“Cadet Evans Climbed On The Cannon”

A sketch of the Virginia Military Institute Cadets’ charge at New Market.

If you hear “Battle of New Market”, what comes to your mind? Likely, it’s either slight confusion with the Battle of New Market Heights and the USCT who fought there or the idealized images of young cadets capturing cannons.

The Battle of New Market fought on May 15, 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley had far-reaching impact on the local community, Virginia Military Institute, and the Overland Campaign which occurred simultaneously. This New Market conflict has been my research project for a while and the battle book for the Emerging Civil War series is slated to release next spring!

Earlier this year when it was time to send image possibilities to the talented designer and marketers at Savas Beatie to create the front cover, I was nervous. (I’m overly particular about book covers and artwork.) I sent several cover art options and listed my first choice: a fine oil painting called “Youth’s Hour of Glory” by Tom Lovell. This is my favorite image of the cadets in the battle and has served as motivation and inspiration during research and writing. (In fact, a photo of that painting has been the lockscreen on my phone for some time now and is also taped in the back of my locker at work!)

When the first files of the newly created book cover arrived in my inbox, I felt so nervous and excited. What would the cover look like? I opened the file…and let’s just say when an author starts to get teary eyed, it’s a special and unforgettable moment.

Didn’t the designer at Savas Beatie do an AMAZING job? And we’re so fortunate to have permission from Virginia Museum of the Civil War to use this historic artwork!

Then, a new challenge began. Re-writing and re-writing the scene pictured on the cover of the book, desperation hoping it will follow through on the expectations. Happily, I was able to spend nearly a whole chapter detailing the charge of the Virginia Miltiary Institute cadets and their role in the Confederate’s decisive advance.

Want a sneak prevail from the manuscript draft?

Step and step onward. Some boys lost their shoes in the deep mud and ran barefoot. “The color-bearer ran well to the front and, despite the incessant fire which was pouring in, the cadets sprang forward. This soul-inspiring human avalanche surged onward and upward in an irresistible, wild drive which carried them through a maelstrom of mud, overshot with flying metal, up to the very mouths of Von Kleiser’s cannon, which were served until the cadets, with fixed bayonets, dashed in between them and in hand to hand conflict captured one, and some claim two, pieces.”[i] Von Klesier abandoned one gun, his second cannon loss that day – facts he would have to justify to his military superiors.

The cadets grappled with the cannoneers who remained. While Cadet Evans – the intrepid colorbearer – climbed on the cannon and forcefully waved the Virginia Military Institute standard, individual fights swirled… (excerpt from Bierle’s manuscript draft)

More book details are available at Savas Beatie and the book can even be added to your wish list!

It’s been over two years since I first stepped onto the preserved land at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park and knew this was an account I wanted to tell, a true story that I wanted to write. From officers to common soldiers to cadets and civilians, the real people who survived, suffered, or perished at New Market in May 1864 had incredible stories of courage and have been inspiring to study and write about.

I feel that the book’s cover has perfectly captured one of the great dramatic moments of the New Market saga while also focusing on the idea that individuals are changed by – and also change – history.

[i] The Corps Forward: Biographical Sketches of the VMI Cadets who Fought in the Battle of New Market Col. William Couper (editor) Mariner Publishing, 2005.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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8 Responses to “Cadet Evans Climbed On The Cannon”

  1. John Sinclair says:

    Great cover – very dramatic! Will look forward to the finished product. Congratulations.

  2. Meg Groeling says:

    Huzzah!

  3. Joel Barnes says:

    As a VMI alumni I look forward to this books release.

  4. Robert Rainey says:

    I think many of us will be anxiously awaiting it’s release. Congrats!

  5. Glen Robertson says:

    Congrats, Sarah!

  6. Chris Mackowski says:

    I LOVE this cover!

  7. Rob wilson says:

    Looks good. Congratulations. I love your idea of focusing not just on the battle, but on the ways the “individuals are changed by – and also change – history.”

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