This past week marked the 150th Anniversary of the battle of New Market (May 15, 1864). Federal Major General Franz Sigel was ordered by Grant to move up the Valley Turnpike to Lynchburg, where Sigel was to destroy the canal and railroad there. This move was to be in conjunction with Grant’s major spring offensives.
Confederate Major General John C. Breckenridge marched out with a rag-tag force of southern forces, which included the corps of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, and met Sigel near New Market. Breckenridge bested Sigel, forcing the Federal commander to retreat down the valley toward Strasburg. (Click here for a map of the action.)
In the days following the Federal defeat, Grant relieved Sigel and placed David Hunter in command. Lee on the other hand requested Breckenridge come from the Valley to reinforce Lee’s forces near Richmond. By doing this, Lee allowed nearly free access to Hunter, which Hunter took advantage of. He defeated Grumble Jones at the Battle of Piedmont and completed Grant’s original objective. To add insult to injury, Hunter even burned the Virginia Military Institute in retaliation for the corps of cadets fighting at New Market. (Click here for a map.)
Should Lee have left Breckenridge in the valley to deal with continued Federal threats, or was Breckenridge’s undersized division of better use in the opening 1864 battles for Richmond?