Rain. Rain. On picket, wondering why we do not get relieved. It is past time for the relief to show up. Lieutenant Kerr sends a detail to camp to learn the cause. Returned in a short time, reported the regiment had left for parts unknown. The Lieutenant called in the pickets to the reserve headquarters in the woods. Formed company and were ready for action as we marched out of the woods to the pike, expecting to meet the enemy scouts. Instead we met our own cavalry scouts who reported our regiment left in the night, going up the valley towards New Market
We started on after them, making a forced march, wet, tired, hungry, well used up…. Lieutenant Kerr kept urging us on, making a forced march up the pike. Duty having been so severe, and the lack of rations for the past few days, we were near used up. The last two miles of the march we ran, and joined the regiment as they were going into action, having made a march of sixteen miles with hardly a rest, and very little to eat.
Colonel Moore, Commander of our brigade, pushed our regiment and an Ohio rgiment, with a section of a battery, two field guns, about six miles in advance of the main army, bringing on a general engagement. We could not hold the enemy in check as they advanced with a long line of battle. Our battery fell back. The Ohio regiment followed, when our commander, Lieutenant-colonel Peale, gave the command to our regiment, “By the right of companies, to the rear in column,” so we continued to march until we met the 34th Massachusetts Regiment, coming running up with a battery, taking a good position. The enemy was held in check, but for a short time. Sigel managed to get his main force in line, batteries posted, so the enemy was held in check.
Our brigade suffered heavy loss. Some of the field pieces had to be abandoned as the horses had been killed and we were in too much mud to draw them away, or back to the main line. It looked to us like a case of mismanagement.
Last night we fell back to Mount Jackson… I am about worn out for the want of sleep and rest. This is war and the life of a soldier… We surely are suffering for our country. Reverses will come, we cannot help it. We try to do our duty…
Charles Lynch, 18th Connecticut Infantry, journal excerpts
(Source: This Cruel War: The Civil War Diary of Charles H. Lynch by Charles H. Lynch, 1915, 2016, pages 50-51)
Union Perspective Matters!
The Confederates and Virginia Military Institute Cadets have traditionally occupied much of the spotlight in Battle of New Market historiography. That’s fine since the Confederate won the fight and the young men from VMI took an exceptional role in that outcome. However, there wouldn’t have been a battle unless the Union army showed up, and the Yankee boys have some absolutely fascinating stories, too.
Digging into primary sources and common soldiers’ accounts – like Charles Lynch’s journal – allows us to see the New Market Campaign and battle from a different perspective. Army leadership comes under closer scrutiny, but we find that the spirit and courage of the soldiers generally stayed strong.
The New Market Campaign was supposed to be one of the advances in Virginia to keep reinforcements from joining the Confederate Army of the Northern Virginia. Union General Franz had “one job” (to borrow the cliche and be over simplified) advance up the Shenandoah Valley and capture Staunton, Virginia.
Yankee Problems at New Market
However…those plans didn’t go as planned. Franz Sigel – new the general in the district – had a penchant for organizing and drilling an army, but wasn’t so good at campaigning. Issues in command structure (Sigel also appointed a lot of his German-American friends to leadership), mistrust, and lack of speed and coordination doomed the campaign.
Lynch’s journal entry particularly reveals one of the Union problems at New Market. They were piece-mealing their army onto that battlefield, and many of the units had not had proper rest or food. The soldiers were ready to fight and battled determinedly but problems created by the army leaders in some ways sabotaged their efforts.
Lynch also shows an attitude reflected by other Union soldiers who fought and retreated at New Market. They did not see this as a final, disastrous battle. They acknowledged their defeat and were thankful to get away, but they thought they would fight another day in the Valley and likely under a new commander. They were right…
Charlie Lynch kept a fantastic journal, and I’ve even written about it and his regiment last year. So, let’s talk about the 18th Connecticut specifically at the Battle of New Market. He tells even tells us about something really weird in his entry.
The 18th Connecticut was basically half-way between two parts of Sigel’s army on the night of May 14-15. In the night the regiment headed for New Market where Col. Moor and several other units had pushed back the Confederates and established a position along Manor’s Hill. However, the regiment forgot to tell its company that was still on advanced picket duty and left them behind (as Lynch records). Please don’t ask me how they managed to do that!
The 18th Connecticut fought as skirmishers on Manor’s Hill, then saw the Confederates “long line of battle” and eventually retreated. Lynch describes meeting the 34th Massachusetts which helped anchor new Union lines along Bushong Hill while the 18th Connecticut tried to rally from the confusion and their retreat behind the new lines. Eventually when the Union lines at Bushong Hill broke, everyone headed for the river and the single bridge crossing at Mount Jackson. The 18th Connecticut’s most prominent role in the Battle of New Market was on Manor’s Hill and the River Road. (See map)
P.S. For more details on the Battle of New Market, check out my new non-fiction book, Call Out The Cadets (Savas Beatie, 2019).