When: November 13th
Where: Otterbein University. Towers Hall 3rd floor. Room 318. Westerville Ohio 43081. Please go to the “About the COCWRT” tab for more information.
Speaker: Charles R. Knight
Charles R. Knight’s ‘Valley Thunder’ is the first full-length account in more than three decades to examine the combat at New Market on May 15, 1864-the battle that opened the pivotal 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who set in motion the wide-ranging operation to subjugate the South in 1864, intended to attack the Confederacy on multiple fronts so it could no longer “take advantage of interior lines.” One of the keys to success in the Eastern Theater was control of the Shenandoah Valley, a strategically important and agriculturally abundant region that helped feed Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant tasked Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, a German immigrant with a mixed fighting record, and a motley collection of units numbering some 10,000 men to clear the Valley and threaten Lee’s left flank. Opposing Sigel was John C. Breckinridge, a former vice president and now Confederate major general who assembled a scratch command to repulse the invading Federals. Included within the ranks of his 4,500-man army were cadets from the Virginia Military Institute under the direction of VMI Commandant of Cadets Lt. Col. Scott Ship, who had marched eighty miles in just four days to fight Sigel.
When the two armies faced off at New Market, Breckinridge boldly announced, “I shall advance on him. We can attack and whip them here and we will do it!” As the general rode by the cadets he shouted, “Gentlemen, I trust I will not need your services today; but if I do, I know you will do your duty.” The sharp fighting seesawed back and forth during a drenching rainstorm, and was not concluded until the cadets were dramatically inserted into the battle line to repulse a Federal attack and launch one of their own.
The Confederate victory drove Union forces from the Valley, but they would return, reinforced and under new leadership, within a month. Before being repulsed, these Federals would march over the field at New Market and capture Staunton, burn VMI in Lexington (partly in retaliation for the cadets’ participation at New Market), and very nearly capture Lynchburg. Operations in the Valley on a much larger scale that summer would permanently sweep the Confederates from the “Bread Basket of the Confederacy.”
Charlie Knight is a native Virginian, having been born in Newport News and growing up in Richmond. He developed an interest in history at an early age, the Civil War in particular. He is a graduate of Bridgewater College, with a history degree, and is currently pursuing his masters degree in military history at American Military University.
He is a writer and museum professional, having worked at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park in the Shenandoah Valley. He currently works at the MacArthur Memorial in downtown Norfolk, serving as its curator since 2006.
He has written articles for various publications including Blue & Gray, Classic Trains and the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Hallowed Ground magazine. His first book, Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864, was published in the Spring of 2010 by Savas Beatie. He is currently working on a biography of Confederate general and railroad magnate William Mahone.