When it comes to Civil War reenactments, New Market Battlefield State Historical Park is unique. Unlike battlefields in national parks, the engagement portrayed at New Market has, for decades, been conducted on the actual ground where the fighting happened. And, for those who can’t make it to New Market for the epic living history event during the third weekend in May, the Virginia Museum of the Civil War awaits visitors year-round on the same hallowed ground.
Dedicated in 1970 and accredited by the American Association of Museums, VMCW is situated on 280 acres of preserved battlefield marking the site of the last Confederate victory in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. These historic fields exist because of extraordinary generosity and foresight — they were donated along with a $3 million endowment to the Virginia Military Institute by George R. Collins, a 1911 VMI graduate who had purchased the property from the Bushong family in 1944. “It was one of the earliest acts of battlefield preservation in Virginia, and even in the country, by an individual,” said site director Scott Harris.
Even before setting foot in the museum, many visitors are moved by the metal drum-like rotunda braced all around by the symbolic muskets leaning against it. Inside, in the Virginia Room, a series of campaign dioramas, enhanced by wartime relics ranging from diaries and daguerreotypes to buttons and bullets, illustrate the war as it tore across the Old Dominion, from Manassas to Appomattox. Visitors will find themselves drawn to abstract artist Ami Shamir’s stained glass window highlighting the war in the Shenandoah Valley, as well as to the Civil War Art Collection donated by VMI alumnus Robert Raeburn.
The way to begin a visit is to watch the Emmy Award-winning film Field of Lost Shoes, which is shown hourly. With the battlefield awaiting exploration just outside the door, visitors can examine the preserved period artifacts on display from the Bushong family farm, as well as relics from the fighting — everything from a shell-damaged cadet musket to an authentic VMI cadet uniform.
Visitors can test their astute historical discovery skills by searching for the exquisitely rare New Market Cross of Honor on display in the museum. In 1904, 40 years after the Battle of New Market, the VMI Alumni Association presented a bronze medal of valor in recognition of participation in the battle to surviving members and the families of deceased members of the New Market Corps. Only 294 medals were presented, each individually inscribed to the specific recipient.
The General’s Store gift shop has a wide array of books, maps, and interesting souvenirs. There’s also an added bonus, as the shop houses the Shenandoah Valley Tourist Information Center. There, visitors can find hundreds of brochures, travel guides, and highway maps, along with up-to-the-minute weather and traffic information.
Outside, a scenic picnic area beckons, and interpretive trails welcome visitors to discover the past, especially the Bushong House and the “Field of Lost Shoes.”
For more information
New Market Battlefield: vmi.edu/vmcw