MOVIE REVIEW: “Union Bound” (2016)

Union Bound (Uptone Pictures, Moving Box Entertainment, Weathervane, 2016)

Starring: Sean Stone, Randy Wayne, Tank Jones, Trish Cooks

Written by John Errington

Produced by Michael Davis

Directed by Harvey Lowry

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The Civil War is a period of American history that is full of amazing stories waiting to be told. The four years between 1861-1865, in which 750,000 lives (New estimates based on recent research) were lost, has many tales of heroism, tragedy, comedy, and excitement. One such story is that of Joseph Hoover, a Union Sergeant from New York. Captured by Confederate troops during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, he was shipped off to Andersonville Prison in Georgia, before being transferred to other prisoner of war camps, before ultimately being taken to South Carolina. From that camp, he escapes with a soldier named Thomas Ryan, and with help of local slaves, makes his way back to the Union lines. He serves until the end of the war, is wounded, and eventually wins the Medal of Honor. The story of his capture and escape are the subject of the film Union Bound.

Beginning with the Wilderness fight, Union Bound focuses on the time in which Hoover (Sean Stone, son of filmmaker Oliver Stone) is taken to the prisoner camp in South Carolina, from which he makes his escape with Ryan (Randy Wayne), making their way toward Union-controlled New Bern, North Carolina. Along the way, they are aided by several slaves, including Jim (Tank Jones), who ends up joining them for a time in their quest to freedom. The trio face many obstacles along the way, and there are moments when it looks like their efforts will be in vain.

The story of Hoover and his journey to freedom is definitely a compelling one. And the fact that he was aided by those men and women in bondage makes for a well-rounded story. But sadly, the film does not do that story justice. The major problem with this film are pacing issues. Clocking in at an hour and forty-three minutes (Quite long for an independent movie), Union Bound feels like a rough cut that wasn’t edited properly before other elements were attended to. Certain scenes in the film tend to drag at times, while others offer nothing to the furtherance of the story, and could have been cut altogether. Because of these unnecessary moments are left in, the film drags along too often, and the film never fully justifies its running time. Had 10-15 minutes been removed, these pacing issues would’ve been resolved for the most part.

The acting is also an issue with the film. Though he has proved himself as a good documentary filmmaker (His documentary Fight Against Time, about the making of his father’s film about Alexander the Great, is a great piece), Sean Stone’s acting talents leave a lot to be desired. Although he is not a terrible actor, he seems to be coasting along as Hoover in the film. Trish Cooks, who plays a southern plantation owner (And owner of the slave Jim), gives the film’s most questionable performance, which is sadly emblematic of most of the acting in this film.

Randy Wayne, as Hoover’s companion Thomas Ryan, does some fine work in his role, presenting a character who is a bit of a scoundrel, but still likable in his own way. But as far as the acting goes, Tank Jones gives Union Bound its finest performance as Jim. Jones does a great job at accurately portraying a slave from the period, and his performance elevates the film from a lot of its issues. His character is the best developed, as we see him deal with devastating blows (Including the death of his mother at the hands of her master), and go from being reluctant to help Hoover and Ryan escape, to one who is willing to risk his life to help others to freedom. It is a role that is well-written, and Tank Jones certainly gives his all in portraying the character.

Another strong element to the film is the music. The score by Craig Brandwynne and Dane Bryant Frazier is wonderful to listen to. The main theme at the beginning of the film is a powerful piece, and that theme is heard throughout the film, and over the closing credits. The composers do great work, and add some good emotion to the film.

However, the great performance by Tank Jones, and the amazing score for the movie, can only do so much with a film that has overall hit-and-miss acting, and a plot that moves at a snails pace. In closing, Union Bound is a decent film that could have been much better, but a plodding pace, and some lackluster acting, keep it from being the powerful film it could have been.

Grade: 5.5/10 (C)

Surrender at Appomattox: The (Beginning of the) End

As Robert E. Lee was riding away from the home of Wilmer McLean after meeting with Ulysses S. Grant on the afternoon of Sunday, April 9th, 1865, one thing was clear to most of those involved: The major fighting in Virginia was finally coming to an end. With Lee surrendering to Grant, the Army of Northern Virginia, which at that time numbered under 30,000 men, would soon evaporate, and enter into legend.

The meeting between Lee and Grant at Appomattox.

The meeting between Lee and Grant at Appomattox.

It had been an ending long expected to happen, but at times it seemed a near improbability. At its height, the Army of Northern Virginia numbered over 70,000 men, and seemed poised to deal a major blow to the Union forces in the war. But their major defeat at Gettysburg, followed by Grant’s continual pressure on the army between May of 1864 and April of 1865, slowly brought this once mighty army to it’s knees. And with his army virtually surrounded at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, Lee knew that the only options available to him were to disperse the army, and carry on guerrilla warfare, or surrender. Fighting his instinct to carry on the war, Lee chose to instead meet with Grant, and surrender his forces. Although his men were willing to carry on with the fighting, Lee knew that to do so would be fruitless slaughter for his men.

But as Lee rode away from the meeting, another thing was very clear: the war was not yet over. Although the main Confederate army had been surrendered, there were still roughly 100,000 Confederate troops still in the field. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston still commanded a small but formidable force of troops in North Carolina, while in the distant west, Confederate forces were still wreaking havoc on Union troops. And Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with members of his cabinet, were on the run from Federal forces following the fall or Richmond on April 2nd.

In fact, the final battle of the war would take place over a month after the surrender at Appomattox. On May 12-13, 1865, Union forces under Theodore H. Barrett attacked a Confederate force at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas, near the Mexican border. A small battle where forces on both sides numbered less than 500 men, the skirmish ended in a Confederate victory. So, in one of the great ironies of the war, the Confederate army won the final battle in a war that they would ultimately lose.

So, while Appomattox was not the true end of the American Civil War, it is safe to say that it was the beginning of the end. With their most formidable army now gone, Confederate officers still in the field saw the folly of continuing conflict. In the weeks and months to follow, other armies would be surrendered. Before summer set in, the war was all but over, and reconstruction set to begin.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Field of Lost Shoes”

Field of Lost Shoes (Bosch, Tredegar Filmworks, Arc Entertainment, Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, 2014)

Starring: David Arquette, Keith David, Lauren Holly, Jason Isaacs, and Tom Skerritt

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Film Rating: PG-13 for War Violence and Some Thematic Elements

poster-30inx40in-h-frontIn the heart of the Shenandoah Valley lies a little town called New Market. It is a peaceful, quiet little village. But on May 15th, 1864, the peaceful hills would be witness to the horrors of war, as Confederate and Union forces clashed. The battle has never had the fame of Gettysburg, Antietam, or Shiloh. But for the men who fought this horrific battle, the impact would be no less horrific. Perhaps no more so than for the 274 Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, who marched 80 miles to serve as relief troops for General John C. Breckenridge’s Confederates, only to be ordered to take position in the center of their lines. For the only time in American History, an entire student body would come under enemy fire, and prove their mettle in a dramatic charge that turned the tide of battle. The story of those cadets from VMI, and the impact it had on the battle, is the subject of the film Field of Lost Shoes.

Directed by Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer), and featuring a mixed cast of fresh faces and well-knowns, Field of Lost Shoes won the Best Dramatic Feature Award at the GI Film Festival. Sadly, the film came in under the radar, when it received mixed reviews, and an all too brief theatrical release in September of 2014, following a release on DVD and Video on Demand earlier this month. However, after viewing the film, I cannot help but feel that this movie deserved a better release strategy. For this is, in my humble opinion, the finest film yet made on the events of the American Civil War. From the very beginning of the film, to its closing moments, the movie serves as a moving tribute to the Virginia Military Institute, and the cadets who served at the Battle of New Market.

While the film does cover some of the strategic, political and social aspects of the war, the film keeps most of its focus, and rightfully so, on seven members of the Corps of Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute; seven young boys and men who would go on to fight in a battle that would change their lives. Six of these men are based on actual cadets who fought at the battle. It is through these boys that we get to see the affects of war on the men who fought it, and how these young lads, men who had never before been in battle, showed true bravery in the face of an enemy. Making their story the main story, showing the hopes, dreams and beliefs of every single one, gives the story its soul, and creates a very powerful, dramatic, and tragic film.

From an historical standpoint, the film is definitely one of the more historically accurate films made on the war. Like the film Glory, the actual story of the VMI Cadets at New Market is dramatic in itself, and needs little embellishment. The attention to detail in terms of drill, uniforms and equipment is truly remarkable. The Battle of New Market is dramatically recreated, showing the horrors and tragedy of armed conflict without becoming too graphic, making it a film that children over the age of 10 could be shown.

Casting wise, the film does a great job. All of the young actors who portray the Cadets focused on in the film doe a great job in their roles, making us understand who they were, what they believed in. The believability of the actors in their roles makes us care for them, so when the battle comes, and they come under fire, we actually worry about their fate. Of the supporting roles, all are good. But the standout of the cast is Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, the Harry Potter series) as Confederate General John C. Breckenridge. His portrayal of the former Vice President of the United States is truly wonderful. Isaacs has done his homework, and his performance is truly the highlight of this film.

The script for the film, written by David Kennedy, Thomas Farrell and Ron Bass, does a terrific job of presenting this wonderful story in a 96-minute film. Surprisingly, despite covering the story of the Cadets, as well as the overall story of the battle itself from the points of view of Breckenridge, Union Captain Henry S. DuPont (A surprisingly convincing David Arquette), and others who play a part in the making of this battle, is told in a way that anyone who sees it will not need to know the history of the war to understand what is going on. The rest of the crew, and the amazing cast, do a great job of conveying the story.

In closing, Field of Lost Shoes is the finest film ever made on the events of the American Civil War, and the young boys from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market on May 15th, 1864. It connects us on a personal level with the characters, making the events more relatable, and more tragic. It presents the story in a way where all those who view it will understand the political, social and military aspects of the story without it becoming confusing, or impersonal. Anyone interested in American history, or in exciting, dramatic stories, will find much to love in Field of Lost Shoes.

Overall Grade: 10/10, or A+

FILM REVIEW: “Copperhead”

Copperhead (The Film Collective, Swordspoint Productions, 2013)

Starring: Billy Campbell, Angus MacFayden, Francois Arnaud, Josh Cruddas, and Peter Fonda

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Film Rating: PG-13 for an Unsettling Sequence

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Filmmaker Ronald F. Maxwell is considered by some to be the foremost cinematic interpreter of the American Civil War. With his last two films, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, Maxwell has given us a glimpse at the heroism and sacrifice of men and women on the battlefields. With these films, he has examined how good, ethical, and moral people, could choose to go to war for what they believed in. Now, with his latest foray into the era, he has chosen to examine the opposite spectrum: how good people could choose not to go to war, or show support for the conflict. The idea of speaking out against war, even when it is not popular to do so, lies at the heart of his latest endeavor: Copperhead.

Based on the novel by Harold Frederic, Copperhead is different from about every other American historical film set in the era of the Civil War. The film is set in a small community in upstate New York, far away from the horrors of war. Yet, the conflict being waged far south is being felt here as well. The central character of the story is Abner Beech (Billy Campbell, The Rocketeer, AMC’s “The Killing”), a farmer who is against the war Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans are waging. He, along with his adopted son Jimmy (Josh Cruddas) and an Irish immigrant, are labeled “copperheads” for their stance against the war. His views alienate him from the community, including Jee Hagadorn (Angus MacFayden, Braveheart), a righteous man who supports the war, and abolition, wholeheartedly, and not caring about the thousands of men who are fighting and dying, as long as they achieve victory. As Hagadorn and the community turn against Abner Beech, his son Jeff (Casey Brown) begins a romantic relationship with Hagadorn’s daughter, Esther (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter), and ultimately decides to enlist in the army without the consent of his parents. The bitterness the townsfolk feel against Beech and the copperheads boils over into hatred, setting the stage for a tragic event.

Unlike his other Civil War films, which were epic in scope, and presented some of the major battles of the war, Copperhead is a film that deals with the impact of the war on a small community, and how differences in opinion can lead to violence and hatred. The film looks at the price of dissent in a time of war, when those who speak out against the it are considered traitors. The film delivers its story, and the message of why it is important to live together in peace despite political differences, in a piece that is very well-written and directed, and features a terrific cast. MacFayden nearly steals the show as Hagadorn, a man who is full of intense passion for the cause he believes in. Some will call his performance over-the-top, but he never overdoes it, and makes the character believable. The supporting cast does a terrific job of bringing this 19th-Century community to life.

But the film truly belongs to its lead actor, Billy Campbell. Fresh off portraying Abraham Lincoln in NatGeo’s docudrama Killing Lincoln, Copperhead features Mr. Campbell in a role different from the Great Emancipator. He infuses Abner Beech with a strong sense of right and wrong; a man who stands for what he believes in, even when others say he is wrong. Even if you do not agree with his views, you cannot help but understand why he has come to the conclusion. Beech is a man that is against war, not because it’s the cool thing, but because he believes that war is wrong, and brings nothing but death and destruction in its wake. He does appear stubborn at times, but also has a compassionate side that draws you close to him as a character. I sincerely hope that Mr. Campbell gets some recognition for his amazing performance in this film.

Bill Kauffman’s screenplay is constructed very well. Now, keep in mind, because Copperhead is not a war movie, it is a slower-paced film. But that is actually a great thing in this case. The slower pace gives us a chance to get to know the characters of the film, and understand their views, their hopes, and their beliefs. Any weaknesses in the script are made up for by the brilliant performances from an amazing cast.

One of the things that I always enjoy about Ron Maxwell’s films are the beautiful cinematography, and the music. And in both cases, the film delivers. Maxwell and his cinematographer, Kees Van Oostrum, do a fantastic job of capturing the beautiful images shot at King’s Landing in Ontario, Canada. The scenery is picturesque, and each shot in the film is beautifully-lit and photographed. The original score by Laurent Eyquem is very beautiful, and haunting. And at times, his music reminds you of the classic westerns, as villagers mill about the town in excitement. Both Mr. Oostrum and Mr. Eyquem should also be recognized for their work come awards season.

Overall, Copperhead is a powerful film that looks at a little-known, but just as important, chapter from the history of the American Civil War, and how politics can truly be damaging to communities in a time of conflict. If you enjoyed the previous films by Ronald F. Maxwell, or enjoy serious, thought provoking character drama and historical films, then I highly recommend you see Copperhead, which serves as powerful reminder of the price of dissent, and the need for civility in the realm of politics.

Grade: 9/10, or A-

Ron Maxwell’s “Copperhead” Opens in Limited Release Tomorrow!

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This weekend, Copperhead, the new Civil War-era drama from producer/director Ronald F. Maxwell, opens in select theaters across the nation tomorrow. It will be just the third time in a twenty-year period that Ron Maxwell has released a film theatricallyPreviously, he had filmed the Civil War epics Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, which were released in 1993 and 2003, respectively. While both films failed to achieve box office success (Which may have been due to their extended running times), both found their audiences on television and in the home video market.

But Copperhead is different from those previous two films. This is the story of the war on the home front, as the conflict tore at the loyalties between communities, and even families. It is the story of Abner Beech, a man who does not support slavery, but supports the war Abraham Lincoln and the Union are waging even less. Beech, and others like him, are branded “Copperheads” for their anti-war stance. The film looks at how the war affected those on the home front, and at the price of dissent in a time of war.

The film opens in limited release this weekend. If you have an interest in historical dramas, I encourage you to go and see this film, and show your support for the genre. We need to show Hollywood that there is an audience out there for these types of films, even in a summer loaded with traditional action/adventure/sci-fi/superhero fare. If successful, the film might pave the way for future films like it, and might even give Ron Maxwell the chance to make Last Full Measure, the highly anticipated followup to his previous Civil War epics.

The theaters the films is opening at this weekend can be found here. It opens in a theater near my place this weekend, and I will be going to see it Saturday afternoon, and will post a review here. See you at the movies!

THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Impact of Gettysburg on the Individual

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain once said that war was a “test of character” for the participant, and that “it makes bad men worse, and good men better.” When you look at all the wars fought throughout our history, that statement is certainly true. However, regardless of the character of the person, war impacts all people, sometimes in negative ways. For the individual who experiences combat, and sees the horrors and destruction that it can cause, life afterward will never be the same again.

Perhaps no battle has had a greater impact on its participants than the Battle of Gettysburg. And how could it not? In just three days of fighting, over 50,000 men were killed, wounded or captured. Anybody who went through that horrible ordeal, and came out of it alive, would remember the horrors, and the failures, of those three tragic days. For the Confederates, it would be the battle that signified their eventual doom. For the Federals, it was the victory that they needed to show the world that there was a chance at winning the war, restoring the Union, and ending slavery.

Of all the people whose lives were changed by the Battle of Gettysburg, perhaps no two were more greatly affected than the lives of Confederate General George Pickett, and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Both men went into the battle, and would come out of the maelstrom changed men.

Major General George Pickett

Major General George Pickett

For General Pickett, it was not a good change. Going into battle, the commander of a Division under General James Longstreet was almost boyish and charming. He was very exuberant, and sported a brand new uniform, and perfumed ringlets of hair. He was also hoping to get his men into battle before the glory was gone. On Friday, July 3rd, 1863, he got that chance when ordered to take part in the assault on the Union Center at Gettysburg. And in the charge that would bear his namesake, he would see his entire division virtually destroyed. And from that charge, his spirit would be forever broken. It was a loss that he would brood upon until his dying day. And he laid the blame of the charge at the feet of Robert E. Lee. After visiting Lee with another man a few years after the war, he said of Lee: “That old man had my division slaughtered.” Although he did achieve glory in the years after Gettysburg, the defeat at Gettysburg forever changed him.

Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

As for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he went into the battle a relative unknown, and would come out of it with great regard within the army. As commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, his troops were placed on Little Round Top, at the very end of the Union left flank, on Thursday, July 2nd. There, his troops, along with the rest of the brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent, held off assault after assault by Confederate troops. Finally, with ammunition running low and a number of his men killed or wounded, Chamberlain, who had never received military training prior to the war, did what possibly none of the West Point officers would have done. He ordered his men to fix bayonets, and charge against the attacking rebels. The charge was successful, and many claim that his charge saved the Union left, and possibly the battle itself (Though some claim that last statement might have been a bit exaggerated). By the end of the war, Chamberlain would eventually rise to the rank of Major General, and was chosen personally by President Grant to oversee the Confederate surrender ceremony at Appomattox Courthouse in April. In 1893, over thirty years after the battle, he would receive the Medal of Honor. After Gettysburg, the relatively unknown Professor of Rhetoric would rise to become one of the Union’s greatest officers thanks to his actions on Little Round Top.

These are just two examples of how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the lives of the participants, in both good and bad ways. Each man involved in the struggle had their own lives changed in different ways. But the examples of George Pickett and Joshua Chamberlain illustrate how the largest battle of the war impacted the lives of those involved. It is the impact of war on the participants that shows both the heroism that happens in war, as well as the tragedy of war itself. From these stories, we get a better sense of what happened in this horrific chapter of our history, and why it is important that we never go down that same road again.

 

 

JOURNEY TO THE PAST: Part One – Antietam and New Market

Originally, the weekend of September 7-9 was the weekend I and members of my family had planned to take part in the event Maryland, my Maryland, a reenactment commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam. But those plans had to change due to some unforseen circumstances. However, since we had already made the trip up, we decided to make the most of the weekend and tour a few of the Civil War sites in Maryland and Virginia on the way back home. This turned out being one of the greatest weekends I can remember. Here is part one of our trip, when we toured the Antietam and New Market battlefields on Friday, September 7th.

Antietam

My Dad, my Uncle and I arrived at Antietam National Battlefield around 9 that morning. It was a beautiful day to tour the site. Sunny, and a little bit on the warm side. We did the usual stuff in the Visitor’s Center first. Watched the documentary film narrated by James Earl Jones (Fantastic piece. Wish I had been able to purchase a copy of the film while there), looked through the exhibits, and walked through the gift shop before taking the driving tour of the battlefield.

What is amazing about Antietam is how pristine the battlefield is. Except for the number of monuments, historical markers, and the 8.5 mile tour road, there is very little to take away from the beauty of the site, and like Gettysburg, you can feel an energy to the place. It reminded me of the keynote address Stephen Lang gave at the Dedication Day ceremony in Gettysburg last November. In Rome, the history seems to be buried under the modern city, with places like the Coliseum surrounded by the modern sounds of traffic and other noise. Not so at Antietam. When touring the site, you feel the history that is around you. You can close your eyes, and almost hear the sounds of men marching, fighting, and dying at places such as the Miller Cornfield, the West Woods, the Sunken Road, and the Lower Bridge. The past is very much alive at Antietam, and you can feel the presence of those 23,000 men who fell there. It is truly a moving site to tour.

Artillery near the Dunker Church

For me, one of the areas that stood out on this trip was the West Woods. This is the part of the battle where the Confederates made a heroic stand after Federals pushed them out of the Cornfield. What made this stop worthwhile to me on this trip is knowing that I have a personal connection to this part of the field. Amongst the Confederate troops who fought in the West Woods was the 49th North Carolina Troops. My three-times Great Grandfather, Elijah W. Marlow, was a member of Company A. His unit was right smack-dab in the middle of this battle, where Confederates turned the tide of the First Phase of the fight at Antietam. You could feel a family connection there, walking where some of the heaviest fighting took place, knowing that my ancestor fought there in defense of his home and family. I’ll never forget this part of the trip as long as I live.

Me and one of the artillery pieces in the West Woods at Antietam.

Of course, it is always something to walk in the middle of the Sunken Road, now forever known as Bloody Lane. While this was not the bloodiest part of the battle (The Miller Cornfield claims that prize), 5,500 men became casualties during the fighting over the road. It is very surreal to walk the sunken road, knowing very well that, at the time of the battle, this road became full of Confederate dead and dying, with the bottom of the depression drenched in blood as if it had rained red. It’s just difficult to imagine how much death and destruction took place in and around this little place. Then, when we walked to the top of the tower there, looking over the battlefield, it was again hard to imagine all this beautiful land was once the site of the bloodiest single day in American history.

The Sunken Road at Antietam

While at the Sunken Road, we ran into some of the guys from our reenacting group. We talked for a bit, let them know we wouldn’t be there for the reenactment of the battle, but at least we got to see each other before heading out. One of the things I love about reenacting is the camaraderie we have as a group. Also got to meet a friend of mine from Facebook that I’d never met in person, and got to talk with him a couple of minutes before heading on. It was great to have this accidental meeting with the guys to let them know how we were, and wished them the best in the event.

The last part of the trip that was memorable was crossing the Lower Bridge, now called Burnside Bridge. While there, I got to see the monument to the 21st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Now, while I have no personal connection to the 21st Massachusetts, this is the Federal unit our group reenacts as on occasion. From that vantage point at the monument, you could look back at the bridge, and the bluffs overlooking it on the other side. Georgians held those bluffs during the battle, and Federal troops tried in vain to cross this bridge to drive them off. I couldn’t help but think how worthless it was to send men across that small bridge, where you could only send a company at a time, each time the attack being repulsed. You could just see the fruitlessness of such tactics, and wonder why anybody would order such a thing. Then, the answer comes to mind: Burnside. They eventually crossed Antietam down stream, and were able to drive them from this part of the field, until A.P. Hill’s counterattack drove them back.

The Lower Bridge at Antietam

Antietam is truly a remarkable place to visit. Like Gettysburg, it is a tranquil place where ugly things happened. The memories of those men who fought and died there are preserved for all time, and the knowledge that family fought there makes it all the more special. I look forward to the day when I can visit again, and recall the sacrifices made by the soldiers in Blue and Gray along a quiet stream near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

New Market

After eating a good lunch, we traveled down I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley toward the New Market battlefield. For those unfamiliar, this was the site of the May 15, 1864 battle where Confederates under John C. Breckenridge defeated a larger Union force under Franz Sigel. It was at this battle that 257 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute fought alongside battle-hardended Confederates, and helped carry the day. We didn’t have a lot of time to really tour the site, but we made the most of it. We started at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, the visitor center there. What impressed me about the museum is how much they have there to see. We started with the film “The Field of Lost Shoes,” which tells the story of the battle of New Market, and the actions of the VMI Cadets who fought there. It was a very moving piece, and told the personal stories of those cadets who fought and died there, and helped win the one of the last great Confederates victories in the Shenandoah Valley. The Museum there is also remarkable, with all the artifacts that help tell the story of Virginia at war. It was truly impressive, and I give a lot of kudos to the Virginia Military Institute for running a first-rate museum there.

At the Virginia Museum of the Civil War at the New Market battlefield. These five markers are replicas of the gravestones for the five VMI Cadets who died there.

The battlefield tour was neat. The Bushong farm was really impressive to walk around. The Bushong family hid in the cellar of their house there while the battle was fought, and their home became a hospital for wounded soldiers in the aftermath. We also viewed the main field over which the Confederates charged. It is called the “Field of Lost Shoes” today. The battle was fought in a thunderstorm, and the ground became so saturated, that the VMI cadets lost their shoes in the mud, yet still charged against the Federal troops, driving them from the field. It was a truly awe-inspiring place to be. Sadly, unlike Antietam, the quiet sounds that permeated that battlefield could not be found here. I-81 cuts right down the middle of the battlefield, and the sounds of highway traffic could be heard the entire time. It is hard to connect personally with the past here, as the sounds of the 21st Century dominated it. Still, it is a very beautiful piece of land, and is definitely worth visiting again and again.

Artillery piece looking over the battlefield at New Market.

After visiting the battlefield, we traveled on to Lexington, Virgina, where we got a hotel, and had dinner before calling it a day. It was truly a remarkable day for us. Visiting two major Civil War battlefields was truly memorable, and I look forward to returning to these sites again in the near-future.

In part two of this series, I will talk about our tour of Lexington, Virginia the next day.