She wanted to witness history – not wait in the cellar. She helped care for wounded cadets. She helped to write New Market memory of the battle. She helped ensure that “her cadets” had their place in history. She wrote letters, and she had conversations about history.
By the end of her life, thousands knew about her and wanted to hear her stories about the Battle of New Market. Through her compassion and commitment, Lydie Clinedinst Crim became “Mother of the New Market Cadets” and guaranteed that their memory and her name would be linked in Civil War history.
Eliza Clinedinst Crim – called “Lydie” by her family and friends lived her entire life in the town of New Market, Virginia. Born in 1838, she grew up in a home along Congress Street, aka the Valley Pike which ran through town.
The battle and aftermath scenes of May 15, 1864 altered Lydie’s life. Her compassionate role toward the VMI cadets and other wounded who came to her home was not forgotten. (details below) Nor did she forget the cadets. Lydie corresponded with Cadet Jefferson’s family about his final hours, and, grateful for her aid and letters, they helped her and the Clinedinst family survive the severe Shenandoah Valley war in the winter of 1864-65. She also developed life long friendships with surviving “New Market Cadets.” For years, letters passed between Rome, Italy and New Market, Virginia as Ezekiel and Clinedinst stayed in contact.
In 1867, Lydie married John Crim and stayed in her hometown. She became key-player in the efforts to memorialize the battle and maintained close ties with Virginia Military Institute. She attended reunions, commemorations, and battle anniversary parades. She wrote many, many letters to “her New Market boys.”
For her dedication and kindness, Lydie Crim became the only woman to receive the New Market Cross of Honor – a special medal presented by VMI to the cadets who had fought at that battle. She wore it proudly and also accepted the title “Mother of the New Market Cadets.”
When Eliza Clinedinist Crim died in 1931, cadets then at VMI and Civil War veterans attended her funeral. A squad of cadets carried her casket to the cemetery and her tombstone is marked with her epitaph “Mother of the New Market Cadets.”
The modern address is 10 N. Congress Street. The Clinedinst home of the Civil War era is no longer standing. However, the current structure was built in 1881 by Lydie’s brother and later sold to her son. She lived here in her later years, and old New Market Cadets, other veterans, and those with an appreciation for her stories crowded to the house to visit with “Mother.”
During the war years, the original home had a view of Shirley’s Hill from the back porch, and it was there that Lydie first saw the cadets when they came under Union artillery fire for the first time.
During The Battle
In her mid-twenties by the Battle of New Market, Lydie witnessed part of the battle and took a compassionate role in the aftermath scenes. She refused to hid in the cellar with her mother and actually interacted with three Union officers who were riding through town, ordering civilians to safety.
She would later remember seeing the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets march down that hill under fire and that moment made a life-long impression on her. In 1909, she described it this way:
“The day of the battle I stood on my doorstep. My brother called to come and look at the fine soldiers coming down Shirley’s Hill…They (Cadets) looked so nice and trim as they ran down the hill…I will never forget those brave boy soldiers as they ran down the hill to victory and death…I ran down to the battlefield to help with the wounded.”
Lydie was one of the first civilians to venture onto the battlefield to give aid to the wounded. She, her mother, and sister opened their home for the injured and took an active part in caring for injured cadets.
Cadet Thomas Garland Jefferson – a distant relative of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson – was brought to the Clinedinst home with a severe injury. The women prepared a bed for him in the lower front room and helped his roommate – Cadet Moses J. Ezekiel – care for him. Ultimately, Jefferson’s wound proved mortal, and he died in the Clinedinst home, cradled by Moses while Lydie stood or sat nearby.
She Inspires Me
Not everyone can impact a life in a few short hours. Not everyone can start a friendship in the midst of a battle aftermath tragedy and maintain that relationship for decades. Lydie’s compassion, caring, and quiet presence is inspiring and praise-worthy. However, I have been most influenced by her post-war commitment.
I think the pieces of history that endeared Lydie to me are the Christmas cards that she sent which are preserved in the Virginia Military Institute Archives. Her handwriting was shaky in her older age, but these lovely cards said hello and sent a letter-full of news and wishes to Civil War veterans who had once been cadets. It was genuine kindness preserved in an archive and waiting to inspire.
To me, Lydie Clinedinst Crim is a reminder that it can be the letters that few see, the emails that are read and discarded, and the text messages that say “hello, hope you’re doing well” that can mean so much. Lydie was a friend first. She reached out in kindness to help the battle-shocked and hurting cadets. She built and maintained friendships that last decades. Through those actions, she had influence to write her version of New Market history and memory. Maybe she didn’t always remember correctly, but she knew one thing: she could “never forget those brave soldier boys.”