Virginia Military Institute Marches to War
In the overall scheme of the Spring Campaign of 1864, federal blue marching up the Shenandoah Valley from Harper's Ferry and Winchester was no exception to the new strategy of massed armies moving out in unison to deliver a death blow to the Confederacy. To take federal control of this all important area was to deprive Lee's army of its own sustenance. The cadets of Virginia Military Institute were called on to beef up the numbers of Major General John C. Breckenridge's force of 5,000 in an effort to thwart the advance of such a movement.
Five days earlier, on May 11, 1864 by order of Major General Francis H. Smith, Superintendent of VMI; Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shipp marched his four company battalion of infantry, and one section of 3 inch ordnance rifles north to Staunton, Virginia attaching itself to General Breckenridge's command.
The van guard of Major General Franz Sigel's force of roughly 6,000 had made contact with horse soldiers under Brigadier General John Imboden on the 14th of May, sparing and trading shots while infantry in divisional strength drew up from behind to the town of New Market, Virginia.
At midnight of the 14th, the cadets performed a silent march closing up on the line in a heavy downpour of rain. Their commanding general, happy to have their assistance, yet in consideration of their ages, elected to place them in reserve using them only if circumstance dictated necessary.
On the afternoon of the 15th, Shipp detached the artillery due to the nature of soft ground and marched his column around to the left flank, brigading it with Brigadier General John Echols' command making up the second line of infantry. These military students did not stay in reserve long. Their order to advance brought them to a small rise of a hill where Sigel's artillery found range on them with deadly accuracy. Closing the ranks and pressing on, Shipp's battalion showed great discipline in their advance. Their approach a mile beyond the town at the Bushong house, met with a destructive fire of case-shot and canister. The battalion experienced its heaviest losses here, even their own commander, Lieutenant Colonel Shipp became disabled placing his boys in the hands of Captain Wise commanding Company A.
The cadets march into the mouth of Sigel's forces, through the incessant rain of that afternoon, helped stymie the success of a federal occupation in the Shenandoah for nearly another six months; proving themselves as tenacious as any battle hardened veterans. Exhausted, wet, hungry and now shoeless from sinking deep into the muddy ground they advanced over, these students proved their mettle and served their state of Virginia with true grit and venerable glory.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org