She married for love and spent years working alongside her husband for the success of the family farm. She was a grandmother by the time the Civil War brought a battle to her doorstep. She looked after wounded soldiers who found shelter and medical aid under her roof.
Sarah Strickler Bushong lived on her family’s farm which because the centerpoint of the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. She experienced a Civil War battle first-hand as troops rushed passed her home and sheltered in the cellar.
Sarah Strickler was born on November 3, 1797, and she grew up on the east side of Massanutten Mountain. She had a sweetheart by the time she was seventeen; Jacob Bushong who lived on the other side of the mountain wrote her wonderful love letters. In one note, he explained that he did not have money, but he had “a treasury of love for you…”
Sarah – sometimes called “Sallie” – agreed to marry Jacob Bushong, and the wedding took place on March 5, 1818. Then she went to live on the west side of the mountain, in the shadow of New Market Gap.
Sarah had six children, but only four survived to adulthood – Harrison, Elizabeth, Anderson, and Franklin. An 1843 farm journal gives insight into the Bushong Family’s life and their role in the community. They interacted with many neighbors and their farm flourished. Sarah was a fine cook, and luckily some of her recipes were recorded in that family ledger! She also set up a weaving looming and made her family’s clothing from handwoven material.
By the time of the Civil War, Sarah was in her sixties and probably enjoying a slightly slower pace of farm life and the fun of having grandchildren in the house. Her son Anderson had married and several little ones lived at the Bushong Farm by 1864’s battle days.
The Battle of New Market turned Sarah’s safe and prosperous life upside down, but she survived the battle and took an active role in caring for the wounded that sought shelter in her home. Sarah lived several decades beyond the Civil War and died on October 29, 1889.
The first house Jacob built for Sarah was a two-story log cabin which was finished with a clapboard siding. The couple lived here for the first seven years of their marriage. When their son Anderson married, he and his wife lived in this home. Known today as the 1818 House, the structure still stands and is preserved on New Market battlefield.
Sarah’s second home – built in 1825 – offered room for her growing family. Several additions were made to the home by the Civil War era. Her Federalist style included a south-facing portico and a lovely side porch. Surprising the house sustained only minor damages during the battle.
The Bushong Farm also included outbuildings like a large barn, hen house, ice house and dairy, and summer kitchen. Beyond the fenced yard, stretched the fields for growing grain. To the north of the house, a nice orchard grew fruits for the family’s kitchen and cellar.
Jacob and Sarah Bushong’s farm is preserved within New Market Battlefield State Historical Park and the buildings are often open for tours and there are living history presentations for special events.
During The Battle
Jacob and Sarah, Anderson and his wife Elizabeth, and the grandchildren –
Willie, Carrie and Baby Elizabeth – took refuge in the cellar of the 1825 House as the lines of battle moved around and across their fields, barnyard, and front yard. The cellar does not sit completely underground, and ground-level windows would have offered a glimpse of the battle along with danger from low flying projectiles.
The last Union line at the Battle of New Market anchored on Bushong’s Hill, north of the house. The Confederate line formed along the north orchard fence. A field between the armies had been planting ground, but on May 15 Jacob’s farmland became a churned-up, muddy, bloody mess. Now called “Field of Lost Shoes”, this crop field witnessed some of the hardest fighting of the battle.
Wounded soldiers sought shelter from the fight and drenching rain at the Bushong Farm, using the house and outbuildings. When the firing ended, Sarah stepped into a new role: volunteer hospital matron. She helped provide medical care, cooked food, and – significantly – started keeping a written record of the wounded and dying in her house which later allowed her to give answers to worried women who came looking for their fallen soldiers.
She Inspires Me
Civilians caught in the firestorm of battle have been a research subject of mine for years. (Remember Gettysburg?) On my very first visit to New Market battlefield in 2016, I was excited to find a preserved civilian home at the center of the battlefield and the family’s story told so prominently!
I admire Sarah Bushong’s courage and how she took the initiative to keep a record of her patients in the field hospital. I’ve had the privilege to cook some of her historic recipes (thanks to wonderful research and a cookbook by Stacey R. Nadeau).
In the historical record, Sarah is a wonderful example and reminder that the Civil War affected every member in an embattled community. She was a grandmother. She saw her grandchildren afraid of war while also worrying about her other family members and the war outside the cellar.
Today, I am arriving at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park. And I know that as I make the turn toward the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, Sarah Bushong’s house will be standing in the green fields with the orchard and “Field of Lost Shoes” beyond. It will be like coming home to this research and historic site that has so much meaning for me after years of studying. I can wander the battlefield again and see where the soldiers fought, but when I am tired, I can go home. To Sarah’s house. To sit on the porch and think about her life, her fortitude, and her love that built a home on the west side of the mountain. A home that withstood battle and still offers a place of shelter, a place to remember the civilian story.
Miss Sarah Kay Bierle