New Market Battlefield State Historical Park: A Short Review

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I had a wonderful time yesterday at the New Market Battlefield.  I started off in the Visitors Center and Hall of Valor museum.  The structure itself is quite unusual, but I have to say that after observing it from various distances it actually compliments the landscape quite nicely.  I spent about an hour walking through the various exhibits and was most impressed with their collection of paintings and objects by Moses Ezekiel.  The stained glass window by Ami Shamir is also quite interesting.  On the other hand I was appalled by their exhibit of the war in Virginia which is clearly outdated.   The panels say very little about the war in Virginia beyond the battles and leave the visitor wondering what it was all about or how the war itself evolved between 1861-65.   I skipped their movie, “Field of Lost Shoes” since I’ve already seen it on my local PBS station. 

You can drive to the various stops on the battlefield, but I decided to walk it.  Luckily the heat and the nats kept all of the visitors in between the Hall of Valor and Bushong Family farm, so I had pretty much the entire battlefield to myself.  I toured through the Bushong home and spent a few minutes staring out the basement window trying to imagine myself back in the battle.  There were no interpreters around, but what I found most troubling was the lack of any references to the family’s slaves.  I assume the Bushong family did not tend their 260+ acre tract alone, but perhaps I am mistaken.   The battlefield itself is quite impressive other than the fact that Interstate 81 runs right through it.  I brought along my copy of William Davis’s book on the battle which allowed me to really get a feel of how the fighting evolved.  It is hard not to be impressed with the conduct of the VMI Cadets and I ended up spending about an hour sitting on the “Field of Lost Shoes” reading through the relevant sections of Davis.  From there you can see the position occupied by Kleiser’s Federal battery directly in front along with the additional artillery along Bushong Hill, which overlooks the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  I then made my way over to the Confederate right to follow the movements of the 54th Pennsylvania which suffered the highest regimental loss during the battle.  The battlefield includes only two monuments and one is quite crude, though this allows the visitor to keep the focus on the topography itself.

Afterwords I took a quick walk through New Market and grabbed a bite to eat.  I stopped in a cheesy little Civil War store where you can find John Paul Strain paintings on just about every object imaginable.  Do people actually buy that crap?  All in all it was an enjoyable day trip and one that I highly recommend.

I took a few photographs which you can find here.

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7 comments… add one

  • Richard Williams Jul 29, 2008

    Kevin:

    John Paul Strain is a very talented artist and goes to great lengths to make sure his work is historically accurate. In answer to your question – YES! I’m one of them. His art has a near photographic quality that is most unique. Some like his style, some don’t. But I do agree that a trip to New Market is well worth the time. I wonder what the impact will be if 81 is ever expanded to 8 lanes?

    Richard Williams
    Old Virginia Blog

  • Kevin Levin Jul 29, 2008

    I guess we all have our preferences. I have no artistic ability whatsoever so anyone who can do what he does has talent. That said, I find his depiction of battlefields, uniforms, etc. to be quite sloppy. I am partial to Don Troiani’s work of which I have seven prints, including a giclee of the Crater in my home office. I also respect that Troiani does not allow his art to be printed on everything that has a chance of selling. Than again, we all have to make a living.

    As a result of my trip I am much more sympathetic with preservationists, but at the same time I am concerned about the safety of that highway. In the end, I fall on the side of saving lives as opposed to battlefields. I do hope there is a solution for all parties.

  • Robert Moore Jul 29, 2008

    Strain’s work has evolved over the years (he’s played with transitions in colors a lot) and his piece showing Jackson and Ashby at that creek is, indeed, amazing. I don’t know how many times I had to take a double-take to see if he did something in the way of electronic imaging. That said, most of my Civil War art is that of Troiani. The Jackson/Ashby piece was the closest I ever came to buying my first work by Strain. However, as you point out Kevin, I hate to see art plastered over mugs and wall clocks. Troiani has maintained the integrity of his work by preventing this.

    As for the battlefield, I think good things have happened to it over the last decade and improvements made. In some ways, I think the I-81 expansion may take place at certain points along the route, but, with so many VMI grads in various places (VDOT included), I think the New Market battlefield will be spared the pain of expansion.

    On another note, I sense where you are going on the comment about the 260 acres of the Bushong farm. As of 1860, the Bushong family actually owned three slaves… a 27 year-old male, a 24 year-old female (Mary) and a 3 year-old child child (Israel). However, that isn’t to say that the 260 acres was the responsibility of the slaves. Though some have been critical of the approach taken by a few early Valley historians (regarding slavery in the central Valley), I think that the early historians were actually correct. You won’t find a prevailing use of “field slaves” in the area (my focus being primarily on Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah Counties). The largest use of slaves in the area was with the iron ore operations, and even then, many were hired from slave owners east of the Blue Ridge.

  • Ken Noe Jul 29, 2008

    Kevin: Is that the film with the disembodied flag bouncing along by itself to New Market? Not the worst I’ve seen, but I remember it as rather disquieting. Ken

  • Mark Snell Jul 30, 2008

    Ken,

    Yep, that’s the film. It dates from the late ’60s or early ’70s. I’ve never liked it–you would think that VMI could spend a little money and come up with something more up to date.

    Mark

  • Kevin Levin Jul 31, 2008

    Thanks Mark,

    Have a good time in England and remember that your trip includes academic responsibilities too.

  • Linda W. Sep 3, 2008

    The film “Field of Lost Shoes” raises the possibility of slaves working on the farm. A young Black woman is shown outdoors listening to an army approaching. She gets a far-away look and starts to rush off-screen; whether she escapes to freedom is left to the imagination.

    The film may be old but it’s still very moving. I saw it two weeks ago and left feeling that the Confederate victory was not much of a “win” – so many lives wasted, and not many months until the valley was lost to Sheridan’s army in spite of all the sacrifices.

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