“And New Market’s young cadets.”
Southern Birthright, Bobby Horton
John C. Breckinridge, fourteenth Vice-President of the United States and current Confederate Major General, had a big problem. His task was to hold the Shenandoah Valley, the bread basket of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the Confederacy, and he was confronted with two Union columns seeking to rendezvous at Staunton, Virginia and place the Valley under Union control. One column under George Crook was coming from the West Virginia. The second column under Franz Sigel was coming down the Valley. Sigel had twice the men that Breckinridge could muster, 9,000 to 4000, but Breckinridge saw no alternative but to march north and engage Sigel before the two Union columns could join against him.
The Confederacy by this time was robbing the cradle and the grave to fill out its ranks. In the cradle contingent with Breckinridge were 257 cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, who ranged in age from 15-24.
Breckinridge brought Sigel to battle at mid-morning on May 15, 1864 south of New Market. With detachments Sigel’s force was down to 6,000 men. However, 2 to 3 was still very poor odds for an attacking army.