New Market Battlefield State Historical Park: A Short Review
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 On the other hand I was appalled by their exhibit of the war in Virginia which is clearly outdated.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.