebels didn't follow us. We were dead tired and the taste of defeat is bitter in our mouths.

Historical note: The concentration of the Federal forces in North Virginia in May 1864 for the campaign which ultimately took Grant and Lee south of the James Involved a fresh series of operations in the Valley. At first a Union containing force was placed there under General Sigel; this General unwisely took the offensive and was defeated at New Market.