On The Eve of War: New Market, Virginia

The back of the Strayer House in New Market, VA

The following excerpts are from Call Out The Cadets: The Battle of New Market (Emerging Civil War Series and take a look at a small crossroads village in the Shenandoah Valley before some of the local men volunteered to fight, before Jackson marched through on the Valley Pike, and before several thousand troops battled through town, and Virginia Military Institute Cadets forever linked their names and history to this place. 

Situated in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the land around the small town of New Market had witnessed warring parties for centuries as Native American tribes used the north-south track and a trail running west to east from Brock Gap in the Alleghenies to New Market Gap through Luray Valley to Thornton Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains for peaceful or warring journeys. Colonial settler John Sevier is usually credited for establishing New Market, though he resided there only a short time. Named for New Market, England, the fledging colonial village boasted a racetrack, like its English predecessor. In 1796, an act of the General Assembly of Virginia officially established the town, which grew and prospered in the next decades.

According to the Gazetteer of Virginia in 1835, New Market was “three-fourth of a mile in length, containing above one hundred dwelling houses, with a population of 700 persons. The streets are remarkably level, straight and well laid out…nearly parallel with the Massanutten mountain and two miles distant from its base. There are 3 houses of public worship, viz. 1 Lutheran, 1 Baptist, and 1 Methodist, 1 large and commodious brick academy in which is taught all the branches of liberal and polite education, 1 book and job printing office, 5 stores, 3 taverns, 1 resident attorney, and 4 regular physicians. There is perhaps no town in the state of the same size, where the mechanical pursuits are carried on to a greater extent than in this. There are here in active and extensive operation 1 manufactory of threshing machines, 2 wheelwrights, 4 cabinet makers and house-joiners, 4 tanneries, 2 saddle and harness making establishments, 2 chair factories, 4 boot and shoe manufactories, 3 hat factories, 1 silversmith and jeweler, 1 coppersmith and tin plate worker, 2 gunsmiths, 2 blacksmiths, 1 locksmith, 1 sleymaker, 1 saddle-tree maker, 1 diaper weaver, and 2 potteries, at one of which stoneware of superior quality is manufactured. There are also in the vicinity 2 forges for the manufactory of pig metal into bar iron, both of which are at this time in active operation. The country around abounds in iron ore of the best quality.”

The town’s prosperity continued through the next decades and by 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, 1,422 people called New Market “home;” among those residents, fifty-five free blacks, and seventy-nine slaves lived in the same community with 1,288 whites.

The voting citizens of New Market and Shenandoah Country generally supported John Breckinridge in the 1860 presidential election and more openly supported or accepted secession than other Valley residents. Still, the New Market neighbors could hardly have imagined that less than four years after that election, their preferred candidate would direct a battle in their streets and fields.

New Market had its own militia unit, which had witnessed John Brown’s trial and death. Known as the Tenth Legion Artillery though it was an artillery unit in name only, this unit responded to Governor Wise’s call and stood guard duty for the radical abolitionist and his conspirators’ trial and execution in 1859. Franklin Bushong—one of Jacob and Sarah’s sons—served in this militia unit and witnessed the hangings. Also in 1859, the New Market Cavalry formed under command of Capt. W. H. Rice. When the Civil War began, the New Market Cavalry enthusiastically joined Confederate forces, becoming Rice’s Battery and serving in important campaigns and battles.

Though the community would experienced war and see encampments and marching soldiers, it would escape Union occupation or even significant interaction with Yankees, unlike the towns farther down the Valley until 1864. New Market’s turn to see war first-hand would come, though.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?
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